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June 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 31, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Yes, Sexism in the Diving Industry Exists

a famous female cave diver examines the subject

from the June, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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As scuba diving developed as a recreation and sport in the 1950s, it had emerged from and was heavily influenced by the male-dominated military. We speak nostalgically of Lloyd Bridges, Navy Frogmen and Captain Jacques Cousteau -- yet rarely mention Zale Parry, the heroine of Sea Hunt fame, and one of the first women to engage in technical diving.

To learn more about women and diving today and to gather community opinions about women's issues in diving, I turned to the fabulously scientific Internet diving forums. I started threads entitled "Sexism?" on numerous social platforms.

Some participants felt that sexism in diving is nothing more than a microcosm of what we experience more widely in society. A PADI course director and active technical diver said, "Sure, sexism is there... but I'm not sure it's special to the diving environment. That is, I don't think the non-sexist person suddenly changes stripes when they put on a wetsuit, or vice-versa. There are just more opportunities for it to arise in the diving environment... heavy equipment to be moved around, swim suits, lots of opportunities to show off 'superior' knowledge, skills, and strength."

A noted female physician and very active diver took it one step further, saying, "I think it takes two to be sexist. First, you have to have the man with the attitude, and then you have to have the woman with the chip on her shoulder. I have never carried that chip, and it takes fairly egregious behavior to register as sexist to me."

The pithy stories that broke my heart were mostly off-the-record, but were real stories of harassment, discrimination and even criminal behaviors. As one woman put it, she tolerated the behavior because she didn't want to be labeled as a diving "Femi-Nazi" -- a derogatory term for strong, committed women popularized by Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.

I read complaints of women being held back in training and career advancement, feeling invisible, and given the silent treatment at dive shops. A few nervously shared accounts of overt intimidation by male divers, boat captains and storeowners. I read stories of sexual groping by male peers and general workplace harassment, a pattern made even more intolerable by lack of professional opportunities and severe pay inequality....

I was considered a bitch if I stood up for myself or I was being 'too sensitive'.

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