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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Wild Women of the Woods: Sexism in Bigfoot Research

I found this article quite interesting and unique, so I thought I would share it... and Paige, this one is especially for you.

Women get used to no one taking us seriously. Strong men are macho; strong women are witches (or the word that rhymes with it).

Bigfoot research is no different. The big, manly Bigfoot hunters go out in the wilderness while the womenfolk stay home. Watch a documentary about Bigfoot and who do you see? Men. Browse for books about Bigfoot and who wrote 99% of them? Men. Listen to a radio program about Bigfoot and who do you hear? Men.

Now I like men. But as a woman—even worse, a single woman—engaged in a testosterone-ridden field of research, I can testify to the fact that most male Bigfoot researchers haven't heard about equal rights or women in the workplace. One man told me women don't want to get involved in Bigfoot research because they're afraid of the woods. Come on!

But the situation is changing slowly. More women are getting involved in Bigfoot research, though their efforts go mostly ignored—save for the work of Autumn Williams, who has appeared on the series "SciFi Investigates" and also had her own series for awhile. Still, women face an uphill battle when entering the field. Most decide to go it on their own, rather than jockeying for a place in an established Bigfoot group.

The Single Girl & the Sasquatch

When I discussed sexism & Bigfoot research on my blog, Bigfoot Quest, the posts attracted a lot of attention. Apparently, my posts made the rounds of other blogs too, and I welcome the exposure. The issue has to be discussed honestly—so that at least women researchers who've experienced this kind of treatment will know they are not alone.

The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Both women and men have emailed me to express their support for what I've said. A few anonymous cretins have posted comments insinuating that I must be a lesbian. I'm not, but that's really beside the point. I guess these people haven't read my Semantics Series posts, in which I explain that words have no power over me. I recently watched a documentary on the History Channel in which scholars discussed the original meaning of the word lesbian. The term referred to ancient Greek women who lived on the island of Lesbos. They were renowned lovers of men, not each other! I find this fact interesting, since these days people love to accuse strong women of being lesbians—which, to the name-caller, means "man-hater."

We wild women of the woods are not angry man-haters. Some are married; some, like me, are single. Others may indeed be lesbians, but who cares? Most of the members of my group MUPBO are men. I turn no one away—no matter their beliefs, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever other classification you might apply. And no amount of name-calling will drive me out of this field of research. I hope other women who have experienced the dirty little secret of Bigfoot (and UFO) research will take heart when they read about women like Autumn Williams, Mary Green, Regan Lee, Linda Martin, myself, and other women like us.

The House of Bigfoot Has a Glass Ceiling

Like it or not, women are not publicly visible in this field of research. Scan listings of Bigfoot books and you'll find scarcely a woman in the bunch. Watch documentaries about Bigfoot and you'll see nary a female. The average person interested in Bigfoot—the sort who doesn't belong to a Bigfoot organization or attend Bigfoot conferences—would know nothing about the women who conduct Bigfoot research.

Recently, I watched repeats of several documentaries about Bigfoot. The Discovery Channel series "Best Evidence" featured an episode about Bigfoot. The only women in the show were not Bigfoot researchers; one was a skeptic, anthropologist Nina Jablonski; another was a scientist who helped perform an experiment to see if a man in a suit could mimic the movements of the Patterson film Bigfoot. The Bigfoot experts were all male.

The National Geographic Channel series "Is It Real?" featured an episode about Bigfoot in North America and another about Russian Bigfoot. Neither offered comments from women researchers. The episode about North American Bigfoot showcased the Carter case, where a family claims to have had multiple encounters with Bigfoot over the course of several decades. A woman researcher, Mary Green, pioneered the case. She even wrote a book about it. Yet the National Geographic Channel either never spoke to Mary Green or chose to edit her out of the show. Either way, the implication seems clear: men are more believable than women.

On the Travel Channel's "Weird Travels," a film crew documented the activities of the Texas Bigfoot Research Center. One woman was shown, though she was described as a "volunteer." The men were described as "field investigators." A woman on a field expedition surely goes along only as a volunteer, not an investigator in her own right.

Women are not publicly visible—yet. If we accept the situation, nothing will change. The more we discuss the problem, the less the media will be able to ignore the existence of women researchers.

Wild women of the woods unite!

Lisa A. Shiel is the author of Backyard Bigfoot: The True Story of Stick Signs, UFOs, & the Sasquatch, a ForeWord Magazine 2006 Book of the Year finalist. Critics have praised Backyard Bigfoot, saying “[it] is as informative as it is entertaining” (Midwest Book Review), “[it is] one of the best types of investigative reporting I've seen” (Reader Views), and “you may agree or not with her conclusions but you will be entertained by the discussions” (The Mining Journal, Marquette).

As a recognized Bigfoot expert, Lisa has been interviewed by big-city newspapers, drive-time talk radio hosts, local and national magazines, and TV reporters. In 2005, she founded the Michigan Upper Peninsula Bigfoot Organization (MUPBO) to explore all aspects of the Bigfoot phenomenon, from sightings to evolution to UFOs. Lisa has a master's degree in Library Science. She currently pens a blog, Bigfoot Quest, as a companion to the MUPBO site.

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