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Battle of the Sexes

by Amelia Zaher

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus. This is one common theory that characterises the divide between the two sexes, but to what extent should the clash impose itself on the diving industry?

Gender is the only apparent aspect that should differentiate male and female divers, but with only 28 per cent of divers worldwide being women there is the perception that diving is a "man's world".

Within the Asia Pacific region alone, PADI estimates that 32 per cent of divers are female, in contrast to 68 per cent male. Despite this imbalanced representation of the sexes, Claus Nimb, spokesman for PADI Asia Pacific is adamant that today's diving industry is no longer a macho activity. "I don't agree with the general perception that diving is still a 'man's world'. Yes, 10 to 15 years ago I would have agreed, but not today. In certain markets around the globe, we actually see the percentage of women divers in excess of 35 per cent. However, cultural issues do create some barriers in Asia."

Kaoru Sato, a 33-year-old diver from Japan, had doubts at first about diving. Puerto Galera, in the Philippines, is a male dominated location, where she experienced macho behaviour amongst the male divers.

"I have had lots of guys take the 'don't be such a weenie' attitude. They do not understand why someone may be afraid of diving," said Kaoru.

Despite some negative experiences, Kaoru pursued her passion for diving for five years and believes that now more women are naturally inclined to dive. "Today's women want to be more active. More women are pushing their own limits physically and really enjoying it."

Throughout her extensive experience, Kaoru has had female guides only on two occasions. With no existing statistics on the number of PADI divemasters and instructors, PADI estimates that there are 75 to 80 per cent male divemasters worldwide and 80 to 85 per cent instructors, making the females a very small minority in the field of professional diving.

The number of female instructors and divemasters in professional roles needs to increase, says Rosalyn Alvario, a divemaster in Puerto Galera.

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Look Who's Talking

Rosalyn anticipated sexist attitudes after completing her divemaster qualification in April 2001. Turned down for a job in one dive shop because of her supposed physical ineptness, Rosalyn was finally offered a position with Sabang Divers, where she astonishes her divers by effortlessly carrying two tanks at once.

A person's sex should not be taken into account when weighing the pros and cons based on a gender bias, she said adding, "Yeah, it's a man's world, but what can they do that we cannot? Women can match men's abilities. One of my divers told me that he didn't believe that I could carry two tanks on my shoulders because I am a woman, let alone five foot two inches tall."

Despite women in general having less upper body strength, a lower aerobic capacity and smaller lungs than men, Dr Martin Lawrence, a specialist in the physiology and medical aspects of scuba diving, says that one's sex is not the decisive factor when it comes to their ability to scuba dive.

"Scuba diving is a level playing field; there is no place for machismo behaviour or sexism. The stereotype of a weak, mechanically disinterested and uncoordinated female is out of date and harmful to both sexes," adds Rosalyn.

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Risky Business

Men have been generalised as greater risk takers, explains Dr Lawrence. This belief is borne out in the statistics: mortality rates associated with cave, deep and mixed gas diving are higher amongst male divers. John Lippmann, executive director of Divers Alert Network (DAN) Southeast Asia Pacific agrees. "It is probably true [that men take greater risks] with regards to certain types of accidents. However, women do appear to be well represented in the statistics."

With no existing data for the Asia Pacific region, DAN America data indicate that only 134 females in the United States out of 535 divers suffered decompression illness in 1999. While, out of the 75 fatalities of that year, only 18 were women.

In her own experience Kaoru finds that it is generally the men who push the limits. Because of the potential dangers in diving, as in any recreational sport, she says, "I think it is good that PADI stresses that divers are taking risks."

The controversial theory that women are more susceptible to decompression sickness (DCS) because they have on average 10 per cent more subcutaneous fat than men (fat tissues hold five times more nitrogen than blood) remains inconclusive. Due to the fact that separate dive tables have not been created for male and female divers, Dr Lawrence says, it is safe to assume the risk for DCS is the same for men and women.

From the surface to underwater, sex is not an issue to be reckoned with, for it would only aggravate sexual issues that have slowly been dispersing from society over time. The bottom line is, once certified as an open water diver - whether male or female - the person is responsible for his or her own safety.

Rosalyn wants to see more Filipino women take on the challenge of diving, but she encounters a challenge of a different kind: having to impose on the minds of some of the male divers who ask her out that she may be a woman, but also a professional in her own right.

"Well, a man will be a man," she muttered.

Source: Asian Diver - April/May 2002

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