Amateur Radio the gender imbalances in Ham radio, and why I will no longer use the term YL

I've had a bit of time to think about this lately, and hopefully enough time has passed since a certain other thread that we can avoid the baggage from there.

Ham radio has a gender problem. In the USA, it's about 15% women, but in my personal experience I feel there are far fewer active operating Hams who are female for whatever reason (for example, I logged a few hundred voice QSOs during the last Field Day, and it was definitely under 5% female). As a woman who got her license at 16 and has been active in this hobby for over a decade, plus one who is fairly visible in various ways in the hobby, a lot of people have asked me my thoughts on this. And to be clear, these are just my thoughts, and you're free to chime in on whether you agree or disagree with any of them.

Basically, for me the crux of it comes down to is Ham radio is not terribly good at making women feel like they belong in the field. What I mean about this is I have long ago lost count how many patronizing comments I got in QSOs and "creepy old guy" comments, and even though I lived really near Dayton for nearly all of the first decade I was licensed, I never went because I didn't think I'd enjoy a weekend of men staring at me. (You can argue this wouldn't have been the case, but it was my experience at local Hamventions and club meetings, which is why I guess I've never really attended either.) And, to be clear, I have many male dominated hobbies and work in a male dominated field- also, interestingly, estimated to be around 15% women- and honestly
nothing has make me feel like I don't belong quite as much like Ham radio. (I also hate to say it, but as a top 100 Reddit commenter you know who has sent me by farthe most hate mail and ad hominem attacks? /r/amateurradio users. Cheers guys! I figure if I'm making you mad, I'm doing something right!)

Once again, people are free to voice what they think about this, and I realize this isn't going to change overnight. But thinking about it, one obvious example example of this to me is the fact that in Ham radio we still commonly use YL, ie "young lady," to refer to all women regardless of age. I will freely admit that this didn't annoy me much when I was a young woman, but by now I am 30 years old and am going to have a doctorate in astrophysics by the end of the year (hopefully). And being called a YL is starting to feel really patronizing and condescending to me, in a way related to calling a grown man "boy." It definitely has been said to me many times in a way that does not make me feel like just another Ham radio operator.

As such, starting today I am no longer referring to myself or anyone else as a YL, and encourage other Hams to do the same. Fair warning, I'm toying with sending an article to QST on this too and will take what the comments here say into consideration for anything I write (if I do: see that dissertation due this year thing).


Now to start, here are some objections that I know will be raised so let me address them out of the gate:

  • But YL is a part of Ham radio lingo! We call men OM/ old men after all! The term YL originated in the early days of radio nearly a century ago. There are a lot of things that were socially acceptable back in the day that we now realize in society are not acceptable. And if the amateur radio community only wakes up to this now, well better late than never.
  • You're just being too PC! I am writing this to tell you my feelings, and my feelings are that I do not belong in Ham radio the same way I would if I were a man, and that the way I am referred to is a part of this. I have a right to my feelings, and PC-ness has nothing to do with them.
  • Why not just call yourself an XYL then if you feel you're no longer a YL? Because an XYL refers to a Ham's wife, one who's not necessarily in Ham radio. What's more, it still would contribute to making a woman feel like she doesn't belong. (Oh, and last because it's not another operator's business, but I am not married so I'm not an XYL anyway.)
  • But YL started in the days of QR codes because CW is easier with abbreviations! I will admit right now that my CW experience is limited as it just never interested me much. But honestly, and I ask this purely as a question, does gender come up all that much in CW? Because all I've ever done was callsigns, location, and a signal report- you know, the standard stuff. No one ever asked me my gender.
  • I'm a woman and I don't care if someone calls me a YL! That's great! And while you're here, I would love to hear your thoughts on why there are so few women in Ham radio, and if you agree/disagree with everything else I wrote. As I said, I don't pretend to have all the answers.

That's all for now, let the drama begin. 73




Source :
A Study of Amateur Radio Gender Demographics
http://web.archive.org/web/20070223193600/http://www.arrl.org/news/features/2005/03/15/1/?nc=1

By Ken Harker, WM5R
March 15, 2005

Estimated Number of Hams in Each State, by Gender
State
Female %
Male %
Total
DC
7.88
92.12
540
NJ
10.55
89.45
18,802
CT
11.55
88.45
10,144
MA
11.7
88.3
17,707
PA
11.87
88.13
29,307
RI
11.99
88.01
2,842
MD
12.06
87.94
13,663
IL
12.2
87.8
27,501
NY
12.3
87.7
38,631
MN
12.58
87.42
13,359
DE
12.77
87.23
1,779
MI
13.07
86.93
25,813
WI
13.32
86.68
13,202
VA
13.39
86.61
21,254
IA
13.52
86.48
7,872
NH
13.65
86.35
6,150
IN
13.84
86.16
18,554
OH
13.94
86.06
36,410
SC
14.05
85.95
8,682
FL
14.39
85.61
51,583
NE
14.42
85.58
4,670
NC
14.59
85.41
22,916
GA
14.62
85.38
18,434
AL
15.13
84.87
13,137
AZ
15.24
84.76
19,549
TX
15.28
84.72
53,322
ME
15.31
84.69
5,605
MO
15.36
84.64
15,580
KY
15.43
84.57
10,826
VT
15.47
84.53
2,721
CO
15.58
84.42
15,286
LA
15.6
84.4
8,137
NV
15.71
84.29
6,359
MS
15.87
84.13
5,797
KS
15.97
84.03
8,764
OK
15.98
84.02
11,512
TN
16.15
83.85
17,656
SD
16.44
83.56
1,959
NM
16.81
83.19
6,820
OR
16.9
83.1
16,771
WV
17.07
82.93
7,948
CA
17.11
82.89
126,891
ND
17.25
82.75
1,905
WY
17.61
82.39
2,001
WA
17.68
82.32
30,933
ID
17.92
82.08
5,620
UT
17.93
82.07
11,287
HI
18.3
81.7
4,288
MT
18.84
81.16
3,811
AR
19.19
80.81
8,790
AK
20.65
79.35
4,034

Answer ::
I'm a 34 year old female new ham. Like you, I'm also finishing up my doctoral dissertation this year. I have a lot of thoughts about this. Let me see if I can organize them in a way that anyone will read. I know that you have 14 years of experience on me, so I realize that I might not know what I'm talking about. I think dialogue about this topic is good. Please do write that QST article, and I'd be interested in hearing what other women of ham radio think. Really, diversity in ham radio should be a regular and interactive QST column. I also suggest that you read Ham Radio's Technical Culture by Kristin Haring, as she has a lot to say on the issue.
The feminism buzz word now is "othering." When we set ourselves apart from one another, we make someone else the "other" which feels exclusive. This is at odds with our current racial rhetoric of embracing diversity. Remember how, when we were kids, it was cool to imagine that we'd all be a world of the same people holding hands? A melting pot? I bet a lot of hams were proudly pioneering that attitude on the air. These days, though, it's considered offensive not to recognize and celebrate our differences. Unless we're "othering" people. That's bad. Yes, this is confusing.
Now, as a new ham coming from the Internet, the first thing one notices is the lack of anonymity. Not only can people look up my call sign and see that I'm Alexandra Chauran, but my voice is decidedly feminine. Even though I go by Alex, people don't mistake me for a man the way they do on the Internet. When I go to local ham radio meetings (which I do gladly as often as I can) people do stare because I'm different. They don't leer, but they remember my call sign more than any other new person in the room who is probably another white old guy. Some women might find this extra attention uncomfortable even though it's not sexualized in nature. The men I met who head the meetings make active efforts to be welcoming. All that looking at me and smiling was perceived by me to be an attempt at welcoming. They even awkwardly tried correcting their speech to include appropriate gendered words when talking about things. "Any guy... or gal... could build this radio kit!" However, the meetings are largely old white guys, which is fine to me because I find old men endearing. Yesterday on the air a roundtable of old guys was giving me sweet advice for fighting off a cold "take your vitamin Delta three!" and I told them "thank you boys" at the end of the QSO even though they were each probably decades my elder.
I'm impressed that you've gotten hate mail from here! I was just telling my husband last night that /r/amateurradio was the friendliest sub on the Internet because they put up with my stupid questions and general poor use of Reddit.
My friend Eileen (KG7YFI) got her license the same time I did. I've been trying to convince her to get on the air. She, like you, works in a male dominated field as she is a journeyman electrician. For new hams, VHF/UHF repeater interactions can be intimidatingly cliquish. I'll come back to this at the end of my post with some presumptuous recommendations.
I also wondered whether your feelings now are intensified because of where you are in your degree program. I'm defending my dissertation next Tuesday (!!!) and I can't wait to get all pretentious about things make everyone including telemarketers call me "doctor." Perhaps I'll tell hams to call me Doc instead of Alex. According to developmental pyscholgist Erikson, you and I are both in the crisis stage of Intimacy versus Isolation (see above "othering" connundrum) in our 30s. However, I believe I'm also re-living the crisis of Industry versus Inferiority at the crux of this academic acheivement. You and I are motivated by our impending recognition in our academic communities and I know that I am especially sensitive to "condescension" whether real/implied/imagined in all areas of life. We're amateurs, though. Age and profession is meaningless unless it's part of the idle babble that brings us together. While I'm tempted to call myself Doc after getting my degree just as you're tempted to call for the extermination of YL, perhaps I should content myself that as an amateur I don't need professional titles nor is amateur radio the appropriate place to display my superiority in my field. I'm still struggling with this one.
So now, my presumptuous and unasked for recommendations as a new ham with less than three months experience under my belt. When I was a school teacher, we learned that the accomodations we made for students with special needs often helped ALL the kids in the class. For example, if a kid with ADD needed a special color-coded notebook to keep track of assignments, all of the kids benefitted by being given such notebooks and trained how to use them.
  • Be more welcoming to EVERY new ham, especially on VHF/UHF where new hams are testing the waters. If you're doing a net or a roundtable, be sure to explicitly say, "I'm going to break for new check-ins. Any new check-ins? Anyone at all?" for the microphone shy new ham who feels uncomfortable breaking in. At least take a good breath, everyone, I tried to join a regular roundtable three times this morning and nobody let off the key long enough for me to get a word in edgewise.
  • Encourage diverse friends to join ham radio and/or become more active on the air. Approach women, people of colour, the disabled, and young people to name a few. Tell them how they might like ham radio and then be their Elmira (cute term for a female Elmer I picked up from KG8VO Microphone Crone Joan). Find out their personal barriers to getting on the air. If a female is shy about talking to men, invite her to a YL Net. If a single mom can't afford a radio, toss an old Baofeng her way. If a woman doesn't want to attend a big meeting of nerdy strangers alone, accompany her.
  • Be a one woman outreach ambassadorship campaign. We're EACH the face of ham radio. I'm currently studying to be a VE. I look forward to teaching classes. I can't wait to volunteer at a marathon and try to rope all my running friends into ham radio. I'm getting ready to join three different emergency communications groups. I'm going to start a radio club at my kids' school when they're old enough. When I am more knowledgeable, I look forward to writing books about ham radio (I'm a nonfiction book author already). I'd LOVE to go to a hamvention when I can afford to go. Another barrier for stay at home moms. :)
  • I agree to disagree with your dislike of "YL." I guess I'm proud to be an XYL. But I'd encourage you to think up more welcoming terms. For example, I was touched when another female ham said "33" to me on the air. After I researched its meaning and its cultural use (for the unaware, it was invented by Clara Reger around 1933, is never used plurally the way that "73s" are given, and is only used one on one between female hams to mean "love sealed with friendship"). New terms can be introduced and, perhaps more excitingly, old terminology can be revived. If you can't destroy, reclaim. This goes for everyone, not just OP.
  • Just be friendly. I know it's hip these days to be offended by things and triggered by things, but hams historically have reached across the boundaries of countries and cultures way before that was a thing that most people did. If people give you a hard time, spin that big dial and find somebody awesome.
https://www.reddit.com/r/amateurradio/comments/3zqkb1/on_gender_imbalances_in_ham_radio_and_why_i_will/

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous19:56

    My advice to KB3HTS, is:

    Stick with the hobby, there's lots of good people
    Call people out on their actions if truly inappropriate.
    Talk to some of the more prominent folks in the hobby, male and female. Write QST
    Keep it professional
    Understand there's gonna be folks that will be sticks in the mud

    Here's a longer comment with my personal observations and opinions.

    Technically nothing keeps women or men from joining and contributing to this hobby/service. The barrier to entry is low, a test or three with open question pools. (I've seen multiple people go from 0 to Extra with less than a month of spare time study, including my spouse.) The technical and operational material is widely available and low or no cost, thanks to the internet. Radios and equipment are affordable, it's comparable to other hobbies.

    The problem is social. When I was a no-code Tech back in 19diggity2, we no-codes were shit on, trashed or shunned by a good chuck of the old timers and many quit due to their shenanigans. I persevered, found a few elmers and upgraded. That attitude is dying and CW is popular now it isn't a requirement.

    Remnants of the pro-coders still exist with other uncouth folks in the hobby. Any activity, ask my FIL, about the "squids" or motorcycle gangs affect how normal riders are characterized by the rest of the driving public.

    I haven't seen or heard of any gender specific problems from the clubs my wife and I belong too, nor did we have any issues attending Ham-com or any other event. The ladies, single or married involved haven't mentioned any issues, my wife has asked and not heard anything negative.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous20:05

    Raised as a Quaker (originally a derogatory term), this resonates with me. In fact, maybe the best suggestion I've seen. My 11 year old kinda likes the term and I've given her some of the background; good opportunity for more.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous20:06

    I love that new ham shine (read enthusiasm). I am a relatively new ham myself; I really jumped feet first into the hobby after I got my doctorate in 2012. It gave me something to do that quenched that thirst for knowledge developed during years of research.

    I hope that you can find the time and space to get on HF, that's where the real fun began for me.

    I really appreciate your voice of reason on what can be a charged topic. A very good example of being the change you want to see. Maybe you should write a QST article. I have seen women come to local meetings and hamfests, and while a novelty, that novelty soon wears off if you show up consistently and you are soon one of the hams.

    I'll point out that this happens to everyone regardless of gender when you are new to a group or to the hobby in general. It took me a while to feel like I really belonged, and I think some people resented how fast I learned CW (it "only" took me a month of daily practice) when they were still working on it, or not, as the case may be. But eventually I found hams to be like-minded geeks, and that's a fun thing to find.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous20:06

    Try being a kid! I got my license at age 11, and progressed to extra (including 20wpm cw, for the old farts) within 13 months. In SSB pileups, I was always "the YL 2 xray," because my voice had not changed yet. Truth is, I didn't mind - sounding like a lady added about 10db to my signal, I think.

    The downside was there were a bunch of OFs who questioned whether the testing material was hard enough if a 12 year old kid could do it, and I was called all kinds of crap behind my back, too - "the extra class novice" sticks in my mind particularly. Truth is, there are a lot of hams out there who are jerks, trolls, and basically xenophobes - they don't like you if you don't fit their idea of what a "real ham" should be, whether you're a female, a kid, or, FSM forbid, one of those new no-code people ... and they are and always will be full of shit.

    ReplyDelete

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