Women have been fishing alongside men forever, but our contributions have been greatly undervalued or left out altogether. Reading this “Journal of Sport History” article helped me to build a timeline in my own mind, an important first step in rewriting the history of fly fishing.
Our true history will better reflect voices that would otherwise be silenced by historians and men’s angling groups.
It became glaringly obvious to me early on that men’s groups are formed to create an imbalance of power. Discrimination plays out as a form of social bullying where the powerful isolate the visible minority from the pack, refusing to socialize with them, and worse. Adults who bully have authoritarian personalities, combined with a strong need to control or dominate. Some bullies are arrogant and narcissistic — others use bullying to boost their self-esteem.
Women angling leaders are notably excluded from clubs, text and photos. The clubs’ sole purpose is to serve as meeting places for like-minded sports, places where people gather who share similar values and beliefs, and of course a love of fishing.
Separate … and not equal
“Separate but equal” is a contradiction in terms and violates modern-day sensibilities. Excluding any group because its members are “different” is hurtful and backward. How do they explain away the harm done by denying women access to the opportunities that they enjoy via membership in men-only clubs? What do these members tell their daughters?
People react in the same way they are treated, so it was not surprising to see the groundswell against the status quo of the “old boys club” when I started an online petition against gender inequality in our sport. I had more than 140 signatures in the first 24 hours.
People have been writing to tell me about their own experiences, so I started the Facebook support group “Is Anyone Here Good Enough for the Anglers’ Club of New York?” The online exchanges make clear that people want to see a revision of outdated philosophies in angling culture. I’m sure the members of the Anglers’ Club can feel in their bones that people are hurting by being excluded in this way. Some people can only understand what they’ve seen before, and if their ears are not open to hearing what we’re trying to tell them, change can’t happen.
I have an older and a younger brother; my dad would take them fishing, but not me — because I’m a girl. Being excluded still hurts my feelings, even today. I didn’t view myself as different, simply as the middle child. Why do so many mothers give away their daughters’ pride by allowing these lessons of power and status to be taught? It is like breaking an elephant with chains. Horrible thing to watch and do nothing.
Here is what I posted on Facebook:
My name is Kathryn and I’m not good enough for the Anglers’ Club. I have all the skills to make me look like an angler, and I even talk like an angler, but at the end of the day I’m not “clubbable” because of my uterus, vagina and breasts. I don’t belong to any women’s clubs, and I don’t belong to any men’s clubs. I just fish. So join me here and share fishing and friendship.
Friends thought perhaps my account had been hacked. This type of post is a little lowbrow for me. Its purpose was to shock by breaking this issue down into the most basic of terms: sex. That’s what we’re really talking about here, isn’t it? What is it about the mere mention of the female body that makes people uncomfortable? Nothing inappropriate about it. “The Vagina Monologues” was popular and well attended.
People have a natural drive to feel connected and included. I guess I’m still looking for that. It won’t be fixed by landing a world-record blue catfish, which I did. It will only be fixed by creating awareness to the problem through efforts like this. I do find some solace in this, however:
“To go fishing is the chance to wash one’s soul with pure air, with the rush of the brook, or with the shimmer of sun on blue water. It brings meekness and inspiration from the decency of nature, charity toward tackle-makers, patience toward fish, a mockery of profits and egos, a quieting of hate, a rejoicing that you do not have to decide a darned thing until next week. And it is discipline in the equality of men—for all men are equal before fish.”
Ninety-eight percent of my feedback on this issue is very positive, and at times quite funny. Bill wrote, “I suspect the Anglers’ Club (never been there) is mostly a group of stuffy, self-congratulatory, old white guys (OWGs) who take themselves far too seriously, and seriously overlook women’s contributions to their sport and their lives.” One woman told me that she burned her bra long ago and we are OK today. This when I had the barbecue lighter in hand, but I used it to burn this guy’s post:
Randy wrote, “I guarantee you can fish a heckuvalot better than me but I do run well with the pack!”
Fire up your Bics
Don’t put your lighters away yet, ladies. More disturbing to me than that last post is knowing that so many women gave up their power/voice years ago and have simply lost hope. Deb wrote, “They won’t change … at least not until our parents’ generation is all dead.”
Laynie wrote, “They can give birth to these men … but not be allowed to fish alongside them . . . they can raise their offspring . . . yet not sit beside them at a club event . . . if these men did not have women doing the things for them to keep their homes and lives running they would not have time for such idle pursuits as spending time in anglers’ clubs.”
It’s time to elevate our rich fly-fishing history and make it even richer by remembering that we are all equal in the eyes of fish and children. (I love this Bing Crosby/Louis Armstrong classic, “Gone Fishin’.”)
A member of the Anglers’ Club was quoted as saying that he is “drawn to fly fishing’s peace and naturalism.” Well, I guess he is talking about Father Nature. They want to take credit for that, too.