27 September 2011

The chauvinistic paddling society

It appears that some members of the local paddling community still live in the dark ages.
I am not alluding to the half hearted bickering that’s going on between the virtues of rudders over skegs, or wing paddles versus old school traditional paddles.
I am talking about the attitude that some old fashioned men have towards women.

While I have rarely noticed a direct hostile attitude towards women (luckily only one individual has been so far a total pig) some guys just have not been able to embrace women as valid companions (and occasionally competitors) on the water.
I might console myself with the notion that majority of sea kayakers are (statistically) old and that most still bear old fashioned attitudes ingrained at an early age.
I have a hard time understanding that. And I didn’t necessarily grow up in a hippie environment or a women only household, far from it.
My environment (I was schooled in Italy) was probably just as chauvinistic as the local one, however I have tried to treat women with the respect that modern society has evolved to.
Way too often I have heard denigrating comments around fellow paddlers and I no longer seek the company of those individuals.

My experience with women in sport has been an outstanding one. I have been involved on teams that have sponsored and helped women athletes to win national titles (NORBA). I have been part of mixed teams racing mountain bikes at amateur level and I have always participated in outings where women were part of the group. There has not been a single occasion that I wished I was out with the guys only, quite the opposite.
Women bring balance to a group of overdriven testosterone fuelled males and surprisingly enough often school them. The guys can learn so much from women involved in sports and outdoors. Above all women can teach the “army type” guy to be considered towards other; something that can occur in a group of males-only; where resentment towards the self appointed leader, that drives the group too hard, erupts.
Surprisingly enough however some women have grown to accept such behaviour from the old school thinking males.
It also appears that reportedly some women are condemning efforts to change this attitude; as it has been observed that often partners in abusive relationships are prone to actually defend the abuser even if knowing that they are dangerous.
Could a similar behaviour be happening here where women are actually OK with the sexist behaviour?
Could it be the cause of an education system that involuntarily supports chauvinism and alienates these individuals from really seeing the problem (they kind of got used to it and see nothing wrong with it)?
More on this later…

While it seems to be foreign to some individuals the attitude that they display towards to the “gentler sex”, it also seems that they feel threatened by the skills, knowledge and achievements that women are capable of.
I hear you saying: “but women suck at sports”!
That might be true for brute-force style sports but it is not the case with sea kayaking. With sea kayaking guys can be the disadvantaged ones. Sea kayaking is more often about finesse, flexibility and technique than power. I am taking about sea kayaking, not “who-gets-there-first-wins” paddling. Women have an advantage when rolling if nothing less.
It’s the attitude from these chauvinistic guys that often keeps the girls from not wanting to participate in some outings.
There have been a couple of on-water events held exclusively for women, not because women are chauvinist, quite the opposite, but because they feel often threatened by the behaviour that some guys display towards them.

Hands up who has not heard the denigrating comment towards high achieving sports women: “I think she must be a dyke”.
So, when called upon, the transgressor often acts hostile instead of apologetic; of course, their behaviour has been questioned…
Can it be that Australian males perpetuate this mentality because of the education system? I am led to believe so.

Same sex segregated schooling has been documented to foster bad attitude towards the opposite sex. There is a marked difference in behaviour between students that have been educated in schools that are mixed and others that have gone to same-sex schools. I come from a mixed-school education and I had the opportunity to witness first-hand a marked difference when same-sex schooled individuals interact with the opposite sex: often awkward and too many times wrong.
It might be called un-Australian to not behave that way but having lived in several different countries around the world I can say that I have never seen such poor attitude towards women as here.
There are very few western world nations that have such high percentage of same-sex schooling as Australia.
However it is refreshing to see that this chauvinistic attitude seems to be prevalent only with the older generation and it is not really displayed amongst the people I work with (younger crowd).
And just like when I blew the whistle on the Sexual Harassment case with Queensland Sea Kayak Club, members of the local paddling community were rather hostile when I brought to their attention a public sexist comment.
You can’t teach an old dog new trick (or change his behaviour).

Last but not least: the condescending behaviour that some retailers of sea kayaking equipment have towards women.
The automotive industry has managed to change its behaviour towards the increasing female buyer of cars (once an exclusive domain of "the Man"). I personally can attest that some women have resented from purchasing goods from retailers that were treating them chauvinistically.

Queensland Sea Kayak Club, SEQSK forum, Qajaq Newsletter, Funtessea


  1. Gnarly:

    I'm 45 and went to all-male schools from kindergarden up to Grade 12 (mid 70's to mid 80s). I must say that I found my experiences to be quite contrary to what appears to be the norm. Going to an all-boys school meant that there were no females around during the day so there was less likley to be posturing and competition for the attention of the "fairer sex". At lunch we strode a few hundred feet up the road to where there was an all-girls school - all 1500 of them!! We socialized during that one hour and then headed back to our respective schools. Never recalled there being any issues with chauvinstic attitudes. Ahh, those were the days.

    We have some excellent female paddlers in our club - many of whom could paddle cirles around me and I certainly accept and admire that. There really doesn't seem to be a divide between men and women here at the club level. While my smaller, core group of paddlers is male that is not for lack of trying to get women to join us. I like the diversity that comes with a mixture of male/female. Regardless of what you may say, there are differences between us and that makes for a more balanced group.


  2. "We have some excellent female paddlers in our club - many of whom could paddle circles around me and I certainly accept and admire that."
    I wish we had a similar environment in our main paddling Clubs that I used to paddle with.
    These days I prefer to hang around broader minded paddlers that accept, respect and admire women paddlers.

  3. Depending on how people were raised, I think it can be a tough gig for some men (& women) to differentiate between chauvinism and chivalrous behaviour, but they should try!
    CHAUVINISM: the smug irrational belief in the superiority of one's own race, party, sex, etc. eg: male chauvinism
    CHIVALRY: courteous behaviour, esp towards women

    We should be respectful and courteous to all, regardless of sex.

    As US world champion climber Robyn Erbesfield says, "I've never noticed that being a woman is a handicap or a plus. I am a woman and there are men and we climb together. Sometimes I'm stronger, sometimes they're stronger - we motivated each other".

  4. I went to an all-boys school too and I would be shocked if someone were to call me chauvinist. It is true we don't get to paddle with many women down our way, but that's not by choice, there just seem to be less attracted to sea kayaking around here. That being said, there are plenty involved in ski-paddling in what you would think would be a testosterone packed environment, so there's definitely something amiss in our branch of the sport.

  5. Guess I'm lucky to paddle in a mixed environment then :o). Great article on an important topic. I think diversity in gender, age, background etc adds a greater value to the activity.

    Chauvinistst are everywhere, unfortunately.

    Herøy Kajakk Klubb in Western Norway are doing a great job at the moment, and use paddling activities as a tool to integrate refugees in the local community. They also teach yongsters with different types of handicap to paddle, to give them a great experience but also an arena to mingle with "normal" kids.

  6. Maybe this is one of my busiest times of the year where I feel I don't have the patience to delve into your post further but it appears to me that you have paddling a lot. That is a good thing, but the lack of free time might have impaired the amount of 'meat' in your post. You have not provided any tangible information to make this topic somewhat anchored. On a surface here it appears like some kind of 'complainfest'. Sorry. Oh, check out my link please.

  7. In my paddling circles this ain't the case. On Rob's Tuesday night paddles, almost always out in challenging offshore conditions, there is at least a 50-50 split (if not more women than guys). Most of the the female paddlers are sh*t hot out in the rough stuff and there is no delineation between the sexes for ability. I've been out a few times over the years wishing some of the girls would bloody well slow down. The club I belong to has a very large proportion of female paddlers, and they are encouraged in a very egalitarian atmosphere. I guess it just depends where & how you do your paddling, I would say women are very well represented and respected in the paddling world in which I live.

  8. SDP, you are right.
    This post does seem to lack some "meat" but I didn't want to be too specific and single out individuals that I perceive "offenders" of chauvinism.
    I could have quoted public communication of sexist and chauvinistic nature but that again would be viewed as slanderous.
    I am sorry that I have not delivered more specific material but in defence of the guilty party I hope that this, and of course other readings, might prompt them to act more respectfully towards women and others.

  9. It's great that you feel that way Mark; it would be interesting to hear from women in your paddling circle ??
    It might look that the problem could be just North of the border but I hear that there is a fair share of chauvinism and sexual harassment your way too.
    After Adventuretess' article there was a surprising amount of (private) support from women in your paddling area too.Understandably these women did not want to be mentioned thou.
    Just saying...

  10. Men who attempt to elevate their egos by demeaning, denigrating, ridiculing, or undermining woman are pathetic, and nothing whatsoever excuses their behavior.  It's been my experience that this sorry bunch of insecure, dim-bulb LOSERS are best kept at arms length, lest the slime from their attitude spatter your clothing. 

    I attended all-boys schools for 6 years, but that experience didn't rob me of my humanity.  I believe that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect; period, no exceptions.
    Moulton Avery

  11. Wow.

    In 2011 I can't imagine any male kayaker having any stupid idea that women paddlers are not as good as men.

    Sea-kayaking: Freya. Surf-kayaking: Tracy Gibson. Whitewater: Tanya Faux, Nikki Kelly, Tanya Schuman.... There are many many more so it would be easy to make a long list of great women paddlers.

    I feel sorry for anybody who thinks women can't paddle.

    I only wish I could ever paddle as well and as powerfully as someone like Freya or Tanya Faux.



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