Chasing the mystery elaenia which showed up in Chicago in 2012—where my girls at?
That’s the question asked by this very detailed and thoughtful post to the ABA blog. It quotes a number of prominent birders (including our very own Julie Zickefoose) weighing in on why there are plenty of women who bird, but few who rise to the highest echelons of birding (whether you take that to mean leadership in birding organizations or just plain listing). And as you might imagine, this hot-button post is generating plenty of comments.
Among the possible reasons cited for the dearth of women at the top are challenges in finding good mentors, a tendency to avoid being assertive, safety concerns, getting into birding later in life than their male counterparts, and differences in approach (e.g., appreciating birding for more than just the bragging rights of one’s latest tick). Of course, no one is saying that all women who bird share these circumstances, just as all male birders aren’t alike. In my own experience, all of the above applies to me except the mentoring angle: my very first birdwatching walk was led by the longtime leader of our local Audubon chapter who’s a woman and an expert in both birding and nurturing newbies, and my formative years were guided by an incredibly supportive man who is the humblest bird guru I’ve ever met. I haven’t encountered much outright sexism in the field, but other women have not only seen and heard it but also made the t-shirt.
The ABA blog post concludes with Zickefoose saying, “If female birders frustrate me, it’s because so many of them never allow themselves to arrive.” Which is definitely food for thought. So what’s your take? Are the odds stacked against women in birding, or do they/we succumb to obstacles of our own making? Moreover, what would you change—if anything—to encourage more girls and women to become leaders of the birding world?
Brooke’s article resonated with me not so much about the leadership issue, though I had noticed the male edge in many birding organizations and tour companies, but in it’s discussion of how women birders are routinely not taken seriously by some birders. “Most of the women I spoke with said that some male birders either ignore women entirely or are crushingly dismissive, patronizing, or condescending towards them,” she writes.
I happily did not have this experience until I started “chasing” rarities. One of the great things about chasing is getting to meet other birders, but sometimes I feel like I’m invisible, being talked through and over. I recently was talking to an excellent woman birder of standing in her birding community who told me that she has experienced that dismissive attitude for most of her birding career. I never would have known, she is a woman of confidence in her skill.
I’m very happy that this article has gotten so many comments. Not everybody agrees, but that’s o.k. Just by talking about it, we make people more conscious of attitudes and words.
I’m sad that I’m just now finding out about this discussion in birding because I think it is an important one, although I rarely experience it myself. My community just happens to have a fairly large group of respectful birders. But there have been exceptions.
My problem with the blog post and some other blog posts I found discussing this is of course the age-old solution to men treating women as second-rate. It is always, “Women need to be more like men, women need to be assertive, loud, pushy, etc.” This is annoying. Why can’t we let women, at least in birding, just bird the way they want and be who they want in birding groups? They have just as much to offer as men with their own styles!