Why Not Fewer (Mostly Male) Storm Chasers?

Roger Edwards

A response to Rant # 1: Why aren't there more female storm chasers? by Shannon Key

Shannon's essay was as thought-provoking as intended -- and for an undergraduate student in this day and age, astoundingly well-composed. Her impressively varied background lends credibility and authenticity to her arguments that most storm enthusiasts I know of either gender can't approach. Though a key (no pun intended) sociological argument appears overdone, it is a must-read editorial. She writes of getting more women into chasing; that's a noble idea if (as she alludes) it's not just because they happen to be female. As expressed by percentages, one way would be to remove all the yahoos! After all, think of all the irresponsible, reckless chasers you have ever met or heard about. Of those, what fraction are male? Hmmm...think about it. Every female chaser I have chased with or talked with so far has shown a genuine interest in learning about the atmosphere, and a love for the grandeur of the storm -- no "one-upmanship" at all.

A not-so-little aside about some of the sociology involved...

I agree completely from personal observation that (in general) men are more interested with what's happening outside people; and women care more about what's within people. I have not heard it said better. Neither is bad; and both are necessary. And as Shannon mentioned; it has been theorized to be biological to a great degree. As individuals we can't change gender genetics; but we can keep it from being an impediment to our ability to get along.

If a group discussion situation is perceived by some to be intimidating to the woman, does it matter whose "fault" it is? Does seeking a target for blame solve the problem? As related to storm chasing, it shouldn't be that hard for the males to find ways to relate chase experiences and weather knowledge in a non-competitive manner. Nor should the females read too much into the inevitable comparisons of "war stories;" though as I mention below, it can and often does go too far.

The passive/aggressive female dilemma Shannon presents is nothing new. It is a common binary-oppression argument from decades past which has become an entree on the pop-feminist menu. It was a feature of my basic sociology classes 10 years ago -- using a text that was yet another 10-odd years old. As a whole, IMO, this ethos is vastly overblown in the media -- apparently to foment a sort of charismatic mass-pity ("We are victims here!") for argumentative convenience. That attitude as a whole is counterproductive and self-destructive to those fighting for a truly egalitarian society. [The same can be said of so-called "affirmative action" policy, which actually promotes negative stereotyping of women and minorities; but I digress...]

That's not to say such a double standard doesn't sometimes happen on an individual level, though; and when it does it can be stifling and painful for those involved. It would be presumptuous and closed-minded to deny Shannon's personal experiences there, which do illustrate that in any field, there are individual ignoramuses who place more importance on gender than ability. Ignorance is not limited to males or to gender perceptions -- it can be the color of one's skin, the fabrics one chooses to wear, one's economic status...you name it. I have dealt with some males and females who seem to assume, just because I am a Southern male with an unfortunate penchant for flatulence, who listens to country and hard rock, doesn't wear or even own a tie, and sometimes speaks in tough language, that I surely am "trailer-trash" who cannot comprehend anything beyond a jukebox and a packet of Skoal. Is that any better? Bottom line: stereotypes suck; and everybody's guilty to some degree. Believe it or not, everybody is a "victim" to some degree.

There are meteorologists of both genders who show aggressive/passive extremes -- overbearing egomaniacs and quivering pushovers. It's possible that those labels are unfairly applied by some individuals in power (who are mainly male) to a few females who are simply assertive or laid-back. I haven't personally noticed more of that directed at females than males; but if it is, it should stop. To me, an *sshole is still an *sshole regardless of the organs in front! :-)

(Sociology aside mercifully terminated...)

The most successful female meteorologists I have known -- both scientifically and personally -- were neither strongly passive nor aggressive; they did their job with enthusiasm and dedication, presented ideas assertively but without hostility, and let the high quality of their work speak for itself. For the most part, that applies to males in the field too! However, a handful of male meteorologists and storm chasers -- some quite talented and willing to advertise it -- skew the overall impression of the rest of us through their loud, relentless, know-it-all chatter and self-inflated bluster. Perhaps that is a relict biological trait as Shannon argues -- the need for hypercompetitiveness for survival being quite relevant in a long-ago world of wooly mammoths, saber-tooth cats and 25-year life spans.

Listen long enough at any storm enthusiasts' gathering, and you will hear garbage like this: " I saw an even bigger hose on this day...", or "I radio'd in the first report (read: what a hero I am)...do you have *your* 2-meter license yet?" or "You're still shooting high-8? Well, I have the new cutting-edge digital VXPS3452 camcorder -- 1-millionth of a lux." Believe it or not, that sort of over-competitive crap irritates a lot of males, too -- many more than will probably admit it. It is not intimidating to me; instead, I usually brush it off as the petty spew of insecure minds. After a while, though, it can get quite annoying; and there is no place for it.

In fact, I have heard Shannon's example ["...That's not a wedge; how can he call that a wedge!"] almost verbatim from several people -- including a couple of well-known and otherwise respected chasers. My response to that line: "Who gives a damn? It's a big, well-developed and interesting tornado; and that's good enough. "

Chasing is not about who can see the biggest or most tornadoes, who makes the most money from their video (pardon my vomit), or who has the most expensive gear. It is, foremost, about LEARNING, documentation of processes, and about a love and appreciation for the grandeur of our atmosphere. There is plenty of that to share, so why trivialize storm chasing as some kind of competition?

All the problems in storm chasing are ultimately rooted in the twin demons of arrogance and commercialism. I have dealt with the latter in some of my rants (e.g., The Cancer Within); and in her essay, Shannon hits the former with a solid uppercut. Keep it up.

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