I recently finished a weekend photography class, and had a lot of fun taking pictures of each other and random strange things. My team consisted of myself, a National Guardsman, and a twenty-two year old named Jessica that I had tagged as an academic who never left her office.
I was so wrong. Over the course of three days I discovered that Jessica frequently hikes in Alaska, packing a gun; that she spends several hours at the range shooting each month; and that she’s a huge proponent for gun rights and women shooters. I was ashamed that I had profiled her based on appearance and assumption.
These same unfortunate assumptions and stereotypes are the very thing that inhibit women from participating in outdoor sports, and I couldn’t believe that I had been guilty of the very thing I criticize others for. I had to examine what had brought about this lapse in my judgment, which led me to wonder about how I can erase those stereotypes and assumptions from others.
I came up with the following guidelines. Obviously, correcting your own mindset, as I had to, is the first requirement.
• Communication-find out who are the outdoor women in your area and network with them. There is strength is numbers.
• Affirmation-when you meet someone like Jessica, whether young or old, congratulate them on their involvement or interest. Take part, if appropriate, to reinforce the affirmation.
• Shoot straight-when you or someone you encounter voices those negative stereotypes, speak up (but courteously, of course). Be prepared with correct information about women in outdoor sports, and hunting, fishing, or shooting groups and opportunities in the area. Let people know that outdoor women are the norm, not the anomaly!
• Encourage and promote! Being actively involved in shooting or other pursuits, inviting others to participate, and being a voice for those activities through avenues such as local policy making, civic service, and incormation sharing all important ways to get the message out.
Jessica and I will soon be traveling together to the local shooting range, delighted that we have found someone with whom to share an activity we like, as well as treasuring a friendship that has developed from shooting down assumptions about people we meet.