Letter to BBC Wildlife Magazine on sexism in nature conservation

Letter to BBC Wildlife Magazine on sexism in nature conservation

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig ringing
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

My lovely friend Lucy McRobert wrote a brilliant article in the December 2015 edition of BBC Wildlife Magazine.  In it she talked about the sexism in birding and nature conservation. This was something raised by Matt Williams at the September 2014 AFON Conference in Cambridge.  It was a subject that I felt so strongly about, that I was prepared to speak up about it in front of all the delegates.

Lucy McRobert’s article in the December 2015 BBC Wildlife Magazine

 

This is a longer and amended version of the letter that I have sent about the article.

Dear BBC Wildlife Magazine

Lucy McRobert is exactly right in her opinion on sexism in nature conservation. Even at 13 years old, sexism brings me down.  It’s hard to talk about it without sounding like you have “sour grapes”, but I will try.  I go to Scouts and Guides; in the first, we roll around in the mud and make nest boxes; whilst in the other, we have movie nights and are told Guides aren’t interested in nature.  These stereotypes are ingrained before children even leave primary school.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig doing a Nest Box Survey and ringing as part of Scouts
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

 

At age 7, I was in a BBC4 programme about birding, after which I was subjected to a lot of abuse on social media.  If I had been a boy, being out birding at the weekends would have been acceptable and people would not have been clambering to say that I was “clearly” uninterested in birds. A boy would have reminded male birders of their own childhood and would have been seen as normal.  As a girl, I was unfairly labelled as “bored and unhappy”.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig in BB4’s “Twitchers: A Very British Obsession”

Many male teenage naturalists have high profile male conservationist mentors, so when they do something good, they are hailed by them as the future of conservation. It’s much rarer for girls to have mentors championing them and when they do something great, they are not promoted in the same way.

 

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at BTO Conference in 2014
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

 

I have been subject to cyberbullying because of my sex, which no boys have been subjected to. When I was 11 years old, a secret Facebook group of middle-aged male birders targeted me and posted 150 comments about me, including a sexual remark made by a university lecturer. The very next comment was made by a teacher who ignored the remark. Screenshots were leaked and eventually, the group closed but just reopened with a new name. The attitude of other people in the group was simply that the comment should not have been leaked. I know that the group had previously done the same to at least one other prominent female birder who was also leaked sexual remarks.  She got the police involved and got the remarks removed.

Not long after this happened, I wrote a blog post with a paragraph about this bullying incident, the sexual remark and how bad that made me feel. The blog post was posted in a young birders group where instead of any sympathy, a young male birder made a comment making a false allegation about me and that actual paragraph, which was liked by eleven young birders who were mainly boys and were supporting the men in the group. Although this was a small minority of the group, I felt unable to interact with anyone in the group after that.

No boys have to put up with things like that.

 

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig ringing
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

 

There are often comments appearing on social media about me from adult male birders who have never met me, disparaging my birding abilities.  These are comments because I’m a girl. It’s like, if a boy is a birder or ringer (bander) they tell everyone how fantastic they are and everyone accepts it.  If it’s a girl, it’s assumed by many they don’t know what they are doing, especially if they are more bashful about their skills (as girls often are).

Teenage girls obsess about what people think.  I give lots of talks, but never when there are likely to be any young male nature conservationists, as I feel that I would be judged negatively.  Recently, a young birders’ group held a Young Birder of the Year competition. I did not take part, as I felt I would have been criticized if I won or if I didn’t win. Boys don’t care about this kind of
thing.

To get on in nature conservation in the UK, as a girl you have to be five times better than the nearest boy.  So that’s what I try to do.

Mya-Rose Craig

Age 13

 

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig birding
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

 

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