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Women and Diving

Discussion in 'Women's Perspectives' started by Andrea Zaferes, May 4, 2004.

  1. Andrea Zaferes

    Andrea Zaferes Angel Fish

    Women and Diving - valid topic or dead horse
    By Andrea Zaferes, Lifeguard Systems

    It takes a new diver asking questions about diving and pregnancy, decompression sickness susceptibility, menstruation concerns and birth control pills, to make us remember that as long as there are women divers there will be women and diving issues that need to be discussed. Some of us who have sat through too many panels and have read too many repetitive articles on women and diving find ourselves saying enough is enough, stop the segregation. The issue of the above questions can not be ignored, nor can the fact that there are gender myths, stereotypes and realities of life in general that also emerge in diving. Sexism extends through all parts of life and needs to be dealt with accordingly where ever it occurs.

    A good example of this are the relatively new agency marketing campaigns aimed at recruiting the older diver, which results in our teaching a generation of couples where there often are roles of dependence assumed by the wife. How many times have I heard, "my husband works out the dive profiles for us," "my husband decides where we will dive," and "I don't need a rescue class, I just sport dive, and besides my husband is a rescue diver." In all reality, the woman has the greatest need for a rescue class because the man has the higher chance of having a heart attack or other problem during the dive, and because the woman especially needs to learn rescue techniques that do not rely on brut strength or physical endurance.

    Consider the following questions myself and fellow Lifeguard Systems Instructors receive and see how you would answer them.

    "I just returned from a ten day diving vacation and found out I'm 2 months pregnant, should I consider aborting the fetus because it may have problems?"

    "I'm taking a dive vacation by myself to the Red Sea, will I have any problems with the dive guides hassling me?"

    "Can I fail this Instructor Candidate because he continually hits on every woman student during class time?"

    "My husband and I often go off by ourselves to do shore dives. He is physically much bigger than I am and I'm worried that I would never be able to get him on shore if he ever had an accident in the water."

    We need more data than are available to answer the first question. Two weeks ago I spoke at the Westchester Medical Center Diving Physiology Conference in NY, and was lucky enough to hear Dr. Kindwall speak. Pregnancy was one of the issues he addressed and made it clear that there were several well done studies demonstrating an increased risk of birth defects when the mother scuba dived during pregnancy.

    We also need more data on a variety of physiological questions. For example, I've been told redundantly by respected physiologists that women do not have a higher risk of hypothermia. Well if you use the medical definition of hypothermia, less than 95 degree Fahrenheit core temperature, then sure that may be so, but if you us a definition of a loss in temperature that detrimentally affects a divers' physical abilities and judgment then I would disagree from an anecdotal basis. Our Instructors teach a minimum of 800 divers annually and for whatever reason, we almost always send one or two women out of the water due to cold before any men are sent out. Is it because women's suits don't function as well? Is it because they don't eat in the morning or because they are not as active in the water? Laboratories can not test all the dependent and independent variables found in real life. Whatever the cause, our Instructors feel it is an issue and we deal with it accordingly.

    Dehydration is another important example of the need for caution when extrapolating laboratory data to real life. Noted physiologist Dr. Jolie Bookspan tells us in a May issue of Sea Breeze that men are possibly at higher risk for dehydration based on their physiology. But,what would happen if we applied a few real world variables? I believe that more women have difficulty urinating in the water or in their exposure suits than men, which may lead to more frequent voluntary dehydration if the boat does not have a head or if there is a long bottom time. Some women take diuretic premenstral medications. It is likely that as a group, women spend more hours in the sun, working on a tan than men. With these not studied factors, perhaps women are more likely to become dehydrated than men on a dive vacation.

    The second question is a real concern for many destinations as well as in scuba classes around the world. The sexual and power dynamics between Instructors and their students should be discussed in every Instructor course. We have failed more than one male Candidate for consistently directing the majority of his attention to pretty women students and for making them feel uncomfortable by hitting on them during class time. Sure, we would fail a woman Candidate for doing the same thing, but that has not yet happened.

    There has been more than one fatality of women who were coerced into an unsafe diving situation by male Instructors whose main concern was on satisfying their own desires. For my own experience, it took talking with other women and a general sense of anger to learn how to deal with the male dive leader who thinks you are there for his pleasure. Women's outrage of breast busting wet suits and other sexist ads is what changed the face of most companies' media campaigns. This outrage surfaced because of women talking about women's issues in diving. I think that just as in any part of life, there needs to be conscious raising in the realm of what is acceptable behavior between dive leaders and divers.

    Women's panels and articles also helped tell manufacturers that we wanted wet suits and other gear to fit our bodies. I'm still waiting for a stock drysuit with torso and leg length measurements to fit a woman's measurements. There are many problems we could bring up ranging from the need for ankle weights which we find more women than men need to prevent lower back pain from floating legs and fins, to major problems we observe in dive instruction such as male Instructors letting some women students get away with not comfortably performing full mask clears etc., to avoid stress. There are fields of diving that women have barely broken into yet such as commercial, public safety and military diving, and that needs to be continually addressed until the numbers change.

    Are there still women and diving issues? I say yes, just as there are women's issues in all parts of life.

    For more articles see www.teamlgs.com
  2. chickdiver

    chickdiver Instructor, Scuba

    Well written article, which brings up a number of questions and issues. As a female technical diver and technical instructor, I've encountered a number of these issues myself. Are there any organizations you are aware of proactively dealing with women's issues in diving?
  3. Snowbear

    Snowbear NOK ScubaBoard Supporter

    Wow - your reputation precedes you - I'll be looking forward to your input in the PSD forum. Thanks for joining and welcome to ScubaBoard!
  4. DivingGal

    DivingGal Divemaster

    Thanks, for the information.

    Oh and I'm sure you remember me, I took a course from you when you lectured at Underwater Canada a few years back :D... right!
  5. Dee

    Dee ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: near Houston, Texas
    Welcome to the board and thanks for contributing such excellent articles.
  6. baitedstorm

    baitedstorm Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Bastrop,Texas
    Whoa!! greatly written article there, I look forward to more
  7. scbababe

    scbababe Barracuda

    Andrea, welcome to the board. Your post is most interesting and goes to show, that even to the educated diver there are still many unanswered questions. As to the issue of you finding out that you are 2 months pregnant and your appropriate concern. I found that I was 1 month pregnant and diving. Lucky me I found out when I did and took the more concervative route and bubble watched through out my pregnancy. I have a beautiful and healthy- perfect baby girl. (There are test to help determine birth defects such as amniocentesis). The Doctors I asked did not know much about diving and pregnancy. Your questions about women and diving will not end here. We still have a long way to go. Even the Scuba magazines that my hubby/buddy subscribes to do not deal nor mention much of women related issues. We should have a womens diver organization as well as a magazine to help us deal with all of the above, which by the way many of us have at sometime or another delt with.
  8. cdiver2

    cdiver2 Great White

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Safety Harbor (West central) GB xpat
  9. starfish365

    starfish365 Barracuda

    ok I hate to ask but what birth defects could be caused by diving and exactly what proof is there....how can they figure that one if there isn't any proof.
  10. diver_paula

    diver_paula Loggerhead Turtle

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Southfield, MI
    Fantastic article. & great thought starters.


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