This is one of my favorite stories to tell. It is published on my personal blog, but felt the need to put it here as well.
“I thought they’d send somebody bigger.” A phrase that, I hope when spoken, was not meant to be condescending or sexist. In fact, I bet that the man who said it to me had no inclination how close I was to leaving him and his family behind. Three of them couldn’t paddle their kayak back to the shop. I came to help them, but he thought they’d send somebody bigger? It was a pivotal moment for me, because even though I know that this man has never thought about what he said, I think about it all the time.
My dad says 20-some year old woman are taking over the world. Now I can’t say whether or not females in that cohort are more plentiful than in other generations, but what I do know is that for the first time, we have been given the freedom to take on the world, and we’re not going to miss out on the opportunity. We are pushed by the generation of women who fought so that we might have these chances and pressured to set good examples for those that come after us. You thought they’d send somebody bigger? Well, I don’t need your permission or your conviction to be amazing.
Before I started as a kayak guide I never would have said I’d experienced sexism. I had encounters with men who were less than chivalrous, but I would never have called it sexism. In fact I didn’t until my manager pointed it out to me. You see I am blessed to be a young, short, female…three strikes. So naturally I must be incompetent, unable to lead, and weak. Until that windy afternoon I would never have thought that the only three things you could tell about me just by looking, automatically set me back. Now, every time I enter a situation with people I don’t know, I feel the need to prove myself. Today, 20-some year old women might have opportunities but it doesn’t mean we get things for free. We have to fight, for everything. The second we walk into a room we are fighting for the respect that men get automatically. What scares me is that it isn’t blatant. If a man comes up to me and is clearly patronizing me, I have something to fight against. It is the inherent sexism that scares me: a condescending “sweetheart” or simply being ignored. It is bred into our society on both sides of the gender spectrum. Men dish it out like it’s no big deal, and woman take it with a smile.
I am not on a crusade, but I do feel like it is my responsibility to fight this injustice whenever I can. Not with words, that will never do, but with actions. If they think you can’t do it, prove you can. Then just walk away. Don’t play the gender card; because you are not only hurting yourself, you are hurting every single woman who will ever encounter a man. Instead, prove them wrong. Do it consistently and with grace. Empower yourself and the women around you.
At the end of the day I towed them back. Mr. Condescending chatting happily the entire time while I pulled three boats (six adults) half a mile through 20-knot winds. He didn’t tip me, he didn’t thank me, in fact by the time I was done putting away his equipment, he was gone. At the time I was upset, but I think if I had the chance, I would thank him. Life isn’t fair. We are dealt our cards. We make our bets. Never bet against yourself. Remember, women who seek to be equal to men lack ambition.