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  • 09/22/2003
  • WildlandFire.com Team
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FM, Nerd and others, Time to de-lurk
FM, I don’t think Nerd is necessarily attributing to you the sentiment “I am woman get out of my way”. However, you have to admit that was a sentiment held by some of our earlier generation of “sisters” in the ’60s, ’70s, and 80s. It also was the sentiment held by some of the pioneer women in fire. For some it was necessary to be that proactively militant at that time to raise awareness of gender inequality and unfairness. Women who were compelled to be involved in change then were mostly, OF NECESSITY, in reaction to the status quo and to incidents reflecting the status quo.

I can remember one really smart and competent woman, new in forestry in the early ’70s, being told by the male department chairman (who later became the Director of CDF) that she wouldn’t go far in a career in forestry because she was a woman. In response, this woman simply shifted over to biology and took all the forestry and other natural resources classes she needed (aced them all), and went on to become one of the cadre of pioneering women making changes for all women in fire. I don’t remember her as one of those reactionary “I am woman get out of my way” types, although she had a right to be, in my opinion. Rather, she was a sweet smart young woman who had the guts to keep making her good decisions, adhering to her personal style and following her passion in the face of the male status quo.

Some other women in forestry, fisheries, wildlife and other “natural resources” did it that way, too. But some used the more militant, reactionary path, because when you’re doing something for the first time and it involves bucking such a large, solid, entrenched network, what you do sometimes just comes from the gut with all the harshness and polarization that goes along with that. My point is that in the 60s, 70s and 80s women found their own personal way of making change, which sometimes included the “in your face” method, in part, as a result of the solidness of the “environment of male dominance” in careers involving “natural resources”.

Things have changed since then. The current status quo is more one of fairness and “women can do anything they set their minds to”. Armed with the knowledge and the foundation provided by women (and many good men) in the gender-equality-pioneering days, I think women of today can usually make greater change by simply living their expertise (which I think is what Nerd was saying), minimizing polarity and being in response, rather than in reaction. (Actions speak louder than Attitude.)

Let me share a few more observations to distinguish between the two.
Response, to me, connotes moving with and altering the status quo by staying true to yourself and your purpose when confronted by a perceived unfairness. There usually is a sense of being able to step above your own issues to look at the whole picture and choose from there. It feels more like an aikido response: you see the situation and move to turn the dynamic to suit your creative purposes. It can often be done simply by your state of being, and includes attributes such as your ability to communicate, your intelligence and expertise. With practice you get better at choosing to respond.

My experience with reaction at a personal level is that when it is honest, it occurs at a more gut level and can be kneejerk. It is true and useful at this level. However, some groups (and individuals) cultivate it as a style of action and sometimes employ it to try to make change. My experience in this day and age is that people choosing this as a style tend to see their issue(s) in black and white (when the world really is technicolor). To me using this as a style feels like using a 2 by 4 on someone’s head when understanding and a feather would have sufficed to turn that head around. My experience is that if used consistently as a style, it can result in further polarization and entrenchment, not real evolution and lasting attitude change.

I do think that reaction and response are both legitimate choices and can be legitimate strategies for behavior: sometimes an unfolding situation suggests one and sometimes an unfolding situation suggests the other.

I like having the response option in my practiced repertoire of behaviors. I find it takes me further in creating real understanding and change than simply reacting does. It’s also way more interesting.

”The world is decided by those who show up.”
First I heard that was from Ray Quintanar, head of R5 fire some years ago.


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