How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

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Fishnut
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How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by Fishnut » Thu Feb 18, 2021 2:42 pm

A woman has accused a prominent member of the Black birding community in the US of rape. She detailed the background and the incident in a long and thorough piece and though she didn't name her rapist people were able to work out who it was very easily. He used his knowledge and experience of birding to gain her trust and her friendship and then abused it. Her account is well worth a read, though it is graphic, as it provides an excellent insight into many aspects of rape, not least how rapists are able to victimise in multiple ways - through the rape itself but also by making their victim feel like they're the one at fault and to second-guess and gaslight their experience.

The incident has, unsurprisingly, caused the birding community to self-reflect and examine why birding has such a significant gender disparity and what can be done to make women feel safer and more welcome. Or, more accurately, it has caused some members of the birding community to self-reflect. Others have taken issue at the claim that the birding community is in anyway hostile to women. Excerpts from a thread on birdforum.net have been making the rounds on twitter and they are not showing the place in a good light. It's well worth a look. The deflection and dismissal of concerns, the whataboutery, the nitpicking of her story, the use of "biology" as excuses for actions, are all familiar tactics when someone tries to get communities to do better.

Why are men so threatened when it's pointed out that their obviously exclusionary community is exclusionary? I really don't understand.
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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by FlammableFlower » Thu Feb 18, 2021 3:05 pm

I think there's a general defensiveness that is practically automatic - that any such criticism becomes personal even if someone wasn't directly involved - that becomes a direct personal attack.

So rather than being able to say - I might not have been part of that but I recognise that it happened, that it is wrong and we should all make changes so as it doesn't happen again - they argue against the point, even if it should be obvious.

Unfortunately I have no idea how to solve that...

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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by El Pollo Diablo » Thu Feb 18, 2021 4:49 pm

I've seen this behaviour in several contexts, as I'm sure have many here, and it's why we created Rule 12, in order to try to stop it from happening at Scrutable. There's a sort of defensive which comes in - some people (men) just seem incapable of dealing with the idea that something may need to change, especially when this is a behaviour of their own. The mindset seems to be one of wriggling around, avoiding thinking of themselves as part of the problem; rather than thinking of themselves as able to suggest how to be part of the solution.

It wouldn't surprise me if there was a fair overlap between men who get defensive like this, and men who are incapable of accepting fault and apologising.
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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by Fishnut » Thu Feb 18, 2021 5:41 pm

What I find so interesting about it all is that the response is so often along the lines of "I'm not like that, I'm offended by the accusation that I behave in this way" when they weren't being accused of the behaviour in the first place. I don't get angry when I see a sign saying "no walking on the grass" when I'm not walking on the grass. The sign isn't directed at me so I can ignore it. I might well have an opinion on the pros and cons of such a sign but I don't take it personally. When I might take it personally is if I'm already walking on the grass and only then do I see it. In that case the normal response is to say "oh, sh.t, I didn't see the sign" and get off the grass as quickly and carefully as possible. But the response we often see is the equivalent of stomping around on the grass saying "why do I need to be told to stay off the grass, there's no need to stay off the grass, you're just making up problems for the sake of it" all the while the grass gets steadily trampled and a muddy mire is created.

I am increasingly of the opinion that the petulant "I'm not like that" is an admission that they actually are like that, they know they are and they are embarrassed at being identified.
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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by shpalman » Thu Feb 18, 2021 5:43 pm

I don't get angry at a "no walking on the grass" sign either, because I don't walk on the grass. What else do you want me to do apart from not walk on the grass?
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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by Woodchopper » Thu Feb 18, 2021 7:14 pm

Fishnut wrote:
Thu Feb 18, 2021 5:41 pm
What I find so interesting about it all is that the response is so often along the lines of "I'm not like that, I'm offended by the accusation that I behave in this way" when they weren't being accused of the behaviour in the first place. I don't get angry when I see a sign saying "no walking on the grass" when I'm not walking on the grass. The sign isn't directed at me so I can ignore it. I might well have an opinion on the pros and cons of such a sign but I don't take it personally. When I might take it personally is if I'm already walking on the grass and only then do I see it. In that case the normal response is to say "oh, sh.t, I didn't see the sign" and get off the grass as quickly and carefully as possible. But the response we often see is the equivalent of stomping around on the grass saying "why do I need to be told to stay off the grass, there's no need to stay off the grass, you're just making up problems for the sake of it" all the while the grass gets steadily trampled and a muddy mire is created.

I am increasingly of the opinion that the petulant "I'm not like that" is an admission that they actually are like that, they know they are and they are embarrassed at being identified.
I think that a better analogy would be someone who lives on one side of the grass and the high street is on the other side. They’ve been walking across the grass every day or so for at least forty years. Yes, at times the grass does look a bit muddy around their front door. But it’s a longer round trip to avoid the grass and no one has asked them not to so it isn’t a problem.

So if someone politely asks them not to walk on the grass they’ll ignore the request.

If the council puts up a sign they’ll complain bitterly about how they’re being bullied by the busy body control freaks who can’t just let someone have the liberty walk where they please on public land which they own anyway as they pay taxes.

If the council tries to enforce the no walking on the grass rule they’ll write letters to the local paper complaining about the nanny state and join whichever local party promises to bring down the wannabe dictators in the council.

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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by lpm » Thu Feb 18, 2021 7:29 pm

It's more like someone who walks on the grass, but gets away with it because there's a minority who churn up the grass with motorbikes.

Now "they" are going after the motorbike riders. And the grass walker is going to lose his cover. Once the motorbike gang are hounded out, the lesser abusers are exposed as the next target in line.
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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by Woodchopper » Thu Feb 18, 2021 8:07 pm

lpm wrote:
Thu Feb 18, 2021 7:29 pm
It's more like someone who walks on the grass, but gets away with it because there's a minority who churn up the grass with motorbikes.

Now "they" are going after the motorbike riders. And the grass walker is going to lose his cover. Once the motorbike gang are hounded out, the lesser abusers are exposed as the next target in line.
Yes, though of course if the motorbike riders are ever mentioned in the same sentence the grass walkers will howl with indignation at the fear mongering and blatant manipulation (as none of the grass walkers even own a motorbike) (Except for Bob, but he isn’t really a grass walker).

There will probably be some self aware people who understand that stopping motorbiking will make grass walking more difficult. But a lot the grass walkers don’t even need to see the link. They’re already fired up by any suggestion that they shouldn’t go wherever they like on the grass and will be easy fodder for the more aware ones.

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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by jimbob » Thu Feb 18, 2021 9:05 pm

lpm wrote:
Thu Feb 18, 2021 7:29 pm
It's more like someone who walks on the grass, but gets away with it because there's a minority who churn up the grass with motorbikes.

Now "they" are going after the motorbike riders. And the grass walker is going to lose his cover. Once the motorbike gang are hounded out, the lesser abusers are exposed as the next target in line.
And the grass walkers act as cover for some of the motorbike riders too
Have you considered stupidity as an explanation

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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by dyqik » Thu Feb 18, 2021 10:35 pm

(Aside: I think stretching an analogy too far has the potential to become problematic in this kind of conversation. But feel free to ignore this if you disagree or don't think it's relevant yet.)

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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by Woodchopper » Fri Feb 19, 2021 7:09 am

dyqik wrote:
Thu Feb 18, 2021 10:35 pm
(Aside: I think stretching an analogy too far has the potential to become problematic in this kind of conversation. But feel free to ignore this if you disagree or don't think it's relevant yet.)
Fair enough. Back to normal, I’ll suggest that some members communities resist change because: they find it difficult modify ingrained behaviours; they resent others suggesting that there is anything wrong with what they’re doing; and they perceive an advantage from the behaviour.

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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by plodder » Fri Feb 19, 2021 7:23 am

I think self-reflection and also the ability to put yourself in the shoes of other people are hard-won skills and many older men have never had to practice them, and therefore don’t know how to do them at all.

Expecting them to be able to do this or understand this will get predictable results. Dialogue needs to be more direct, specific, explaining and showing rather than assuming it’s obvious. It obviously isn’t obvious because the #notallmen who make up these communities are not evil people.

Birders are a particularly solitary subset of older men. They should be classed as a ‘hard to reach’ group.

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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by Bird on a Fire » Fri Feb 19, 2021 12:17 pm

I've been watching this happen on Twitter. I've already seen and heard from a lot of female colleagues the extent of problems they have on fieldwork, from sexist attitudes to outright harassment and assault. It's depressing that parts of the community are so quick to deny there's a problem.

The abuser in this case is being cancelled fast - kicked out of organisations he was fronting, losing his thousands of social media followers, etc. Despite the lack of due process I think this is the right approach to take.

Birdforum specifically has always had a reputation for unpleasant bickering. The kind of place where people will call each other c.nts over a disputed flycatcher identification. It's not surprising that that particular community can't handle discussions of topics that actually matter, but it's still depressing.
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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by Bird on a Fire » Fri Feb 19, 2021 12:20 pm

plodder wrote:
Fri Feb 19, 2021 7:23 am
Birders are a particularly solitary subset of older men. They should be classed as a ‘hard to reach’ group.
What's perhaps especially tragic in this case is that the bloke in question is the face of a number of organisations/campaigns doing genuinely great work to bring young people of colour into the birdwatching community, and he's used the power that's brought him to abuse people he's supposed to be helping.
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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by Fishnut » Fri Feb 19, 2021 1:31 pm

plodder wrote:
Fri Feb 19, 2021 7:23 am
Birders are a particularly solitary subset of older men. They should be classed as a ‘hard to reach’ group.
I'd actually dispute this claim. The most vocal and financially-invested birders may well be a subset of older men but if you classify "birder" as "someone who likes watching birds" then I think it's fair to say that there are a lot of women birders out there. The RSPB is one of the largest membership organisations in the UK with 1.1 million members. And while I can't find demographic info, I think it's fair to assume that that's not 1.1 million men. The minutes from their 2019 AGM acknowledge their membership is dominated by the 55+ age group (I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case for many established charities) but they also note that they "have the world’s largest youth conservation organisation with 400,000 youth members".

The question isn't "why aren't women birdwatching?" (they are) but "what aren't women engaging with formal birdwatching events and organisations?". And this is just one version of the same question we see for many different organisations - men see women not engaging and think we're not interested when in fact what we're not interested in is engaging with hostile environments that make us feel like we have to spend our entire time justifying our presence and never get to actually enjoy ourselves.
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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by plodder » Fri Feb 19, 2021 3:22 pm

Rspb members =! birders.

Birders are typically solitary middle aged to older men with an expensive camera and/or scope, a flask, and a penchant for sitting quietly in bird hides.

RSPB members are typically guilt tripped into buying memberships by the nice people on the stall at the RSPB reserve who point out it’s cheaper to join and get the family discount than pay to get the kids in, plus you get a really nice ID book, plus a nature magazine for the kids - which is bound to imbue them with a life long love of nature that will lead to them buying expensive cameras and spending all their time on their own glaring at families who stumble into a bird hide.

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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by Fishnut » Fri Feb 19, 2021 3:34 pm

plodder wrote:
Fri Feb 19, 2021 3:22 pm
Rspb members =! birders.

Birders are typically solitary middle aged to older men with an expensive camera and/or scope, a flask, and a penchant for sitting quietly in bird hides.

RSPB members are typically guilt tripped into buying memberships by the nice people on the stall at the RSPB reserve who point out it’s cheaper to join and get the family discount than pay to get the kids in, plus you get a really nice ID book, plus a nature magazine for the kids - which is bound to imbue them with a life long love of nature that will lead to them buying expensive cameras and spending all their time on their own glaring at families who stumble into a bird hide.
Your evidence that "solitary middle aged to older men with an expensive camera and/or scope, a flask, and a penchant for sitting quietly in bird hides" are representative of birders is...?

You don't need expensive kit to be a birder. You don't need to spend hours sat in the cold in a hide to be a birder. You certainly don't need to be a bloke to be a birder. If your definition of a birder is "solitary middle aged to older men with an expensive camera and/or scope, a flask, and a penchant for sitting quietly in bird hides" then of course it's going to skew male. But if your definition is the more reasonable "someone who likes watching birds" then that includes a hell of a lot more people and if they aren't engaging with your community while engaging with your hobby you probably want to ask yourself why.
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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by tom p » Fri Feb 19, 2021 3:41 pm

Fishnut wrote:
Fri Feb 19, 2021 3:34 pm
plodder wrote:
Fri Feb 19, 2021 3:22 pm
Rspb members =! birders.

Birders are typically solitary middle aged to older men with an expensive camera and/or scope, a flask, and a penchant for sitting quietly in bird hides.

RSPB members are typically guilt tripped into buying memberships by the nice people on the stall at the RSPB reserve who point out it’s cheaper to join and get the family discount than pay to get the kids in, plus you get a really nice ID book, plus a nature magazine for the kids - which is bound to imbue them with a life long love of nature that will lead to them buying expensive cameras and spending all their time on their own glaring at families who stumble into a bird hide.
Your evidence that "solitary middle aged to older men with an expensive camera and/or scope, a flask, and a penchant for sitting quietly in bird hides" are representative of birders is...?

You don't need expensive kit to be a birder. You don't need to spend hours sat in the cold in a hide to be a birder. You certainly don't need to be a bloke to be a birder. If your definition of a birder is "solitary middle aged to older men with an expensive camera and/or scope, a flask, and a penchant for sitting quietly in bird hides" then of course it's going to skew male. But if your definition is the more reasonable "someone who likes watching birds" then that includes a hell of a lot more people and if they aren't engaging with your community while engaging with your hobby you probably want to ask yourself why.
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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by dyqik » Fri Feb 19, 2021 4:07 pm

The question surely is whether those bird hides are in The True Scotland or not.

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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by plodder » Fri Feb 19, 2021 4:25 pm

I suggest you spend more time in bird hides. It's vanishingly rare to see anyone who isn't white, and men significantly outnumber women. I'd be willing to bet the average age is 50+.

eta the definition of "birder" isn't someone who tops up the peanut feeder regularly, and that isn't a euphemism. It's kind of normal for them to have decent binoculars, and if they're going to a hide then scopes and fancy cameras are very common.
Last edited by plodder on Fri Feb 19, 2021 4:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by Grumble » Fri Feb 19, 2021 4:28 pm

plodder wrote:
Fri Feb 19, 2021 4:25 pm
I suggest you spend more time in bird hides. It's vanishingly rare to see anyone who isn't white, and men significantly outnumber women. I'd be willing to bet the average age is 50+.
Fishnut wrote:
Fri Feb 19, 2021 3:34 pm
You don't need to spend hours sat in the cold in a hide to be a birder. You certainly don't need to be a bloke to be a birder. If your definition of a birder is "solitary middle aged to older men with an expensive camera and/or scope, a flask, and a penchant for sitting quietly in bird hides" then of course it's going to skew male.
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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by Bird on a Fire » Fri Feb 19, 2021 4:59 pm

I'd say when I started birding about 15 years ago it was noticeable that most of the established figures were older blokes. But of people roughly my age and younger now (the ≤30s squad), it's a roughly even balance.

There probably is a male bias in people who want to spend hours and hours grilling a sub-adult gull at a sewage farm through a telescope and then argue over blurry photos online. But that's a particular part of the scene - the listing obsessive, twitchy end; similar to train-spotting, if trains could fly and hide and didn't follow timetables - that's falling out of fashion anyway. (They are Birdforum's core user base, though)

And I will say that the British Trust for Ornithology - the NGO that coordinates the UK's world-leading volunteer monitoring data collection surveys - has been doing a lot of youth outreach to bring teenagers into the community, and the visible face of that is no longer male-biased. (One of their youth people, Dara McAnulty, just won the Wainwright Prize for his book Diary of a Young Naturalist - decent stuff for a 16 year old with autism).

My ecology/conservation degree programs have always been a equal split too. Qualified bird-ringers in the UK are more blokes, but trainees are split equally. NGO staff pretty even split, with lots of senior roles occupied by women at RSPB and BTO (BTO's new chair, Juliet Vickery, was head of science at RSPB previously, for instance).

There's perhaps a split in the kinds of birding men and women do, with competitive listing more appealing to the kinds of men who would also like stamp collecting, memorising digits of pi and comparing their willies. It's not a scene that's necessarily enormously welcoming to anyone, but I think that kind of moderately toxic ego-driven social environment is more off-putting to women.

But yeah I go birding quite a lot for fun and profit, and I'd say ~half the people I regularly bird with are women. They might not be as visible to non-birders though, especially if you have a slightly circular definition of 'birder' based on old stereotypes ;)
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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by plodder » Fri Feb 19, 2021 5:44 pm

data: https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/repor ... alysis.pdf

It’s from the states and demographics are skewed towards white and middle aged. They find slightly more women than men participate, but they’re also counting “watching birds in the garden” (who make up >80% of the respondents). I’d be interested to know how the gender split translates to the people who travel to do this, whether it translates to the UK etc, and how the toxic culture in the OP fits in. But data nonetheless.

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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by Woodchopper » Fri Feb 19, 2021 7:56 pm

Here's the open access: 'Gender Patterns in Bird-related Recreation in the USA and UK'
http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/ ... 0-3603.pdf

The article makes a distinction between recreational birdwatching and 'birding'. On the former it states that RSPB membership is 52% female.

'Birding' is described as being a distinct form of bird watching which is focused upon compiling lists of identified species, which is often a competitive sport and has specific institutions (eg regular organized competitions). The article finds that men are significantly over represented among birding organizations.

(I really don't care either way, just thought I'd look up the numbers).

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Re: How not to tackle gender disparities in your community

Post by Fishnut » Fri Feb 19, 2021 8:51 pm

Woodchopper wrote:
Fri Feb 19, 2021 7:56 pm
Here's the open access: 'Gender Patterns in Bird-related Recreation in the USA and UK'
http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/ ... 0-3603.pdf

The article makes a distinction between recreational birdwatching and 'birding'. On the former it states that RSPB membership is 52% female.

'Birding' is described as being a distinct form of bird watching which is focused upon compiling lists of identified species, which is often a competitive sport and has specific institutions (eg regular organized competitions). The article finds that men are significantly over represented among birding organizations.

(I really don't care either way, just thought I'd look up the numbers).
Interesting paper - good find! I think what they're calling "birding" used to be called (and afaik still is in the UK) "twitching", a term which doesn't appear in the paper ("twitch" is in the title of one of the references though).

This is interesting,
The patterns in the Participatory category suggest that females may be motivated to help birds, teach children, or assist scientific endeavors, i.e., altruistic, whereas men may be more focused on achievement (Kellert 1985).

It's an observation I've seen in reference to women in STEM. This paper, also from 2010 as it happens, talks about how women often pursue careers that allow them to fulfil "communal goals", something STEM careers are (falsely) perceived to impede rather than facilitate.

I find this discussion point to be very interesting,
Future research should aim at understanding gender differences in bird-related recreation and determining motivations and constraints. Such an understanding would be useful to develop schemes or events to draw broad segments of the population into bird-related recreation. For example, by adding an aspect of discrete competitiveness into volunteer based scientific surveys, i.e., citizen science, male participation may increase and, subsequently, this will increase the overall number of citizens contributing to ecological studies.
I'm not sure than pandering to these competitive urges is really the way forward. How about trying to encourage altruism in men instead?
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