Last December, I joined a large and diverse collection of bloggers in examining how the concept of race impacts certain areas of our lives on Blog Against Racism Day.Â I looked at racism in birding, since this is my beat, so to speak. Now I’ve learned that we’ve got a Blog Against Sexism Day. My initial though was that discrimination on the basis of gender isn’t a factor in the birding industry or the practice itself. Then I went back to my list of the luminaries of American birding:
John James Audubon
Roger Tory Peterson
David Allen Sibley
Then I returned to the list of the heads of prominent American birding organizations and magazines:
John Flicker, President, National Audubon Society
Carol M. Browner, Chair, National Audubon Society
John W. Fitzpatrick, Director, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
All of the principals in the IBWO search
Russell Greenberg, Director, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center
Bill Thompson, III, Editor, Bird Watcher’s Digest
Amy K. Hooper, Editor, WildBird magazine
Ted Floyd, Editor, Birding magazine
Chuck Hagner, Editor, Birder’s World magazine
Is there not a preponderance of Y chromosomes in these respected groups? One of the markers of sexism is the exclusion of women from leadership positions. Certainly, it seems as if women are underrepresented at the top of the industry.
Of course, there is more to the story. My lists are woefully incomplete. The first set of names should include birders like Pete Dunne (another guy), Don and Lillian Stokes (one for each team), and Phoebe Snetsinger. The late Ms. Snetsinger, a woman named for a bird (all the best bird names go to girls, but that’s another story!), holds the distinction of having seen more avian species than anyone else ever. The biggest of the Big Listers, she attained numbers her mostly male colleagues (or competitors based on how you look at it) can only marvel at.
As far as the industry list is concerned, it is incomplete in terms of organizations and publications. But, further, it doesn’t depict the gender ratios of contributing authors, photographers, artists, and executives. Nor does it identify how many men and women subscribe to the magazines or belong to the groups. These numbers would undoubtedly paint a more accurate picture of gender trends in birding.
In the absence of real data, I’ll share first my intuition regarding gender representation in birding and then a more concrete observation of a specific interest-related activity. To start, I suspect that the trend of men occupying leadership roles in North American birding organizations extends to the regional level.Â Men run most of the bird tours that I’ve participated in or seen advertised (with notable exceptions) and do the bulk of the posting/organizing on listservs and RBAs. My guess is that males dominate the ranks of the active or adventure birders, the extreme branches of this activity. Backyard birding, on the other hand, may be a more equally distributed affair, but I suspect that it is tilted more heavily towards women. Again, these observations are just speculation meant to inspire consideration and conversation. Birding seems on its face to be a truly egalitarian pursuit, but most of the well-known birders are male.
Now for some hard data regarding gender representation in a powerful, new, rapidly advancing medium: blogging. Regular readers know that this site is the home of I and the Bird, the blog carnival devoted to birds and birding. This carnival was created without bias, except perhaps against those who don’t like birds in the wild. Furthermore, the rules for participation are meant to be gender neutral. A robust community of active participants has formed around I and the Bird along with a long tail of infrequent contributors. The 111 contributing blogs since the carnival’s inception in July 2005 provides a snapshot of gender representation among those who blog at least occasionally about birds and participate in this specific carnival.
Looking at the list of I and the Bird participants, organized in order of frequency of participation and discounting group blogs, the first ten names, myself included, tilt only slightly in favor of men, 6-4.Â Now I have to admit, I did count Dharma Bums, a clear couple blog, as one with a feminine flavor, but that’s only because Rexroth’s Daughter seems to speak for the bums in matters related to birds.
The next ten names, surprisingly enough, include more women than men. This means that the top twenty individual contributors, those blogs that have submitted posts to at least half of the extant eighteen editions of I and the Bird, are evenly distributed between men and women, 10-10. Scroll down the list and you’ll find that male-authored blogs start popping up with greater frequency, but at least we find, in our top twenty, one shining moment of gender equality!
(Since this post initially appeared on the earlier version of 10,000 Birds, the original comments are preserved below…)
Mike, you have a lot of issues going on here.
1) Men running organizations — of which you list conservation organizations, research/science organizations, and magazines. I think the bias towards men in science and in corporate in America is well-established.
2) You touched upon men as birders (tour leaders, etc.). The vast majority of the hard-core birders I know are men. Many of them look at it as competition, and there is an element of ego gratification that comes with making sure their voices (faces, lists) are out there for public consumption. I think birding, in that sense, is indeed dominated by men.
3) Blogging, in general, is said to be dominated by men. I & The Bird is sort of a niche market, although it draws upon a fairly diverse set of blogs. That aspect sort of intrigues me. I wonder what the gender ratio is for blog carnivals of various types? What is the motivation to submit? Or host?
I don’t worry much about sexism in birding, because I don’t think the birding community per se actually discriminates based on gender. Any bias seems to seep in from the outside world, or is incidental to the nature of birding.
I worry about age bias, in that in order for birds and their habitats to be preserved and enjoyed in the future, we need to make sure young people are welcomed to the ranks. When I go to bird club meetings, I often see a lot of gray heads. That worries me.
Okay, nuff said (you got the “benefit” of morning coffee scribbles!)
I think you hit the nail on the head, Nuthatch. On its face, it seems like something like birding would be free from gender discrimination, but bias does seep in. Just as with the racism issue, I thought it might be interesting to lay the facts on the table so we could all look and comment on them. Thanks for adding to the conversation.
When are we going to kick off “Blog against Ageism” Day? If anything, I suspect the young discriminate against birding and not the other way around!
“The young discriminate against birding”? How so? Please ‘splain.
I think that birding may have a bit of an image problem among young people – as being a pursuit for middle-aged and old people. I wonder how many positive depictions of birders there are in popular media. (Hm, subject for a blog post or article by someone?)
As much as we talk about how easy it is to start birding – the “all you need is binoculars and a field guide” meme – there is a bit of expense involved in getting started, and this may pose a bit of a hurdle for younger people. Maybe more popular documentaries like March of the Penguins would breed interest.
As far as age/sex ratios go, I have noticed a roughly even mix of older men and women on field trips with my local club, though leaders are mostly men. Among younger adults there is a strong preponderance of men. The local club’s exec board is roughly even, with women in some leadership positions. The board has also gotten a lot younger in the last two years. But we may be anomalous.
If I had to describe the demographics of birding just by what I encounter when I go out birding I would say it’s old women and teenage boys with a few older men thrown in. Once when I was on plover warden duty at PRNWR I met with a group called the MIT Wives Birding Club. They were (obviously) all women. I wondered at the time, but failed to ask, whether they would allow the husband of a female faculty member into their club.
For the record, I am an old woman.
As an old man who regularly contributes to IATB, I am part of the minority in our organization. Bird TLC is mostly women, our executive director is female and so is our rehab director and most of the crew leads. They all do an excellent job and I don’t care what sex they are (except for my wife). I’m just glad they are there doing the job they do.
My understanding of the word ‘discrimination’ is that it requires two people, one person being held back and another doing the holding. When I look at a completely voluntary activity like birding, I can’t think of any reason that anyone would be held back. Who are the people discriminating against female birders?
I see it akin to saying that there is discrimination against male bra shoppers. Perhaps the data shows that fewer men are buying bras, but it’s not because there is discrimination, it’s because fewer men want bras.
A charged word like ‘discrimination’ would indicate a delibrate action to hold back female birders…something that just doesn’t in a voluntary sport where bird sightings are shared.