Growing up, I didn’t care to for the usual “girly” things (and really still don’t)- pedicures, manicures, or keeping up with the latest fashion trends- it all seemed so boring and pointless. I wanted to travel the world, initiate myself to new cultures, food, and go on excursions researching wildlife. But as a woman, sometimes breaking into the world of field research, as well as being taken seriously as a scientist/field biologist, can be quite a problem. Nobel Prize winner’s Tim Hunt’s recent sexist comments illustrates again the struggles women have to face daily (and sometimes it is not only by males, but other females as well) especially if you are working with reptiles, and one that could possibly (and easily) cause some major injury to you.
“Why don’t you study something more feminine? Something that is fluffy, or less dangerous that a woman can handle.” I’ll never forget that conversation during my first Master’s committee meeting with my professor and 2 other committee members. That comment baffled me, especially since this particular committee member is revered for his work in science and his “progressiveness.” Luckily, comments like that have always fueled the fire within where I need to prove the ignorant wrong. Although I feel I have worked my arse off over the years for my particular research of interest (publishing a book and papers, obtaining recognition in the IUCN/Crocodile Specialist Group and being appointed Vice Regional Chair of Latin America, obtaining the National Science Foundation’s Graduate and Postdoc Fellowships…), I still feel the lack of respect ever so often because I AM A WOMAN. As most women scientist/ field biologists will tell you, we sometimes feel we have to work 10 times harder than a man to obtain the same recognition and/or respect as our male colleagues. It’s definitely frustrating at times… and it can be very frustrating when you are a woman who needs to actively catch crocs for her research.
I’ve always been big on collaborations- wherever I travel for my research I like to contact the local organizations that perform croc research to assist in my research. I have sometimes taken a step back during captures, or have found myself as the one leading the capture. Through internationally traveling and meeting croc experts all over the world, I have learned so many techniques and have had such amazing experiences. But there are times I still feel because I am a “woman” I am scrutinized or judged more for my capture and/or field techniques. Well, sometimes you just have to continue doing, and forget about the peanut gallery… and illustrate that you can do anything just as good as a man (yet, also understand and know your limits).
About 2 weeks ago Pete Oxford, a renowned wildlife photographer and member of the IUCN, was in town and wanted to get some pictures of crocs. I told him he could come out and join me and another student of mine who needed to get some data for research… and it just so happen that the only people around for the croc capture were all women. I was excited, but I also knew that given the experience of the other three women with crocs, and me being 7 months pregnant at the time, what our size limit would be. I stressed to the girls that we would not catch anything over 7 feet, and it would be best to capture something between 6-7 feet for the research. I sent 2 girls to the spot prior to my arrival with Pete to set up a snare trap. Within 30 minutes of our arrival, we caught a 6 foot croc. Everything was flawless- the capture, the restraint, the collection of data, the release… I helped when I could but gave more direction than anything (again, given I am pregnant I know what my limits are and what I can and cannot do). 4 girls and a croc… it was fantastic! It was a proud moment for me, and all of the girls were just as excited and proud of themselves. Of course, word of the “women capturing a croc” spread, and there was immediate concern… and I know some of the concern was because of the gender of the participants. Again, if I was a man (or there were men actively involved in the capture) there would be no worry that I was leading a capture. Seems my 9 1/2 years working (which includes capturing and handling) with crocs in captivity and in the field were blinded by the fact I have breasts.
Currently, there are more and more women going into croc research, and other fields of biology. Times are changing, but they are unfortunately changing slowly and I feel part of that has to do with other women not supporting us women scientist in what we do. If women are ever to gain TRUE equality, we need to start supporting one another, putting jealousy and archaic views aside. It’s no longer pre-1950s… a woman’s worth is no longer based on her fertility or how well she cleans a house. It’s time to embrace the independence and strength (whether that be inner or physical) of women. So to all the “haters” out there- watch out because a new generation of women field biologists, and scientists, are on a rise, and we are NOT going to take any more ignorance and intolerability anymore!