Monday, June 24, 2013

6 Things Men Can Do to Increase Gender Equality in Fishing

Last week saw a upswing of talk about women, men and gender inequality in flyfishing (you can read my responses here and here). It was pointed out that women are only 24% of anglers but 51% of the total population. The distribution might be even more men-dominant in industry jobs. Despite all the words written and good arguments made, the focus was on what women do, what they can do, and what they should do. There's another, important side to the gender equation--men. If men share responsibility for gender inequality, then they can and should make efforts to facilitate women's entry and participation in flyfishing. Thinking about some of the biggest difficulties for women within fishing, a number of changes men can make came to mind.

Here is a quick list of 6 things you dude (and women) readers can do right now (and everyday if you so wish) to increase gender equality in the outdoor world.

(1) Avoid immediately (and in most cases, ever) sexualizing/romanticizing female anglers (regardless of what pictures they post or clothes they choose to wear). A stubborn aspect of contemporary gender relations to overcome is that men still relate to women primarily in romantic/sexual ways, seeing them first and foremost as objects of desire (including evaluating the extent of their desirability). Instead, look to women anglers as fellow anglers first and bite your tongue about how hot she looks in that photo with the redfish. Yes, she's wearing a bikini top--people do that sometimes. Get over it.

(2) Don't immediately assume women know less about fishing, have less experience, or need more help than male anglers. When you see a woman in the fly shop, at a fishing show, or on the river, fight the assumption that you've been doing it longer or that she wants your help. I'm not saying she won't be friendly or that you shouldn't be friendly, but friendship is different than a student-teacher or father-daughter relationship, and adults shouldn't jump into these unequal forms early without a clear mutual understanding. Maybe it is the case that you have more expereince than her--but don't assume it. And don't make her prove her credentials.

(3) Similar to #2, don't speak condescendingly to female anglers. 'Talking down' to women is the enactment of your assumption that they know less and/or have a harder time learning than men. 

(4) Take your daughter(s) fishing as much as your son(s), and take her participation as seriously as sons'. It starts with you. Obviously, if she starts fishing early in her life, she may have the seeds to grow a deeper interest later. And research shows that even when dads do traditionally "manly" activities/sports with daughters, they often do not keep up with this over time as they assume it conflicts with daughters' interest in more 'feminine' things; whereas they are more rigorous with boys. So take her with you and keep at it through the years.

Photo courtesy of - no affiliation
(5) Include women in your fishing plans, trips, events, writings, etc. Keep women 'in the loop,' network with women, mentor women who aspire to careers in fishing, fish with women, and help women get their voices heard. Men as a group are still the primary gatekeepers to knowledge and jobs in fishing, so be sure to open the doors to women as you would to men. Is there a new "bar flies" fly-tying event in town? Invite a lady friend.

And, finally:
(6)  Speak up and fight back against sexist or exclusionary acts. Don't make women do all the work of fighting back--You can be a direct ally in instances where women anglers are being discouraged from participating in fishing or fishing culture. Is a magazine running chauvinist photo contests? Stop your subscription, write them a stern letter, or out them in a blog post. Did a fellow fisherman make a sexist joke about women who fish? Tell him that the joke is no good for our sport.
...but it'd be nice if you were an ally
Many of you are already doing these things, and that's awesome. Keep it up.  I'm not trying to claim that no one does this yet. And I'm not trying to take the fun out of fishing by being serious about this issue. But if your version of fun involves excluding or degrading entire groups of people, then yes, I'm suggesting you get rid of that "fun" for the sake of a more inclusive fishing world. Let's keep the enjoyment of fishing in the fishing itself, and all the fins, fair and foul weather, and friends that come along with it.


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