Posted By: Bryna Cofrin-Shaw
I want someone to shake my hand first. Or Sandy’s. Or Jordan’s. We go to City Hall, General Services Department, local business; we talk to counsel members, government employees, business owners. I make eye contact, introduce myself, have my hand ready, and somehow it never happens; our team’s two male riders always seem to get the first shake. Climate summer is made up of 31 riders. Five are male and twenty-six are female. My group, however, has two male and three female students, making us the most equally divided team in the program. When I began Climate Summer, I had no idea that gender, sexism, or gender inequality would have any relevance to the work I would be doing. But despite the fact that our program is 84% female, the climate leaders that most people think of first are Al Gore or Bill McKibben, not Rachel Carson. And likewise, the hands shaken first on our team are almost always male.
Before I continue, I’d like to say, this post is not meant in any way to express negative feelings toward Ben or Van, the two male riders on our team. They are fantastic. Nor is it to criticize anyone we’ve met over the course of our travels. But I do believe there is an interesting, and subtle, form of inequality within this movement, and all I’d like to do is ponder it aloud.
We come across many people in this program working toward sustainability: farmers, gardeners, business owners, government employees, activists, environmental group leaders, students, and more. Naturally, we see both men and women within these fields, yet somehow, almost every business owner or municipal employee we meet is male and six out of seven of our lead contacts this summer are men. Even last night when we attended a documentary screening, all four highly respected panelists were male. The movement away from fossil fuels is not disproportionately male in terms of supporters, so why this disparity in leadership? Why are the people making the large-scale, city-wide decisions about energy use, or the people producing the films or running the businesses that are making a difference, so often male, and is this a problem?
Though I am trying to focus simply on the important work we are doing and interesting people we are meeting, I find it difficult not to become frustrated with both how few women I see in positions of influence, as well as how we are treated as female students in a coed group. I do not believe I have met anyone this summer who is intentionally sexist, but I can count numerous times in which a person didn’t look at Sandy, Jordan or I once while describing their work, or who gained a considerably more condescending and slow tone when describing a fossil-fuel concept to me, as opposed to the male riders on my team. And as I said earlier, shaking the hands of us three girls generally seems like an afterthought.
Maybe I’m being oversensitive, or perhaps this is a real concern that’s felt throughout the Climate Movement. New England Climate Summer has twenty six amazing, competent young women fighting for a more just future, and I hope that as we continue to work toward a greener world, we are also building a movement that allows for strong, female leaders who will help shape the direction of this country’s energy usage.
I’ll end with a request. When you meet the New Hampshire Climate Summer Team, speak to Jordan, Sandy, and me directly. Look us in the eye. Trust that we understand what you’re saying just as well as Ben and Van, and that we are just as familiar with BTUs and Joules and schematics and any other technical words you throw our way. And please don’t shake our hands last.