Just Give Them the Tools to Do It (By Betty Wilkens – WHF Charter Member)
2015 saw the passing of woman who was a dynamic leader in the field of outdoor education. Jean Bergerson, a long-time staff member of the DNR, passed on September 19, two years after her retirement from the DNR as an information officer.
This is written in memory of Jean, friend, fellow hunter and angler, educator and tireless advocate for women who want to fish, hunt, and pursue other outdoor activities.
One of her many tasks at the DNR, was to develop and maintain a Becoming an Outdoor Woman program. It was in that capacity that I met her in 2001. Together, we initiated one of the first mentored hunting programs through the DNR, an all-women archery hunt weekend that required pre-hunt preparation and was led by entirely by female mentors; over the years,16 hunts were held and Jean was often one of the guides and mentors.
After Jean was no longer BOW coordinator, she continued spending countless volunteer hours supporting women’s outdoor education for the DNR and other organizations. It was not a surprise to me in 2011, when a group of women gathered to develop our fishing and hunting organization, that Jean would be a staunch supporter and worker. She had a passion for sharing her love for the outdoors and believed that women could accomplish anything if we “Just give them the tools to do it.”
In Minnesota, we have programs in place that teach outdoor skills, including hunting and fishing, to women and girls. In addition, there are some women-led outdoor organizations and a few of which focus on fishing and/or hunting. On the surface, it looks like there is plenty of opportunity and support networks for women and girls to learn outdoor activities and to develop the skills needed to be leaders, teachers and mentors. Look deeper and you will find that those programs and support networks are limited in size, scope, and cover only a few areas in the state.
There are female leaders, teachers, mentors and role models of all ages who are very good, even excellent, anglers and hunters. You will find pictures and stories of them occasionally in large-circulation outdoor magazines, videos, how-to tutorials, state agency publications, sporting goods catalogs and advertisements, websites, and social media pages. These women are considered “exceptional” in an arena where men clearly dominate the field. To be honest, most of them do not reflect our age, size, and cultural background nor does the percentage of women depicted come anywhere close to representing the number of licenses we purchase.
In reality, the number of women, who hunt and fish in Minnesota is very large. In 2014, females over the age of 16 purchased 406,861 fishing licenses and 68,812 hunting licenses. Overall, one in three anglers is a woman, one in eight a hunter. Accordingly, the potential for a diverse group of women instructors, mentors, leaders, writers, is very high. I believe that creating a strong network among females who already enjoy the sport of hunting and/or fishing is possible and quite likely necessary, to bring in new hunters and anglers, and to provide the skill-building opportunities Jean talked about and worked so hard to establish.
At this time, we should probably stop and ask two questions:
- Do we need women instructors and role models?
- Can’t men teach women and provide support networks?
To the first question, I say absolutely; you cannot be what you cannot see; women and girls need female role models of all ages, sizes, and cultures, so they can truly say “I belong” and “I can become like that”.
To the second question, experience has shown me that there are many excellent male instructors. By all means, men should continue in that role, partnering and collaborating with like-minded women; in that way, we provide an inclusive education model that can, and will be copied by the next generation. Creating a social network is different; to relate to a woman’s needs, it has to be run by women who have learned the ropes and can provide support, resources, high-fives, and a place where the female angler and hunter feels comfortable sharing their stories and pictures. It isn’t that men don’t try to understand and work with the reality of a woman’s world; it is that they are not a part of it. There is no way they can relate to the feelings and barriers a woman experiences as she learns to hunt or fish, tries to build her skills, learns how to teach and mentor others.
It will take the help and collaboration of everyone, male and female, in state agencies, fishing and hunting organizations, sporting goods businesses and industry, to put together an outdoor education that gives women the “tools to do it”. The results of a comprehensive scope-and-sequence outdoor training program and support network will be well worth the effort. Once a woman becomes an angler or hunter, she is very likely to spread her enthusiasm and knowledge to family members, friends, and those in her social circle.
In short, we are building a program for the future, one that endures and grows, that encourages all Minnesotans to be part of our great outdoor heritage.
Interested? If so, here are some steps to get started:
- Step One. Use research, data, and fact to show in pictures and tables the truth about Minnesota women who are hunters and anglers. Reflect the proper percentages and diversity of women and girls in written media, videos, social media pages, advertisements, and use them as role models, instructors, and outdoor writers.
- Step Two. Seek and Act. Talk to the women who hunt or fish! Find out what barriers there were to their initial participation, why they do or do not regularly fish or hunt, and the challenges they overcame to become an advanced hunter or angler. Put successful outdoor oriented women into positions where they can research, develop and manage programs for women, girls and families.
- Step Three. Trust and Respect. Rely on us as knowledgeable peers. Women anglers and hunters can provide a unique perspective not available anywhere else. We can support agencies, organizations, industry and business as they reach out to women, girls and families. We can write thought-provoking, informative, articles and produce high-quality videos, adding to the depth of hunting and fishing resources.
- Step Four. Stay Focused. Focus on the big picture and how we can work together to get there. Agencies, organizations, and business, may all benefit from creating this program, but look beyond that, keep your eye on the outcome. Affiliations and agendas may have to be set aside to forge partnerships; rules may have to be revised in order to move forward. Be open to challenges, compromise, and thinking outside the box.
Jean would often say, “We can do it” and “We will find a way”. Let’s find a way and do it!
Women Hunting and Fishing was honored to have Jean serve as our President, and we thank Betty for not only writing this tribute, but for all her support and hard work to bring the vision of Women Hunting and Fishing to reality!