I was listening to BBC World Report with Razia Iqbal this morning while doing chores and my mind wandered to birding women.
The story that got me there was about women only “Pink” Buses in Turkey that are meant to provide women with the comfort of being away from men as they go about their daily lives — much like women only gyms in the U.S.
There are pros and cons to these buses and while some women welcome them, others don’t. Why? Segregation.
This got me thinking back to the time that I wanted to start an all women’s birding group in my state. I thought about it for weeks, consulted a couple of friends, but then worried that it wouldn’t be successful.
I thought about whether or not it would be appealing on its own…a women only birding group in a seemingly male dominated interest (I don’t have the numbers).
I thought a lot about why I wanted to create this group. I wanted to create it because I found myself only birding with male birders. Even though I knew of several women involved and interested in birding, it was only the men that seemed to be available to get out there and bird.
No offense to the men, but why couldn’t I bird with members of my sex? I also wondered if women were birding together (just not with me), but as I started to ask questions, I learned that a lot of us bird alone. (Those of us with children are 15-minute birders by default.)
(Note: this is just my perspective. I am not intentionally making any assumptions here. I come in peace.)
I realized that this isn’t really a “problem” that needs to be solved with regards to birding. After consulting with a couple of birding friends, a man and a woman, I realized that dividing groups based on sex would too exclusive.
Being exclusive is opposite of what I ever, ever want to promote with regards to birding. So, I didn’t create the group. But I did start to bug female friends to get out there and bird with me. Also, whenever I meet a woman interested in birding, I take her interest seriously and follow up. I am the annoying bird-woman — I’m cool with that.
the practice whereby a man, especially one traveling on public transportation, adopts a sitting position with his legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat or seats.(From Google Dictionary.)
I continued listening to the broadcast. One of the women had stated that she liked the women only buses because it gave her a chance to escape the oblivious vulgarity of some men that ride the bus. She also made a case against man-spreading.
That comment sparked a memory from a couple of years ago when I was searching for both a Barred Owl and a Great Horned Owl in the woods. I was using a hand-drawn map that a birding friend had drawn for me. Among many birders, owls aren’t a species whose location is advertised. Usually, and I include myself in this, we only share with a few a friends that we entrust with their location. (That’s an entirely different post.)
So, back to the search. I had found the Barred Owl, but not the Great Horned. I decided to give it some space and walked in a large semi-circle around it. As I began to walk away from it, it flew to another perch in the woods. I followed.
All of a sudden Fox Sparrow made an appearance. The Fox Sparrow is a sparrow that I had been chasing for a couple of years, and voilà, there it was, perched on a downed tree. Then —
I screamed and jumped in surprise. Naturally, I held my camera in a defensive way.
“Whoa!” The guy said.
I was still holding the camera ready to strike.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I saw you here shooting that bird and I wanted to ask you what type of camera you are using.”
“You scared me.” I said, still on alert.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”
I told him what lens and camera I was using and he then proceeded to tell me that it was not a very good camera or lens — OK Mr. Awkward. He showed me his camera (from a good distance) and as we kept talking, I kept distancing myself from him in the direction of the trail.
The guy, like some man-spreaders, probably had no idea how he was making me feel. But it didn’t feel right. I was completely caught off guard, alone, in the woods, with a stranger, who after scaring the shit out of me, continued to make me feel weird by telling my camera was junky. It was probably because I was shooting with a Canon + Sigma lens, and he was shooting with a Fuji, or something like that. Whatever.
Any way. The woman’s remarks during her interview on the Pink Bus in Turkey reminded me of that guy. In particular that notion of man-spreading. I understood what she meant. My day would have been better, and the Fox Sparrow would have probably stuck around, if that dude hadn’t showed up and man-spread his existence.
In other words, if you’re a man, and you see a woman in the woods, don’t creep up on her.