Who would have thought that birding has a toxic masculine element?
A majority of birders are women (51%) and 70% of Audubon members are women, but the leadership of most birding organizations is male. Men are the “birding elite”. They write the birding books, speak at the birding festivals to audiences comprised mostly of women, they lead the majority of birding tours. It also appears they can be really nasty to experienced women birders.
Now let me set all this in context. I have a bird feeder which is visited by a lot of lovely birds. And that folks, is the extent of my knowledge about birds. By pure chance I read an article, A Feminist Revolution in Birding, in Medium written by a bird expert, Olivia Gentile. And that’s what piqued my curiosity.
So let’s just break this down. Birding has two quite different aspects, one more enjoyable to women, the other to men. Women, it seems, enjoy seeing birds, walking in nature, identifying birds. Men, it seems, enjoy counting birds, adding a bird to their life lists and rare sightings lists, and racking up numbers in the annual bird counts. It’s not really surprising that that is the way things break. Men enjoy competition. Women do too, but to a lesser degree.
Sexism Makes Birding No Fun
So what does it really matter if men and women come to birding with different interests and expectations. What is remarkable is the degree of sexism in the birding world. It even filters down into which birds are of interest. For example, most male birders are interested in the male birds. They have more striking colors, their songs are more elaborate.
I gather, from Olivia Gentile’s article, that women birders are a bit fed up. There is a new movement afoot in birding in which women are taking control of their birding experiences and forming all-women birding groups dubbed the Phoebes. The groups are leaderless, they discuss difficult identifications as an egoless group, and welcome new birders. They teach, share, and learn from and with each other. This is quite the opposite of what happens when men are included. They quickly assume leadership roles in a group, put down new comers as “no nothings”, and settle arguments about bird identification with de facto statements.
It is clear why some industries and occupations are male dominated, but birding was a surprise to me. Statistics show, that the majority of people interested in birding where women. It is a “soft” sport, with few physical or economic barriers to participation. On the surface, it doesn’t seem competitive or exclusive. But dig a bit deeper and sexism raises its ugly head.
Women have found to grab a place in this world through mentoring, inclusion, and not engaging in head on confrontation. Women birders, like women regardless of profession, are finding ways to address the problems of male exclusion and dominance. They’re doing it by taking care of one another and controlling their experiences.
No matter where you are ignored or discredited, there are solutions to reestablish enjoyment and remember why you wanted in in the first place.
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