Intimidation from male divers, groping accounts, workplace harrasment: Sexism is alive and well in the diving community. (Photo: Jill Heinerth)
In the same year that Women’s Dive Day was established, I published a lengthy cover feature for DIVER magazine. The provocative title, “Sexism Alive and Well in Scuba Diving” was sure to stir controversy and has become the widest-read article in the magazine’s history. My goal was to be objective and informational for all readers, and affirming for women who had experienced misogyny firsthand. As I heard from interviewees, their stories broke my heart; accounts that included harassment, discrimination, and even criminal behavior. As one woman put it, she tolerated the sexism because she didn’t want to be labeled as a diving “Feminazi” — a derogatory term for strong, committed women popularized by American Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.
I read testimonials of women who were being held back in training and career advancement, feeling invisible, and given the silent treatment at dive shops. A few women nervously reported intimidation from male divers, boat captains, and store owners. I listened to sexual groping accounts and general workplace harassment; a pattern made even more intolerable by a lack of professional opportunities and severe pay inequality. The stories were visceral, and some of these women had never before shared these truths openly.
As a result of this culture, many women seek out safe, collective experiences such as women’s dive events and social clubs. These activities are not necessarily for women only but are organized around a completely different way of enjoying the sport. These events and groups emphasize a supportive environment where a person can expect mentoring and equality.
In the end, we need to be open-minded in our understanding of sexism. Males have dominated the planet for the past five million years. Feminism is not trying to rewrite history, but instead, chart a more equitable future course. The mainstream women’s movement seeks to acknowledge the real differences between men and women while balancing power fairly. To this end, we can embrace some simple social manners. All divers should view others without pre-judging their capabilities. Don’t conclude that women are tag-alongs. We all earned the same diver certification, so assume that all divers are capable, equal team members until personal observation tells you otherwise. Avoid offensive comments and sexual remarks about your fellow divers. We all live in an increasingly public world. Anything you say in person or on social media will likely come back to you. Calling out bad behavior will help us all enforce a better social contract moving forward.
Events such as Women’s Dive Day help us celebrate individuals in our community for excellence and enjoy travel and underwater experiences in a way that uplifts all participants. Diving is a sport where shared adventures can create a lifelong bond or inspire a remarkable career, regardless of age or gender.
Read about sexism and diving.
For information about scholarships and training grants, visit the Women Divers Hall of Fame.
Read the Women Underwater book.