Has the lady had enough?

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I love to fish. I don’t do it nearly as much as I would like to and I’m not an avid hobbyist, but when I fish, I am happy.   It really doesn’t matter where, though most of my fishing has been deep sea off the Eastern seaboard. When I think about the times and places and those with whom I fished, I always remember them with a smile and great stories.  From the times my father brought me with him on deep sea charter boats off of Belmar, NJ (I was the only girl on the boat) to business meetings in Boca Raton (I was the only woman on the boat), to leadership meetings when we went out from Long Branch to fishing off Cape Cod with friends, I genuinely felt  happy and empowered and free.  While there are a  times on public boats when a crew member immediately thinks he needs to assist me with baiting my hook, for the most part, I am seen as an equal and it’s a no-judgment zone (the fish are certainly not considering the gender of their predator).  I know I can ask for help when landing a particularly strong catch and not be made to feel second-class, especially since I’m usually waiting for a man requesting the same type of assistance.  

I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked to find unconscious bias rearing its ugly head at the bank of the river this past weekend.  For the first time in several years, I was able to join my friend and excellent guide to head out early to the river for opening weekend of trout season.  It was a beautiful morning and I was very excited.  I had not been able to fish for quite some time because I had been taking care of my dad.  Sunday, I was able to head out knowing that I was free from any other priorities.  

The water was cool, the fish were jumping, and I had what I considered a successful time in the water.  Those who fish will tell you success is not just about how many you catch; it’s about the whole experience:  the fresh air, the quiet, the water’s soothing qualities, the comradery.

Had it not been for some leaky waders, I would have stayed there for hours.  But I also knew that time was running out before my cold, wet feet became a hypothermic risk. We decided to stop a little earlier than planned, dry off, and head to a different location where I could fish from the bank of the river.  

Just as we were climbing out of our part of the riverbank, a fisherman was waiting to come down the same way.  As I passed him, I smiled.  He said, “Oh, has the lady had enough already?” With that, I felt a need to explain myself (and immediately hated myself for doing so). “No way…just moving to a different location.  Caught a lot already and it’s been great!”  And for a few minutes, the joy and freedom escaped me. 

Why did this bother me so much?  If my friend had been there alone, would the fisherman have said, “Has the gentleman had enough already?” I doubt it.   In my heart, I don’t believe he “intended” to be biased, but the impact was still the same.  I felt singled out and seen as different (and less than) from him, though we were both fishing for the same fish in the same river.       

Has the lady had enough?  Oh yes, I’ve had enough:  of unconscious bias, of limited thinking, and of judgment of others.

I will always have enough time and energy to bring people together, to challenge and educate those willing to hold up a mirror to their own biases, and to listen to others and expand their minds.

As for me, I will continue to wade deeper into understanding my own reactions to bias and to explore what’s below the surface of the behavior of others.