Sunday, May 13, 2012

Caving Levels the Gender Playing Field


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Somewhere around 2002 I started helping to guide caving trips for Boy Scouts through the Philadelphia Grotto. With my history as a Scoutmaster I had experience dealing with Scouting issues. I just needed to develop my caving chops, and my friends in Philly Grotto where helping me do that.
After a couple years and some very successful caving trips with the Boy Scouts one of the women in the Grotto asked, “Why don’t you take Girl Scouts caving?” The only answer I had was, “Because they don’t ask.” I had to look into this some more.
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Generally, caving at this point is a male dominated activity. There are some women in the grotto, but it is mostly guys. Maybe that has something to do with it.
I went on line and looked around for local Girl Scout Troops that I might be able to talk to about this. HHmmm, that’s not that easy to do. I asked everyone I knew to ask around for an introduction to someone involved with the Girl Scouts. Apparently there’s a mistrust of some old guys saying, “Hey, you wanna take your girls caving?” It’s just a little too, how do they say, “pervy”.
There were a few things I had to learn along the way. One is the language. Just because it’s Boy Scouts of America it does not make it Girl Scouts of America. It’s GSUSA (Girl Scouts of the United States of America). And Boy Scouts are “chartered” (or franchised) and run by community organizations. Girls Scouts are all solely part of a larger Girl Scout organization called Service Unit (SU). While women can be Scoutmaster in BSA, men cannot be the number one Troop Leader in a GSUSA Troop. Starting to learn the lingo helps, a little.
Then there were the things that were not said. As I am a volunteer for BSA it was assumed by some GSUSA Leaders that I would eventually try to recruit girls into the Venturing Program, the new co-ed BSA program for High School aged kids. HHHHMMMM…
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It took some time but I did get my foot in the door, so to speak. Of course this was with the help of some new caving friends who were also GSUSA Leaders. I still have not taken a GSUSA Troop caving, but I have helped a Troop to go caving which opened the door for other outdoor possibilities for them. This is all great stuff.
But in the meantime I’m still taking more and more boys caving through their BSA Troops. Then the Venturing Program started to catch on in my Council.
GSUSA girls starting joining BSA Venturing Crews to do high adventure activities that were not available to them, for one reason or another, through their GSUSA Troops. There were a lot of guys in the Venturing program already. Mostly they were guys who were board with their Boy Scout Troops. They needed to do things that their 12 y/o little brother could tag along with them on. Caving is one of those activities that BSA deemed to be age appropriate for 14 y/o and above only. This tailored caving to be a good activity for a Crew to look into trying.
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As more and more Crews tried caving the word spread and I was invited to talk to more Crews and Troops. A few of us even formed our own Venturing Crew. We did even more caving. It was a good mix of girls and guys, but mostly guys still doing the caving and other high adventure activities. Then something changed.
I’m still not sure why. I don’t even want to speculate. But it is worth noting and maybe looking to see if this too changes. This past year, 2011, caving activities have been joined in by more and more girls. And they enjoy it and are very good at it.
Maybe it’s that not one body type is good at all caving. Maybe it’s that there’s something in caving that pretty much everyone can enjoy. Maybe it’s the great staff of friends I have from all ages of both men and women that help run these trips. Maybe it’s a combination of all these and more that just level the playing filed so caving is enjoyed by may different types of people.
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I guess there is one common trait among such a wide variety of people. That’s a strong sense of adventure and having fun even in adverse conditions. Also being able to develop a team mentality with the people you are with, no matter who they are. Not competing against, but playing with the folks in your group to have a good time and explore new realms.
Either way, all my new friends from the Troops and Crews we’ve been getting underground are spreading the word about how much fun caving is. You don’t have to be tall; you don’t have to be short. You don’t have to be old; you don’t have to be young. You don’t have to be guy and you don’t have to be a girl. Caving is for everybody.

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Thanks,
Allen

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