Saturday, 18 May 2019

Sexism in nature

I wrote this post last September after Chris Packham published his fantastic People's Manifesto for Wildlife and the people's Walk for Wildlife that followed. 

It was the time that I thought female naturalists should have stood up together against sexism and so I felt it was a good day to re-post my previous two blog posts about sexism in birding, nature and conservation. 


The posts are from Nov 2015 and Jan 2016, but nothing has really changed since the time I wrote them, except I have now organised eight nature camps for Visible Minority Ethnic (VME) children & teenagers as well as those interested in nature, a conference about how to engage VME people with nature called Race Equality in Nature and set up Black2Nature.


This is what I wrote back then bit.ly/2jCGf13 and http://bit.ly/2kdjI9X

In the last six months, I have had lots of criticism aimed at me for daring to say that face-to-face competitions tend to be avoided by lots of girls and some boys. This was in response to the fact that no girls had entered the Young Birder of the Year Competition at Migfest for the last two years in a row.

I was told by the organisers that it was my fault that I didn't like competitions and that I was just afraid of losing. I explained that I had entered the American Birding Association Young Birder of the Year and had no problems with competitions, just this kind of competition which also takes place at the BTO young birders camp.

Birding and twitching in the UK are highly competitive with people keeping lists of their birds and hoping to beat others. Young birders can not help but be impacted by this macho culture. Lots of girls have stood up to tell me that they haven't had any problems with sexism, implying it must be my problem or imagination. Why might their experience be different from mine?

Some reasons:
I stand out as competition
I was in a BBC TV documentary as a child twitcher, from which some concluded that I wasn't interested in birding. This made me fair game for people to "prove" this;
I was the youngest person to see 400 birds in the UK and have seen 485 birds. Young birders my age can't beat this, but they can set out to beat me in a skills competition;
I have seen over 5000 birds in the world, with lots of adult male birders commenting on social media that they bet my skills are rubbish, whilst others feel it is their duty to demonstrate that I am a poorly skilled birder
I am vocal with opinions

When I have talked about sexism in conservation recently on social media, a number of White middle-class women told me how their employers were amazing. Maybe they are TO THEM, however, it is important to look at the total experience and not just a few individuals. There is lots of evidence of sexism within nature, conservation and the environmental sector. Just a quick look at the top male 

What can I do to change this?

A couple of years ago, a young birder in his early twenties gave me the most honest advice. He said that if I wanted to fit in with other young male birders, I had to do the following:
Shut down my Birdgirl blog
Shut down by Birdgirl FB Page and Twitter
Stop using the name Birdgirl
Delete my BUBO birding lists
NEVER refer to how many birds I've seen
Set up a new twitter account, only follow birders and only RT UK bird news
Stop posting photos from birding trips abroad
Stop my diversity campaigning and shut down Black2Nature
Stop talking to any kind of media - no TV, no articles, no talks
Stop holding my Camp Avalon nature weekends
Go to the BTO young birders camp and act dumb
Chat to other young birders on social media & act dumb

I know he was totally right, but I don't want to fit in that much.  It was too much to sacrifice and I would hate myself for doing it. So instead, I stay away from young birders. I stay away from "competitions" and I stay away from the BTO camp.


Camp Avalon



Camp Avalon


I have lots of stories and examples but I don't want to upset anyone.

So, you see, I am not afraid of losing, I am afraid of winning.

Person by person, let's change this world of objectification and misogyny.

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