By Rachel Dawson
Recently, there has been an inspiring groundswell of public dialog on women: our pasts, our modern experiences and our futures. Like many, I’ve been drawn to this narrative. Via social media, we are connecting on a global scale unheard of less than two decades ago. On Twitter, while perusing the burgeoning #YesAllWomen hashtag, I stumbled across a post by a young woman who implored her peers to stop calling her a “female engineer.” “I’m just an engineer,” she said. I was struck by the simplicity and poignancy of it. Indeed, in many male-dominated professions, interests and communities, there is a tendency to label a woman’s participation as atypical, a GIRL-fill-in-the-blank. This got me thinking about my life as a “sportswoman.”
I was raised to hunt and fish. For more than 25 years, I’ve gone afield with my family and friends. We’ve always maintained several freezers full of healthy, sustainably harvested meat and I’ve become adept at cooking fish and game. Growing up in a very rural community on the Delmarva Peninsula, this wasn’t all that strange. It wasn’t until I was older and venturing out of my pastoral comfort zone that I realized this was something out of the ordinary in the broader public eye. Later, I pursued a career in wildlife conservation, and discovered that the gender and diversity gap runs pretty deep in this community, too. Jodi Stemler hit the nail on the silver head.
Last week, a colleague of mine sent me an image that said in pink script, “Girls hunt, only prettier.” I’ve seen others about girls who hunt and fish deserving jewelry, and girls who fish being cute. She asked if this framing bothered me. And, on some level, it really does. While these things are likely innocuous, they also are symptoms of the concept that what girls do is different just because they’re girls. This is a reality that many of us know well: that we should be concerned with our appearances and maintain our femininity—even while wearing camo. It broke my heart a little.
I’m not a “female hunter.” I’m just a hunter. And angler. There’s nothing wrong with being dirty, grimy, sweaty, smelly or otherwise “man-like.” I do not need to be cute to enjoy the outdoors. My camo does not call for cleavage; my fishing pole does not require a bikini. I do not deserve material rewards for calling in and taking down a gobbler. Wearing perfume (or sometimes even deodorant, eek!) could ruin a hunt. If I have makeup on, it’s yesterday’s, and it’s smeared across my face, mixed with the drool from the four hours of sleep I got. I will always bait my own hook and gut my own critter. And most of that is decidedly not pretty.
I’m certainly not suggesting it’s wrong to hunt pretty. Make your time afield your own – but the choice should be yours. And if, for now, this “pretty hunter” narrative helps to get more women afield, and increases the popularity of girls taking up hunting and fishing, then I am [reluctantly] on board. Recruitment and retention are critical to the future of our traditions and to the success of conservation efforts. I just sincerely hope that one day, we won’t have to tell our girls they’re great hunters and anglers because they’re cute or pretty – but that they are strong and smart and possess invaluable skills that make them formidable in the deer stand or duck blind. We’re just hunters…just like you.
Rachel has worked for several conservation organizations advocating for fish and wildlife habitat restoration. She is currently running a newly-launched competitive grant program that funds on-the-ground restoration efforts in the mid-Atlantic. She lives inside the beltway with her boyfriend Zack and rescue pup Banana, but spends ~30 weekends a year chasing ducks, geese, turkeys, deer and a variety of tasty fish on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.