“Don’t be so Sensitive”

I’ve mentioned in the past that I have an interest both in the SQL Server world, and the caving world. Often these both overlap in different ways, for example disaster planning and the like.

The other day I was reminded of another way in which they overlap: the ratio of men to women in each activity.  In both areas, though I don’t have firm numbers, far more men participate than women. There are a number of reasons for this, but one I’ll call “the good ol’ boys” attitude. I discussed this in a previous post concerning women in the industry. Recently however I was reminded that sexism continues to be a problem in the caving community. On Facebook, I’m a member of a number of groups with a focus on caving. The other day someone saw fit to post a picture in one of the groups I’m a member of. The picture was of a young woman, in a sports bra and short tights wearing a rock-climbing harness, and holding on to a dangling rope.

Now, there were several problems technically wrong with the picture, including the fact that she was wearing a rock-climbing harness and this was a caving group and the fact that the harness was on backwards.  But, that wasn’t the real problem.  The real issue was, this was that it simply was not appropriate for this group.  Several members posted pointing out that this picture, and pictures like this, objectify women and discourage them from caving.

And then it came, a guy saying, “Don’t be so sensitive.”

In four words, he casually dismissed the concerns and feelings of a large number of his fellow cavers.  He said, without realizing it, “I don’t care how you feel. Your feelings and concerns are not important to me.” In my experience, these are the very same men who then complain there aren’t enough women in caving.

Similar comments included, “Oh, now you’re saying she’s wrong to be proud of her body” or “what’s the matter with a hot body”.  Here the underlying subtext is that anyone who expressed an issue with the photograph in that group was a prude.

I’ve seen similar comments at times in the IT community; “What’s the matter if I call her pretty, she should be proud of that!” “What, DBAs can’t be hot too?”

What some of my fellow cavers and IT professionals fail to understand is that the women in these circles want to be considered by the same standards as their male companions, on their skills and accomplishments, not on what their body looks like.  This does not make them prudes.

Nor, when these same women dress up for a cocktail party, or have a beer, or crack a ribald joke does that make them hypocrites. This is also an important concept for many men to understand. The women I know who cave and are DBAs are just as complex and varied as the men. Some like to dress up, some like to tell off-color jokes in the appropriate setting, some like to smoke a cigar, and often do all the same things that their male compatriots do.  But when it comes to caving or IT, they want to be respected for their skills, not judged for these other attributes.

So, next time you’re about to post a hot sexy photo, or make a comment on a woman’s appearance, ask yourself, “is this the appropriate place for this? Would I do this if it was a hot sexy photo of a man? Would I make the same comment towards a man?” And as a hint, if the name of the group is something like, “Professionals in IT” or “Cavers of the World” the answer is almost certainly “no”. Remember, your fellow cavers and IT professionals are judging you.

The Next Generation

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a caver. I mention this when I speak as part of a dad joke, that as a caver, I really do know a certain body part from a hole in the ground. I won’t say it makes me unique, there are literally 1000s of cavers in the US and even more around the world.

Like any group of people, not all cavers are the same. Some love long expeditions where they may spend a week or more underground, mapping new caves and plumbing their depths. Others may go in to study the geology or search for fossils. Some are studying the biosphere within caves. I have a lot of respect for those folks. Me, I like to take beginners caving. I also like to teach cave rescue and to talk about it.

And I think my role in taking new folks caving can be as important as what many of my fellow cavers do. Yes, it means I often go into the same caves over and over again, and that may sound boring, but honestly, it’s generally not. I often get to see the cave again through new eyes.

What brought on this post was the fact that I had the opportunity to take a friend and her twins caving for a second time. The wonder and excitement that their 6 year old eyes brought to the cave was wonderful. Passages I took as boring and mundane they saw as exciting and exhilarating. Their enjoyment was a breath of fresh air.

I’m a member of the National Speleological Society  I support the NSS because it supports cavers. But, I have a nit to pick with some (certainly not all) of my fellow members.

Let me preface by saying that caves can be rare and unique areas. While they can appear to be solid, non-changing areas made of stone, they can be dynamic places and the presence of humans can easily have a dramatic, negative impact.  For example, people hiking a mountain don’t have an impact on it simply by breathing near the mountain (they can certainly have other impacts). But, bringing enough people into a cave can have a dramatic impact on fungal and bacterial growth simply due to the amount of moisture they bring into the cave with them. They can also bring fungi and bacteria into a cave that may not have been there before.

In addition, many once beautiful caves have been destroyed by treasure collectors who have broken off cave formations such as stalactites and stalagmites. Once removed, it can be hundreds of years or more before they’ll reform. Even touching a forming one can alter its formation.

As a result of this, I’ve seen a movement that appears to be growing of both gating caves and of not sharing the location of caves. While cavers have often always been a bit protective of cave locations, the perception, at least to me, is that we’ve become more so. We’re reluctant to share the caving experience because we’re afraid “too many people will come and ruin the cave.” And there’s probably some truth to that.

But, while I certainly favor protecting our caves, I think if we’re too protective, we end up risking losing the next generation of cavers.  And the NSS enrollment numbers suggest this may be happening.

So, I personally prefer to take beginners caving. Many will attempt to go anyway, so I’d rather they learn proper caving techniques and cave conservation.  I encourage others to do the same. Take the time to introduce others to this wonderful activity, and teach them how to do it correctly.  And fortunately for every caver that seems to have the attitude of not wanting to “let” novices into caves, there seem to be two cavers that are willing to take novices caving. So, I remain optimistic.

I’ve thought about this also as I look at the presentations some of my fellow #SQLFamily members and realized I do the same there. Many will have great presentations on complex topics and ideas. They’re great presentations. And I respect them for it and admittedly, I’m sometimes jealous of their knowledge and skills. Myself, I seem to prefer teaching more introductory topics. I think continuing to bring new folks into the world of SQL Server and into SQL Saturday and PASS Summit are important. In fact our speaker this coming Monday is Matt Cushing. He’ll be speaking about Networking 101.

To close, I think in any world, but particularly in the two I inhabit, caving and SQL, it takes all types, those who dive deep into the subject and those who take other paths. I don’t think one path is necessarily better than another. The only ones I have an issue with those are those who take the attitude that novices aren’t welcome. You don’t necessarily have to be the person welcoming novices, but don’t be the one that discourages them either. We need to build the next generation.  And that’s my take away for the week.