Male Bush Workers Tell Us How They Respond to Sexism in the Industry

A number of men responded to a recent VICE article exposing sexual harassment in their line of work.

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Nov 29 2018, 4:10pm

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“There’s an old saying—‘if you want trouble, you’ll find it.' You won’t hear many stories about (misogyny and harassment) here because most (mushroom pickers) are normal people without any ill will towards anybody—but people who stir shit up for the sake of stirring shit up tend to be the ones who become what they look for. There are so many stories that need coverage and this— this—is what you’re covering? You’re a fucking loser and an instigator of the highest order. Don’t go into the woods with that attitude. You’re welcome. How about (using this advice) in the workplace? That goes for both sexes. Leave the woods alone, it’s a peaceful place.”

This response, which was publicly posted to the Facebook group Vancouver Island Mushroom Pickers, was levied within 15 minutes of a call-out I placed to the group for my recent VICE article, Bush Workers Deal With Sexual Harassment In The Middle Of Nowhere, is one of three moderators for the group, to which I belonged, all of whom are male. Even though I identified myself as a reporter, the guy responded with the above with his real name.

The call-out read, “Hello fellow pickers: I am seeking women and female-identifying persons to speak to me about their experiences with misogyny and sexism in bushwork, including professional mushroom picking, for an article for VICE Canada. If you have a story you would like to share, please DM me.”

So, like, what guy? Me and every other woman I interviewed are all just sharing some terrible, uterus-based delusion and sexism and harassment are all in our heads? Do you have a book of matches? Because you’re going to need them to keep doing that much gaslighting.

The moderator’s response immediately started a flurry of comments, some from people—mostly men—who sided with him, and some who were strongly opposed to his tirade. As one male group member commented on the post, his immediate and vicious response simply proved my point. Others noted that his behaviour, especially as a moderator, was unacceptable.

Since the moderator was so kind as to offer me his totally unsolicited male opinion on the matter, VICE decided to ask other men in the bush industries what they thought about the subject of harassment and misogyny to try to get a more balanced set of experiences.

Jason Ryerson, Mushroom Picker

“Healthy boundaries”

*Jason reached out to me immediately following my interaction with the moderator on the Vancouver Island Mushroom Pickers Forum. His quotes are the result of two subsequent conversations.

I was completely caught off guard when I saw that response (from the moderator)… I have been in bushwork for a while and have seen my share of shit that happens.

In my personal interactions between men and women in bush work I have seen (some of these) problems. My personal relations with women in the bush, have been—as far as I know—good. Then again I’m an odd man out for a lot of things. I was raised by a single mom and by my friends’ moms; all my first bosses and coworkers when in started working were women. When I got into bush work— geology and surveying—I worked with women. Everyone was treated equally. When I started mushroom picking, I picked with women, we all pulled our weight, we all interacted well together. Most of the bush work I do, I work in solo/duo/trio/quad style groups and don’t work in big camps or anything, so we need to work well together to do our jobs. I push for good communication and make sure healthy boundaries are set and respected.

Adam MacNeil, Outfitter/Hunting Guide

“Respect, at a human level”

I’ve definitely seen (harassment and sexism in this line of work) although not so much from the crew, because I think they know better, but definitely from the clients. I’ve never really experienced anyone I work with trying to be inappropriate. One (client) came and said something about women being there on the hunting crew, made some inappropriate comments—he was gone in a week. I think it’s about insecurity, maybe an insecurity that passed down to them? These guys definitely feel male entitlement. It’s actually really foolish.

I can see how women might feel a bit intimidated in the bush. It’s an issue, unfortunately, but I think just having women do this kind of stuff helps. I support women that want to go—try it out if that’s what you want to do. We need to see more women, in the bush or the forest or whatever. It just needs respect, at a human level.

Jordan Tesluk, Sociologist/ BC Forestry Safety Advocate

“Shame is the enemy of progress”

I speak with men in forestry, including those that want to be part of positive change, and I speak with men that are struggling with the changes occurring around them (and some of which are hanging on to the things we want to change), and I have spoken with men that have been targets of harassment or violence, both from women and from other men.

Those that want to be part of change are often eager to talk, but often (we) realize that our voice is not the most important voice—that is, at least I recognize that male authority has been a part of the problem in advancing sexual violence, and as much as I want to push the cause forward, I also know that women need to be at the front too (if not foremost). That being said, I know of some men in forestry with strong progressive convictions, and I will say that sometimes these progressive convictions are held back for concern of how other men will respond. For example, I have received ample hate mail calling me a ‘snowflake’ and making life hard for men just leading discussions on the topic of sexual harassment….easy enough for me to brush off, but I know there is masculine pressure against other men that may otherwise speak out.

As for men that are struggling with the change, they are the most challenging to talk with, and in my opinion the most important group to reach... This is most critically important with young men that are seeking to find their way, and looking for examples to follow. In silviculture in particular, many of these young men are only beginning to figure out how to relate to women (and other men) as an adult, and the experience they have in confronting issues of sexual language, harassment, or violence may be the first experiences they have outside of home or school...I tend to feel that men like me bear a large portion of responsibility to change the minds of other men, and provide guidance for younger generations. Within this we have to compete within the discourse of young masculinity to gain their attention, and provide a contrast, antidote, or option against the masculinity of “traditional” bush workers, the poor examples they get from media, and the poor examples made by some of their peers.

This awkward conversation about sexual violence among men and among women needs to happen. We desperately need to reach a point where positive and open conversations can happen around this topic, rather than arguments or different views in isolation... In my view, one of the main problems is the lack of dialogue…it is so very hard to force people to change, and so much better to win them over. In my view, shame is the enemy of progress. Social progress occurs best through re-integrative processes that bring "wrongdoers" closer to the society they impact, and by helping them understand how their actions affect others.

Brett Carter, Tree Planter

“He definitely wasn’t asked”

I guess when I was younger, maybe 18-21, I wasn’t really aware of (harassment against women)—I was just a young lad. There isn’t any kind of vetting process for this kind of work, so you get some serious weirdos, who feel like there are no rules out there. They get too many drinks in them and they do stupid shit. I might not even be aware of half the shit that goes on. I don’t have a lot of faith in men, especially someone who says they’re your friend, and then they go and get drunk and do stupid shit.

I’ve been pretty lucky and worked in a lot of awesome camps… there was one incident though where a guy, late in the season, went into this girl’s tent at night. He definitely wasn’t asked. The girl made a racket about it. He was unstable—although that’s no excuse—and we had to get quite physical with him. He left the next day. They don’t do background checks and maybe they should.

The old dudes out there tend to be the worst. I’ve worked with some just really gnarly, gnarly old guys. That’s the old school school kind of way, working really really hard and being a sleeze bag. I’m definitely noticing a shift though… I think there will more of a shift in the right direction as a lot of these old guys retire. I definitely have faith in young people and I think there will be a shift when they take over.

I think it would help to have more women in management, as supervisors. When something happens (to a woman) you’re not going to go talk to some greasy old dude who’s been doing this for 40 years.

Robin Gillis, Tree Planter

“Small things matter”

I may be lucky, but I have always been surrounded with good people in my industry. My first tree planting supervisor was a woman and I believe she was a good role model for all the females in camp. I have continued to see strong, determined, intelligent, women in leadership roles throughout my career, so from my perspective I do not see any misogyny under the traditional definition as hatred towards women. I do perceive it to be harder for women to advance into certain roles, but I would argue it's not for sexist reasons, men with less physical strength or mental willpower have just as hard a time advancing.

Regardless of sex, if you prove that you can do the job better than someone else, you will succeed. In the past there were fewer women in leadership roles but there is for sure a change occurring to bring more women into important positions. We are all capable of adapting, I always see a shift that happens naturally where we all find our strengths within a team and cover for each other’s weaknesses.

The misogyny I do see is more subtle, and perhaps unintentional. For example a few months ago, I noticed that the bathroom doors in one of the field offices were not working and apparently hadn't been for quite sometime; it wasn't overtly sexist but the men just hadn't considered that this might be an issue. After I fixed the problem a number of women came forward expressing their relief that they could now lock the bathroom doors behind them. The issues I see here is that men need to start going out of their way to make sure that the women around them do not feel threatened, and also that women need to feel comfortable standing up for themselves. The fact that they all saw a problem but felt afraid to bring it up is unacceptable. We need to create a culture where small things like that matter.

Follow Lori Fox on Twitter.

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