| Issue 64 Contents |
Women in ANARE ...Have things changed since 1989?
The straight answer to the question is simple enough. Yes, plenty has changed since I first wintered with the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) as Casey station’s first female Station Leader in 1990.
For a start I was honoured to follow Australia’s first two women Station Leaders, who had wintered only the previous year, 1989, thirty-six years after the first wintering party was deployed at Mawson. You could say women in leadership got off to a slow start in ANARE, but we’ve made up for it since, to the point where there have now been nine women Station Leaders in the last fourteen years. This trend can be expected to continue, as every effort is made to include at least equal numbers of suitable women and men as candidates in the annual Station Leader selection centres. The acid test will be the year when the four best candidates are all women ….
ANARE’s women in the manual trades can be counted on one hand. As of this season we can proudly say that Australian women have served in Antarctica as a plasterer, carpenter, dieso, instrument electrician and Engineering Services Supervisor (supervisor of all the trades). Not a long list considering the overall number of Australian women in the trades, but a fine example in terms of trade diversity. Only this year (winter 2003 and summer 2003-04) did we finally storm the last bastion – by sending a woman mechanic to Davis.
The number of women scientists has always favourably skewed the overall statistics on women’s participation in ANARE. In particular the numbers of women biologists who have worked over summer on Macquarie Island give the odds a boost. Although there have been fluctuations from one year to another, at best the gender equity ratio has been around 1:7 in favour of male expeditioners. Great things can be anticipated in this area in the immediate future. Recent appointments at the Antarctic Division are already providing an influential leadership base for women in science there. High profile women principle researchers have long been a feature of science in ANARE, and it is to be hoped that with the greater ease of access provided by air transport more of these role models will be seen on station and in the field.
In fact, women have now held most positions in ANARE, with the number of female chefs, medical officers, meteorological team members, comms officers, station leaders, tradies, scientists, field training officers and voyage leaders growing every year.
To this point, though, I am still not satisfied that all reasonable avenues have been pursued by the Australian Antarctic Division to attract suitably qualified women. The results of a workplace diversity consultancy (with a significant gender equity brief) conducted for the AAD during May 2003 are yet to be released. The recommendations of this specialised review might be the catalyst needed to widen the net. True, there is a strong possibility that potential expeditioners, and those who influence their decision to apply, may not be confident that “a woman’s place is in Antarctica”. In which case, the stories of Australian women’s achievements in Antarctica are a largely untapped rich lode of positive energy, waiting to be put into service as an attractive part of a targeted recruitment program.
I feel that many women in the past went to winter in Antarctica rather like lambs to the slaughter … There is no point in recruiting women without changing other aspects of the Program. Since I joined in August 1989 ANARE has evolved into the Australian Antarctic Program (AAP), with attendant advances in culture, policy and practice.
Thirteen years ago there was a marked tendency for women to be slotted into one of two categories – as station “pets” or “dragons”. ANARE stations were definitely a man’s world, in which women often recognised the advantage of attracting the protective patronage of one or more men. Along with the increasing visibility and higher profile of women has come a gradual change in our status. There are many subtle and more obvious signs that gender equality at work is an accepted part of current expeditions.
In August 1993 at the conference on women working in the Antarctic1 hosted in Hobart by the Australian Antarctic Division, courageous women retold their shocking stories of sexual harassment up to and including indecent behaviour and rape on Australian Antarctic stations. At that time the AAD had a policy against sexual harassment but it had little or no impact … and most cases went unreported.
In 1990, when I made a stand against sexual harassment and sexism at Casey, I was marginalised on station and back at Kingston (AAD Headquarters). Needless to say, I survived to tell the tale and felt that it had all been worth it when I saw the difference it had made to the attitude of women arriving on Macquarie Island for the summer 1993-94. They understood that they need not put up with behaviour which made them uncomfortable and were confident in knowing what to do about it.
Events prior to the departure of the 2004 expedition now stand as an indelible mark of the seriousness with which all forms of workplace harassment are seen by the AAD. In the months directly following the return of the 2002 expedition a number of complaints of workplace harassment and sexual harassment were formally investigated on behalf of the Director. Furthermore, since the disqualification and withdrawal of an offending expeditioner during the 2004 expedition pre-embarkation period, there is no doubt that the AAD’s workplace harassment policy carries the full weight of the Director and Executive. In time, hopefully a short time, people’s preparedness to report incidents will catch up with the leadership provided by the policy. That said, I was horrified to hear stories of bets being laid on station as to who would be the successful seducer of one young woman scientist … and this happened within the past two years. The price of freedom, as the man said, is eternal vigilance!
It has always been true that most men on station disapprove of sexual harassment of women expeditioners, but the strength of peer group pressure and the implicit support given to predatory behaviour by certain aspects of “ANARE tradition” have sometimes coerced the Good Samaritans into doing nothing. Sadly, their silence may have been interpreted as acceptance, and contributed to the length of time it has taken to turn the situation around. Up-front, unambiguous statements and constant emphasis of the policy throughout expeditioner training provides reinforcement for high benchmarks of mutual respect between men and women on station today.
Finally, indulge me as I air a personal gripe … Call me petty, but I reckon women will have really arrived in the AAP when we are issued with clothing that fit us! I am not saying that things haven’t changed since 1989, just that we have still got a fair way to go. I almost burst with pride and pleasure when I received my first issue of Antarctic clothing, despite the fact that the Y-fronted long johns had a fly, the “rainbow zipper” was unheard of and everything in my “chest” size had sleeves that made me look like a gorilla. Boots in the correct foot length were so wide that I developed platform-like calluses on the inner edge of each big toe. And that was the year I assisted in the development of a formula for the supply of sanitary napkins and tampons as part of the Group 12 re-order.
By 1994 I had been introduced to Louise, The Sewing Angel, who works in the Field Store, who tailored placket-fronted shirts with shortened sleeves for me, and chopped about 18 inches off the legs of my overalls. Women winterers that year were also given vouchers to purchase their own boots. These days all women expeditioners purchase their own sanitary supplies on a Petty Cash voucher from the AAD, there are more smaller sized garments in the Clothing Store, and even a range of women’s sizes in thermal underwear. Under the new regime I expect the old “Sanifem” (4-U-2-P) device to be relegated to folk lore and replaced with some of the modern outdoor clothing and equipment used by women climbers and other outdoorsy trekking types.
I once listened to a SNAG tell me
that the integration at a conference he had just attended in the USA was so
complete that he stopped seeing people as either black or white. I hope this
level of insensitivity never afflicts the Australian Antarctic Program. While
I do not endorse the concept of innate “ “feminine” or “masculine” qualities,
I do believe the powerful social forces which produce adult women and men
provide us with a highly productive and eternally fascinating set of
complementary gender-based differences. I look forward to these being more
realistically recognised, accommodated and invested in the Australian
Antarctic Program of the future …. For my money,
“Vive la difference!”
Joan Russell is the Station Leader at Mawson, 2004. She has been Station Leader at Casey (1990) and Macquarie Island (1994 and 2002). She spent the summer 1997-98 at Commonwealth Bay as the Camp Manager and cook on the AAP Mawson’s Huts Expedition. In each case she was privileged to be allowed time off without pay from the South Australian Public Service. Joan retired in 2001, after a career at executive level specialising in management improvement, including workforce diversity and customer service excellence. When she goes south she is supported by her partner, Judith, and she leaves behind her daughter, son-in-law and 3 year old granddaughter in Hobart.
1 See the record of proceedings, Gender on Ice, published by AAD, Hobart, 1994.