This time last week, it was International Women’s Day. To be honest, I’m always in two minds about Women’s events, awards, records, etc. I understand the need to highlight inequality and injustice and fight for change. I also realise that we often measure people on sports that are traditionally male, e.g. running, jumping, strength etc, so we split competitions into male and female for better comparison.
The good news is that diving is not a competitive sport. So, I feel pointing out that something is a “women’s diving depth record”, for example, means that it isn’t actually a record and may belittle something that is in itself an amazing achievement, regardless of whether or not it is a record or a women’s record. Actually, if I’m honest, I’m not a fan of diving records at all, as I don’t feel they are an accurate measurement of achievement in diving.
Diving is an amazing leveller in so many ways. It requires a certain amount of strength, but not so much that we don’t have plenty of junior divers. It requires learning ability, but we have some great teaching tools and instructors who make this as accessible as possible. Divers need to have some physical ability, but there are so many possible techniques that most divers can overcome their personal physical challenges to become a diver or a dive professional, or a tec diver or a tec diving professional, or whatever they want.
That doesn’t mean I have not come across prejudice against women in the diving world. More than twenty years ago, when I first became a PADI Instructor, women were few and far between in our industry. My Course Director was (still is in fact) a woman, and I saw the doubt in many an instructor candidate’s eyes as they wondered what she could teach them. She never gave in to any temptation to “prove herself” to the doubters. She just carried on doing her job, and slowly but surely, they realised she was an expert and she was more knowledgeable than them and she could knock the spots off them in the water, not because she was a woman, but because she was a very much more experienced diver and dive professional.
Over the years, I have stood in my dive shop listening to male divers tell me how “the trimix blender” (whoever HE would be!) would fill their cylinders. I have chuckled when they turned to my father to ask a question (he being the oldest male working there at the time) only for him to nod in my direction and tell them that they need to “ask the boss”. I have even watched a female dive instructor’s face turn to shock when she was told I was a cave and rebreather instructor. I have to admit that these examples are quite a long time ago now, but just a year or so ago, one of my colleagues was approached at a German dive show and asked, “Is Vikki coming along, I was hoping to meet him.” It turned out they had presumed I was a guy, because “Vikki is the tec expert” (and Wikki – pronounced the same – can be a man’s name in some countries).
While I understand others may find these kind of incidents irksome, I’m pretty easy going. I have followed my Course Director’s example of letting people find out in their own time, and when they have the grace to admit to their assumption, I make sure I have the grace to not mind.
So here we are in 2018, and certainly in my couple of decades in the diving industry, diving has become increasingly inclusive in all regards. I’m sure you all have examples, but I have dived with people from all financial and professional backgrounds, with different genders and sexuality, from many cultures and languages, with and without mental and physical challenges, in areas of political peace and those in upheaval. So, I think we can be rightly proud of what we have achieved so far, as long as we know that there is always room for improvement.
Bowing down slightly to the fact that it was International Women’s Day last week, the photos throughout this article are from a week’s rebreather diving in Safaga, which culminated in one of my favourite moments in recent years.
As we were carrying our kit from the boat to the dive centre, some Egyptian women wanted a photo of me with one of their daughters. We chatted away in two different languages with no real barrier and a feeling of warmth and curiosity as we both learned a little more about each other.
This article was originally written for the TecRec blog by Vikki Batten and originally published on March 15, 2018.