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I Got 99 Problems But This Lady Ain’t One

THIS POST HAS BEEN EDITED

A friend took me to task for writing about someone’s Facebook post on my blog because it was a private conversation on her wall. I disagreed because Facebook is not private. Yes, I have a “private” page and a “public” page but I ultimately know that anything on my “private” wall can be made public by someone taking a screen shot and sharing it. But I think this is the difference:

Her putting her comments on her Facebook page where dozens of friends/mutual acquaintances could read it (take screen shots and send them around): passive aggressive.

Me putting it on my blog: aggressive.

My friend’s comments made me think and realize that I don’t want someone searching her name for reference purposes on Google a few years from now, find her name here and use that as a deciding point to not give her a job. My hope at the end of this post is sincere. I’m not expecting us to be like Lucille Ball and Bea Arthur in the musical Mame, but I hope that we are at least up to talking civilly.

Here’s the post and I’ve changed her name to Wilson’s Phalarope:

I had the strangest experience right before Christmas. On the very same day I had an article published about how Dolly Parton Is My Feminist Role Model on the Lifetime UK network (yep, television for women), unbeknownst to me, I was the subject of a debate on someone’s Facebook wall about what a terrible feminist I am.

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Anyone who loves birds and the outdoors knows that you will find yourself entrenched in battles: battles to save habitat, battles to prevent extinction, battles to keep wind farms out of major migratory corridors, the list goes on and on. So, it’s downright depressing when you find yourself in a war with a woman you barely know because you disagreed with her point. And right smack before Christmas—cause there isn’t enough to do around the holidays.

We talked about a blog post by Wilson’s Phalarope published on the ABA’s website about discrimination against women in birding. I didn’t agree with it, but still felt it was a worthwhile article to share and hoped people who weren’t aware of it would read it and maybe generate some discussions elsewhere. She had tried to interview me for the article but I found the questions leading. She asked me why there aren’t more women in the “upper echelon” of birding and the only thing I could think of was all the powerful women I knew of (some of whom who helped pave the way for me): Lillian Stokes, Laura Erickson, Julie Zickefoose, Sophie Webb, Marie Reed—just to name a few (that doesn’t include women who run birding festivals, have edited magazines or lead tours). Wilson’s Phalarope then asked about records committees and I felt that there was some agenda going on and an answer I supposed to give and well, since I don’t care about listing or think of it as the upper echelon, I wondered if the bigger issue was the women don’t care about that end of birding.

Bill and I talked about it on the podcast. I hoped it would generate more conversation, that people would read the article and didn’t think any more about it.

I got a phone call from a friend who alerted me to a discussion the day before Christmas Eve. I found the conversation on Wilson’s Phalarope’s wall with several comments deep already and was immediately overwhelmed, it had been going on for awhile and there were spinoff discussions. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it all, so I scanned specifically for Wilson’s Phalarope’s comments and these were the first two I saw:

“Cause Birdchick is obviously a creation, and a cynical one at that. She plays into some very nasty stereotypes,” and  “if nobody can tell where the personality ends and the person begins, maybe it’s time to ditch the personality.”

I was incredibly disappointed and knew there was no point in reading any more. This wasn’t a discussion about ideas, this was a discussion about me personally.  If there’s anything I’ve learned in writing for over 10 years it’s this:

When someone starts critiquing your body, personality or my private life– that says far more about that person than it does about you or your work. It’s disappointing. It’s sad. It’s divisive. It doesn’t help birds or conservation and it certainly doesn’t help equality.

The Real Birdchick

A postcard my mom sent me…I think this is what she thinks my day to day life is like. Perhaps this is the real Birdchick?

I started to reply to the thread and deleted it (almost forgot my 24 hour rule, don’t post for 24 hours when angry). For the record, I haven’t read any of the rest of the thread or anyone else’s comments that contributed to it, though several people have offered to send me screen shots. I don’t need to know.

I closed my laptop and thought with amusement about my article on Lifetime and asked myself, “What would Dolly Parton do right now?”

Well, she’d write a song, put on one of her spangled dresses and high heels, and say something funny.

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So, I put on a Dolly-esque outfit, grabbed some bourbon and decided to cook my way through four batches of cookies (since I can’t write songs). If I was going to be bothered about something, at least cookies for family and friends would be the result.

Don’t get me wrong, I love for people to disagree with me. I learn the most that way. Things I believed and understood 10 years ago are different that what I know and feel today because of it. I hope 10 years from now, I know even more and have opinions changed. I hope to grow.

A classic disagreement might be the Duck Stamp. I think birders should purchase it and that if more did, we’d have a better shot of taking the stamp over as our own and turning it into a better conservation tool. Mike Bergin of 10,000 Birds disagrees with me. He’s morally opposed to hunting and cannot in good conscience purchase a Duck Stamp or endorse it. And we’ve disagreed about it publicly. Mike even felt we went too far on the podcast when Non Birding Bill said that “he was whining” and we issued an apology over some of our terminology when he pointed it out. Do Mike and I avoid each other? No. Any birding event that has Mike on it is a pleasure. We embrace, we inquire about each other’s families, we may even discuss the Duck Stamp issue some more over a beer after a meal but it doesn’t interfere with what I think of him as being a terrific person who has contributed a lot to promoting birding on the Internet.

Disagreement on an issue does not have to get personal and ugly.  Here are some examples of what I think have been very reasonable things said to me by both men and women either online or in person critiquing what I do:

“Your photo on page x is misidentified”

“Why do you not hire an editor for your blog posts?”

“I think you missed my point in this article, here is something that happened to me and contradicts what you said…” followed by explanation.

“I don’t like your writing style.”

“You misunderstood what I said…” followed by an explanation.

“What you said made me a uncomfortable, here’s why…”

“Why do you think you are funny?”

One of the above was an edited quote that I got from Courtney Love (who knew she would be on the reasonable end of things).

Below are edited comments that I’ve had flung at me over the years (sadly more than once and not just from men). These are examples of unreasonable critiques:

“You only get hired because of your cleavage.”

“You only get attention because you flirt.”

“I don’t like what you wrote, someone needs to teach you a lesson and one day when I see you, I will be that person.”

“You’re not sleeping with (name redacted)? I thought that’s how you got that contract.”

“Well I guess if I can get a company to publish my book, I can be an expert too. Who the hell do you think you are? You need to shut up.”

“Maybe it’s time to ditch the personality.”

These are personal attacks and not worth listening to and again, these comments say far more about the people who say them than they do about me.

No one is forcing people to read, listen or watch what I do. When I don’t like someone’s style, I tend to not look at their website, read their articles, I don’t listen to their podcasts and I certainly don’t friend them on Facebook. I avoid them—it’s great! They can do their thing, I can do mine, and the world keeps spinning.

So, Wilson’s Phalarope, I hope if I run into you in person we can have a reasonable conversation. I hope it can be done without accusations of moral character. I am who I am. You are who you are. I’m not a creation, and I’m willing to bet you aren’t either. What you see or hear of me online is what you get. Though in real life there is a lot more profanity.

For the record, I do know about feminism and if I had to pinpoint myself would say that I’m a “third wave feminist” but if you aren’t into the whole wave thing, that’s cool, just call me a “gender equality advocate.”

And from one writer to another, it’s ok to disagree on a point and still chat amicably about other things. If you have written something that someone disagrees with and shares it publicly, you have written something worthwhile.

You could totally tell me, “I think you are dismissive about the discrimination women feel because they do not have the strong personality you do. Let me explain why…” You could send that in an email (sharon at Birdchick dot com), write this on your own website or say to me in person. Heck you could even have a podcast–I wish there were more birding ones out there. I will listen with interest. I can’t say we will agree, but I will listen. What bird festivals will you be at in 2014? Wanna have coffee or a drink? I’m buyin.

Anyway, please stop making enemies of people who have no wish to be one. Let’s work together. Birds will benefit, the next generation of young male and female birders will benefit from seeing us reasonably disagree online rather than turning this into a you vs me thing and criticizing who I am as a person. We all come from life with different perspectives, different tools, different ideas, different experiences and we will accomplish far more working together, rather than tearing each other down. How can women get past discrimination if we are busy making personal attacks about each other and not a discussion of ideas?

I hope 2014 is amazing for you. I hope you publish more articles I can disagree with and maybe even learn something. I hope you and I can both see the day when a woman being hired or published in the birding industry is not a headline because of her gender. I hope we can each be ourselves and appreaciate our differences.

I wish you love, success and good things.

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33 comments to I Got 99 Problems But This Lady Ain’t One

  • I’m lucky that I haven’t come across this too much yet. I of course get the “you spelled X wrong,” “you use poor grammar,” my favorite “I hate to tell you but…” followed by a correction (the last bothers me the most because if you hated to tell me you’d do it privately, not publicly.

    My favorite (because of the ridiculousness) aimed at me were:

    “You’re why women shouldn’t be in the military.” – Said because I liked the ending of a video game that most people did not like.

    “How dare you compare a phone’s music capabilities to that of a PINK MP3 player.” – When I said Microsoft had better music software for Zune than Xbox music.

    “Haters gonna hate, bloggers gonna blog” is the mentality I take too.

  • Wow! Some people think that others should think and be like them. Frankly, I think that you need to keep being the person you are and I’ll keep reading.

    “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

  • Lindsey

    I’ve read her ABA article multiple times and like you, haven’t really experienced a lot of the issues brought up in it. Not that the article is terrible (it definitely isn’t), but I haven’t found birding to be any type of ol boy’s club. If anything, it has been the one sphere in my life that has been more supportive of me than any of the others, especially by the men. If this perturbs Brooke MacDonald because it doesn’t fit into her perception of men as whatever negative thing towards women in birding, then oh well. It sounds like she wants everything to fit her views of birding men as anti-women demons, and if you don’t agree, she will head straight to personal attacks. That’s just disgusting.

    If she HAS experienced sexism in birding, and wants women to help with the issue, she would do better to deal with her anger at men productively and to not manipulate women in birding into viewing men as demons right along with her.

  • Fortunately, this is rare–at least in the audience I would write for, I imagine you would see it more in the geek/gaming community. It seems to me that women have to prove they are for real and not just wearing “nerd face.”

  • I agree that the definition of a high-status birder shouldn’t be based on eBird rankings. I got the impression purely from anecdotes that a lot of the high listers have Asperger’s and that’s why they’re obsessed with checklists. Since fewer women have Asperger’s and when they do, it manifests differently, the high listers tend to be male. For example, when my husband and I take birding trips he used to define a good birding trip for me as having a high number of lifers. But he came to realize that my definition of a good trip is a lot of fantastic photos of new birds, not the number of new birds itself.

  • LT Jaeger

    You do realize that in your podcast about Brooke McDonald you claimed that sexism isn’t an issue in birding, yet in your blog you list a variety of sexist comments that you’ve received as examples of inappropriate comments from readers/listeners, right?

    Also, I find it irresponsible for you to read ONE Facebook comment about you and characterize all the conversations on Brooke M.’s page as being reflective of the entire conversation. As one of the commenters, I’m telling you directly that your quoted comment was neither representative of what I said, nor was it reflective of the overall tone of those messages.

    Lastly, during your podcast about sexism, you made some incredibly inaccurate and ignorant remarks. For example, you made a statement about domestic abuse that was along lines of “The solution to domestic abuse is simple: just leave.” That assumes the victim has a place to go; it assumes no children are involved; it assumes the victim is employed; it assumes the victim has no property that belongs to him/her; it assumes the abuser will not pursue the victim further with increased rancor after the victim departs, etc. etc.

  • LT

    Sexist comments about my cleavage, my flirting and who I sleep with are from women as well as men. When I get that from my own sex, I have a tough time saying that men are putting up road blocks in my career.

    I was clear to say I read Brooke’s comments. I was specifically addressing her comments, not anyone else’s. And I don’t see a lot of difference between me discussing those comments specifically and her talking about my personality since I don’t recall spending time with her in person. How does she know how real or fake I am?

    And I think you make assumptions about what exactly I know about domestic abuse and what I’ve experienced. So, I offer to you exactly what I offered to Brooke:

    Want to have drink or coffee? I’m buying. Please don’t make an enemy out of someone who has no wish to be one.

  • LT Jaeger

    Of course sexist comments can come from either gender. It doesn’t make them any less sexist, nor does it make them any less of a problem. Nor does it mean that gender bias in birding is not an issue.

    As for assuming what you have experienced about domestic abuse, I make no such assumptions. But I can, will, and do respond to obviously ignorant comments about “the solution to domestic abuse”. Isn’t that consistent with your own view that sexism should be called out when it’s encountered (which is easier said than done)?

    “Please don’t make an enemy out of someone who has no wish to be one”…isn’t that what you did with Brooke McDonald in your podcast that was very dismissive of her thought-provoking article?

    If you’re willing to consider that your original podcast about Brooke’s article missed the mark in several ways, I’d be willing to have a drink or coffee (although I don’t find it likely that our paths will be crossing). If not, what’s the point?

  • I appreciate your point of view and perhaps neither of us are in a place where we can agree without a lengthy conversation or at all.

    I’m definitely willing to consider that I didn’t get Brooke’s article. I’m definitely willing to have people talk to me in a reasonable fashion to change my mind. I’m even willing to be on a panel at a bird festival where sexist situations are posed and Brooke and I and a few other women can discuss the different ways we would handle it. And why leave it to just sexism, I’m sure some gay birders and birders of a different color could have some panels on their own.

  • LT Jaeger

    That’s great that you’re willing to consider that you didn’t understand Brooke’s article. Maybe if you said that directly to Brooke, or at least posted it on the Facebook thread you mention on here, you can make some real progress. Best wishes in doing so–

  • The ball is in Brooke’s court.

  • joan schnabel

    Sharon, I hate to disagree, but I’m definitely seeing more Bette Middler than Dolly Parton. perhaps we can discuss this over beer or wine or coffee. When are you down this way again. hugs,

  • “if nobody can tell where the personality ends and the person begins, maybe it’s time to ditch the personality.”

    Wha—what!?! Who would say this about another human being? What the actual fuck?

    Ok. I’m not a BirdChick expert. She’s not a close personal friend. However, I’ve spotted the occasional BirdChick in the wild in a wide variety of social situations, from public performances to a quiet breakfast after a busy weekend. The vivacious, larger-than-life, and yes flirtatious personality isn’t a put-on facade, it’s Sharon. I discovered her writing years ago and since then I’ve been priviledged to find that her real personality is at least a match for her writing.

    Right. 24 hour rule. Right. Rant off.

    Sorry Sharon. That sucks. Oy.

    Happy Holidays everyone! Merry Christmas!

    Craig Steffen

  • “if nobody can tell where the personality ends and the person begins, maybe it’s time to ditch the personality.”

    My disapproval meter was pegged at “Cinnamon” for a while, but it has since dropped to “WTF?”

  • Excellent point on Bette Midler, Joan–how can you not love a woman who gave Barry Manilow his start?

  • Sorry for the crap you have to put up with. I am always shocked at some of the ridiculous comments people make that are only intended to hurt people. No one should have to deal with those types of comments.

  • Jenny H~B

    This really saddens me and shocks me! I have known Sharon aka BirdChick since she was a 15 year old girl, and quite frankly, her wonderful personality, comedic genius, brilliant intellect and much much more are a blessing and a gift to all of us who are lucky enough to know her, on top of it having always been in her personal make-up. Shake it off. You truly are a role model for all women! Love to you my friend.

  • And that is (part of) why I love you.

  • MaryBeth

    Wow…And I thought falconers had online posse commentary . Love ya Sharon! Let me know when you’re in Wabasha next time!

  • Claire Baker

    Read the article, read your post. Read Ted’s post. I have experienced nice and crappy comments from mean and women birders. Some folks are just nicer or more polite. Birders are like any other group, don’t you think? And traditionally women stay home with the kids, not running off to Attu with the guys to list, at least in the past. Birding adventurously has to happen for most women, either as younger women or after the kids are out of the house. Look at Phoebe. Stayed home as long as she could bear it, then bounced internationally when confronted with mortality. Many don’t know the story of Connie Hagar, Texas birdwatcher during the 1930′s…the white guy ornithologists just absolutely knew there was no real Texas migration until they showed up in Rockport and she showed them the birds. Most men thought her husband was the birder, but he didn’t bird. She taught herself. Everyone doesn’t have to be great at birding the same way. Some study behavior, some history, some in the context of the whole of nature…others do all that AND are cute and flirty! Birds are the biggest flirts ever and certainly flounce around in their mating finery. What’s wrong with being smart and cute and fashionable? Nothing that I can see….

  • It is sad to see people make hurtful comments about people they don’t know. Besides making them look like weak unhappy people with sour grapes in their shoes and chips on their shoulders the size of boulders it wastes people’s time and energy. You’ve got to chose your battles and your dance partners and life is too short to waste it on the haters.

    The comments sections of internet media are full of people who spit, drool, and vomit. Occasionally there are diamonds, but is it really worth sorting through the crap? Most times it isn’t.

    Love your style. Love your blog.

    Lori

  • That’s fascinating about Connie Hager, Claire. I must admit that I’m not familiar with her. Thank you for bringing that up.

  • I think it’s in any passionate group, MaryBeth. And I will for sure let you know.

  • Awww, thanks, Jenny. That is really sweet. Who keeps chopping onions while I’m reading on the Internet? My eyes are watery.

  • I don’t think you can take an exact measurement of how equal men and women are in the birding world. My first mentor was a woman and it seems to me just as you listed some examples that there are numerous important and influential women birders. I’m sure that anyone can find examples of men who are anti-women just that there are a few birders who are rude to newbie birders. Entertaining post even though it’s based on a negative experience.

  • JSO

    Instead of the diatribe I was going to post, maybe I’ll just ask if you’ll post a nice cleansing bird for your readers.

  • Claudia

    Birdchick doesn’t know me from a hole in the wall but she/you have had a huge influence on me. I am a backyard bird watcher and found your blog and your FB page with JOY!! You are delightful and funny and love the birds and are knowledgeable! And not off-putting! Who could ask for anything more? And you are local …so maybe I could run into you some day and get some good bird talk done. Anyway, I consider you one of my best friends…even though we’ve never met!
    Keep up the good work!
    PS Seeing a lot of cardinals in this -15 degree day
    Cheers,
    Claudia

  • Michael Retter

    Excellent and supremely classy response, Sharon. As is so often the case, I suspect a genuine conversation could have eliminated this episode. It truly is a shame when a person resort to personal attacks and name-calling of others who should be allies in the fight for equality, just because those others don’t toe the line of some fundamentalist dogma. Keep on challenging others’ world views, keep the dialog alive, and keep on being you. It makes the world a better place.

  • I am definitely going to implement my own 24 hour no posting when angry rule. Thanks for being a role model to all birders I think what you do is great.