I see it almost every time I schedule a fishing trip with a male guide – the look. The one that vacillates between sympathy and ‘oh, great, I’m babysitting today,’ when they see they are fishing with a woman. I have come to accept it and realize that every outing is an opportunity to prove myself again and again.
It usually only takes baiting my own hook or reeling in my first catch to break down the walls, but oftentimes, I now just tell them from the start that it’s going to be a great day on the water and I can handle my own.
If my guide still seems skeptical, I just pull out a photo of my record-breaking catch of giant Mekong catfish in Thailand at Bungsamran Lake. I am featured several times in the Fish Thailand gallery, so offering up proof that I can catch fish larger than my body seems to be enough “fish-cred” to suffice.
For most of the millennium, females engaged in the outdoor sporting world were perceived to be existing only in sexy posters artificially posing with a large fish, big rifles or deer. While that still exists (the posters and the perception) women are kicking it up a notch and showing that femininity can also be packaged in confidence, technical skill, strength, grit and passion.
My bright red hair and manicured nails certainly don’t fit the mold for someone who might be digging her hands through chicken liver or sweating in 110 degree heat to catch some of the largest fish in the world. I get it. But, the field is widening with great company, and that’s a good thing.
I am meeting so many women who are some of the most lovely, polite and feminine women you will ever meet who can shoot, fish, hunt, bike, race and paddle their way to records – they are at the top of their game in their respective outdoor fields, oftentimes competing with men.
I call it The Hunger Games Factor. It is the idea that a woman can, indeed, be covered in fish slime and dirt during the day and still don a cocktail dress at night.
There is a reason that outdoor companies are expanding their gear and marketing to women. They know that our skill, interest and buying power has emerged from the posters and impressively into the field increasingly adding to the $90 billion outdoor sporting industry.
According to the most recent stats available from the Congressional Sportsman Foundation, the U.S. now has 37.4 million hunters and anglers over the age of 16. The most recent study shows the first significant increase in outdoor participants in many years (hunters up 9%, anglers up 11%). Women are increasingly making up a greater portion of those numbers every year.
When I get the look before a big day of fishing, and I go through my spiel or pull out my fishing photos, I tell myself that it is my tiny contribution to help break down the out-dated perception that females are feeble participants in the outdoor sporting world.
It has nothing to do with boasting “girl power” or some kind of feminist position. It is an honest assessment coming from someone who is part of a proud and confident segment of the outdoor sporting realm. Unfortunately, not everyone is convinced yet and that’s ok, we just have a little more work to do.
I am so proud that my grandpa taught me that cute little girls with freckles and pigtails could dig in the dirt like the boys to find night crawlers and go fishing. As our strength in numbers grows and women continue to impress with real skill, respect will follow and someday the look will be one only of excitement for a day to fish with a fellow angler.
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