Catherine Reverzy

Women of Adventure From Dream to Self-Realisation Publication date : September 1, 2001

More and more women are becoming involved in extreme sports, accomplishing major feats, participating in dangerous expeditions and unorthodox adventures. Who are these intrepid women who are willing to face great physical dangers, push their own limits, or even risk their lives, for the sake of a cause, an ideal or simply a powerful desire? Catherine Reverzy has interviewed some of these female explorers and sports figures who are so greatly respected and admired. She asks what in their psychological makeup rendered them so daring and so keen to push their own limits. She offers the reader a series of vivid portraits: Christine Janin, the first Frenchwoman to reach the summit of Mount Everest; Catherine Destivelle, rock-climbing world champion; Laurence de la Ferrière, who explored the South Pole; Nicole Viloteau, nature photographer specialising in reptiles; Alexandra Boulat, war photojournalist. The various expeditions recounted here provide the material for a precise and rigorous psychological analysis: Why and how do these women succeed in returning safely from dangerous expeditions that most people would be unable to cope with? What in their past made them capable of taking such risks? Is there an explanation for their great self-confidence and for their trust in the world around them? What are the foundations of their personalities? What can we learn from them about the nature of human attraction to — and fear of — the unknown in a life of adventure? What is the difference between the way men and women accomplish great feats? When men perform feats of physical courage, they elicit less surprise. But when women — often alone and showing as much determination as men — face dangers because they wish to discover a wilder, less spoiled facet of Nature, they show an aspect of what it means to be a woman that is denied by the fashion-centred, urban view that remains dominant in our society. A sense of security, a penchant for risk-taking, a love of exploration, a spirit of adventure, an awareness of fear, and a desire to surpass oneself: these aspects of female courage should incite all of us — both men and women — to reflect on our emotions, desires, choices, relationships, as well as on the very meaning of our lives. They should urge us to reconsider our limits and our capacity for courage; to take our own lives in hand; to feel true to ourselves; to be freer.

Catherine Reverzy is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst.