Equality in Skydiving

drop zone, women -

Equality in Skydiving

This could be taken as a very controversial opinion but and I am speaking strictly from my own experiences. Please understand that the goal of this is not to shame anyone. It is simply a call to action, to try and change the way that we interact with one another at a dropzone in order to create an environment where women feel welcome and safe. As someone who has served in a special operations unit in the military, is a skydiver, and is learning to become a pilot, I’ve been around the block for what it’s like being a woman in male-dominated fields.  I’ve encountered plenty of conversations over the past several years about women sharing space in male-dominated environments. From talks about women being in military combat roles, to women growing in the skydiving community, to the competency of women flying aircraft. I’d say the most people are on the same page about it. Women should absolutely be there if they can perform the same tasks as men because... why the hell not? 

There will always be some neigh sayers who can’t get their heads out of the past and really believe that women aren’t qualified. But they’ll be on the wrong side of history. Women only make up about 13% of skydivers in the United States. In the past 4 years I’ve been emerged in skydiving culture and what has surprised me the most was that I saw more negativity and harassment toward women at the dropzones than I did serving in the Army. Even more shocking, I’ve seen a lot of women putting other women down in order to try to fit in with the boys. Please don’t be this person. We need to lift each other up and help other ladies feel welcome! Possibly one of the most off-putting comments I’ve heard over and over after a sexual statement has been made is, “It’s a dropzone, if you can’t handle jokes then you shouldn’t be a part of it.”

Why is this the culture? Why should we be expected to be okay with it? The simple answer is, we shouldn’t. If this happens to you and you don’t like someone’s ‘joke’, you have every right to shut it down unapologetically. This goes for men too, if you hear these ‘jokes’ being made, please stand up for women or yourself if you feel harassed. Far too often, I’ve seen women ignore the comments or laugh it off trying to not make a big deal about it and then later state that it made them uncomfortable. I’ve done it a lot myself. For years, I would just shrug off the comments and carry on with whatever I was doing and ignore what was said, even if I didn’t like it. I’ve worked hard to change my mindset and stand up for not only myself but also the women around me. My tolerance level was very high but what took me so long to realize was that my passive attitude toward harassment allowed it to continue. My choice to let it happen gave a green light to the people making the ‘jokes’ and reinforced them to continue doing it, not only to me, but also to other women. If you don’t mind sexual comments and think they are funny and don’t feel uneasy about it, that’s perfectly fine but that doesn’t mean that someone else shouldn’t feel threatened. Here is my friendly reminder that harassment is completely subjective.

“For something to be considered sexual harassment, it matters what the person who’s being harassed thinks; It does not matter if the person who’s doing the harassment thinks it’s OK, harmless, not sexual, or welcomed.” 
Examples of behavior that could be harassment include but are not limited to: 

  • making inappropriate comments about someone’s body or appearance 
  • saying bad things about or making fun of someone or all people of a certain gender or sexual orientation (i.e. “women are…” or “gay people all…”) 
  • making vulgar, offensive, or explicit jokes about sex or sexual acts 
  • sending or sharing emails, texts, or messages of a sexual nature 
  • unwanted or inappropriate touching of any body part, clothing, face, or hair, including hugging, kissing, or assault 
  • staring, leering, or making gestures of a sexual nature 
  • blocking someone’s movement 
Women Skydiving Harassment Image

It can be infuriating that people think it is okay to behave in this manner, but we have to try to understand why other’s feel safe to do so. Are they trying to fit in with the people who have established a relationship where this kind of banter is okay? Do other women come from a background where they were harassed more aggressively than they are at the dropzone, so the comments and behavior of harassment seem mild in comparison? Do they actually mean to make you feel uncomfortable or is it a lame attempt at flirting that they have conditioned themselves to feel is acceptable?

  At the end of the day, I just ask that we try to shift the mindset that the dropzone is a safe space for harassment. I’m also not saying that men should always be affair to make jokes but know your audience! It is interesting that it is not talked about more. Maybe I think that because the military has a zero-tolerance policy and regular training is required to ensure everyone understands the definition of harassment and what your rights are if you encounter it. I assume that many other workspaces have similar training but for some reason it not discussed even with employees at many of the dropzones I've frequented. I’ve heard many testimonies of women who have experience harassment at dropzones, and they had nobody to turn to for help. Hopefully if we are all giving the same message that harassment will not be tolerated, the culture can change too. 

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