macho field biology

Cindy Hale chale at SAGE.NRRI.UMN.EDU
Mon Mar 13 10:02:18 EST 1995

I have had similar experiences in past field positions.  However, to be 
fair I have had an equal number of very positive experience working with 
men in the field.  If I can make generalizations... the older the men the 
more likely I was to get some kind of wierd reaction from them, I'm not 
THAT young (33) but I am quite small and look very young (mid 20's?). More 
often than not they treated me very pleasantly but there was a distinct 
feeling that they were trying to "take care of, or help me out" - Let me 
qualify this by saying many of these were foresters and from my experience 
they come from a very traditional, conservative point of view... PLEASE, 
remember I am generalizing and certainly not ALL men I have worked with 
fit this mold.  
Generally younger, field biology type guys are the most non judgemental of 
my potential and abilities in the field.  However, I did have one 
particularly negative experience with one supervisor.  There was a crew of 
six, four women and two men.  While I honestly think he believed himself 
to be non-sexist, some of his behaviors were exceedingly so. The work 
was in very steep rugged terrain, involved a great deal of hiking up and 
down through dense wet vegatation... and very early morning and late 
night work, which I did with the highest of quality.  In the end he 
could not keep me down because of my work so did so by my supposed 
  He had been doing this work for several years and had 
determined how he thought it should be done, ie) pack up the vehicle and 
head out for a week sleeping in  pullouts along the road etc.  which at 
times when early morning work was need was practical but there were 
equally appropriate times when it was possible to drive home and sleep in 
my own comfy bed, he had nothing but distain for this.  Additionally, he 
spent a great deal of time "training" the two men on the crew but not the 
women, he said because we didn't ask to be trained, a complete and utter 
lie, but I truely believe he thought it was true. By the end of the season 
I realized how insidious this was, he REALLY believed himself to be non-
sexist but time after time I would hear one of the women say something 
only to be ignored and one of the guys would say the same thing, sometimes 
the exact same words immediately after the woman said it, he would respond 
enthusiastically with praise. Additionally, I was repremanded severly for 
doing something in the field he felt inappropriate, part of his 
justification for this was his statement that none of the others would 
have done the same thing.  I asked my co-workers and they were 
flabbergasted since they WOULD have likely done the same thing and 
in  fact one of the guys DID do the exact same thing the following week 
and not a word was said.
I ended up shooting myself in the foot by trying to say anything to him, I 
was labels an unreasonable trouble maker and as a result he gave me a bad 
reference on a subsequent job application and a male co-worker who was 
significantly less qualified than myself got the position.  What 
infuriated me even more though was the fact that both he and the guy doing 
the hiring (they were buddies so likely a blessing I didn't get the 
position) kept referring to me and the other applicant as being "very 
equally qualified"  even though he had NO experience in three of the 
stated areas  of qualifications desired and I had extensive experience in 
all three.  In the end, It became obvious to me that what I did and how I 
preformed on the job had much less to do with my success in this 
particular field than my lacking macho attitude.

 It is a frustrating situation, I actually have little in the way of 
suggestions as to how to deal with it.  I seems to me that some particular 
areas; forestry, large mammal and raptor work to name a few are 
particularly prone to such problems while others, particularly field 
botany, are less so.  Sometimes I just think we have to be patient and 
wait for the changing of the guards as such, a friend of mine (female 
soil scientist, a VERY male dominated field) once put it as... Science 
progresses one death at a time.
Yet at the same time we must not shy away from gently pushing our way into 
places where there is already less resistance and at least loosening the 
fences in other areas.  The situation has I believe improved in the 10+ 
years I have been in the field and the more women expand into various 
fields the better the situation will become.
I guess I have ramble a bit, my apologies, and thanks for the indulgence.
Cindy Hale
Natural Resources Research Institute
University of Minn - Duluth

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