by Rene Gedaly, President
How many women members would you imagine we have? Take a guess. Fifty? One hundred? As of this writing there are 167 members who are women or girls. I bet some of you can remember when the entire membership hovered around that number. Ninety-five of those 167 are associate members. Looking over the list, we have some very active and supportive associates. Thank you all so much.
For many women membership is primary
That leaves 72. Seventy-two of us are non-associate female members: regular, student, and sustaining. We're at the novice and membership meetings, at the dark-sky site for prime- and novice nights, we’re active contributors on the HAS Facebook group, we give talks, participate in outreach, and take leadership positions. A lot of us are armchair amateurs. By choice? Or waiting in the wings?
The time crunch
The web is a wonderful thing. Formulate a good search and all manner of reliable information pops up. I came across an interesting paper entitled Involving More Women in Amateur Astronomy by Mary Lou Whitehorne. “There are two primary reasons there are fewer women than men in amateur astronomy,” she says: “sociological and biological."
The paper was delivered at the Amateur-Professional Partnership in Astronomy conference held in 2000 so it's a little dated. For example, there are increasing numbers of women involved in amateur astronomy, at least at HAS. But the sociological reason for continued participation is still relevant: "Amateur astronomy is a hobby and comes after family and career commitments." The same can be said for men, of course. We all struggle to find that balance between work and family and treasured avocation.
Biology is destiny?
As for the biological reason, Whitehorne mentions the lack of bathroom facilities. Happily that's not a problem for us. We even have a bunkhouse. But speaking of that bunkhouse—so beautifully remodeled by Ana and Don Taylor and crew—I know from personal experience that if a woman takes one of the beds, the men will not enter. Makes sense. But when I rejoined HAS in 2009, I was determined to make use of the dark-sky site this time around. However, I soon realized I was left with the option of, in effect, kicking the men out of the bunkhouse and sometimes the chartroom, or camping in my car. I've done all three and in no option did I feel entirely comfortable.
One of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made, no exaggeration, was to forgo the purchase of a fully outfitted 15" Ultra Compact Obsession telescope so that I could get myself a little travel trailer to park at the dark site. Now I have a place to sleep after a good night’s observing without taking more space than my fair share. I’m still lusting after that Obsession though.
That was my trade-off. What trade-offs, I wonder, are the other women members having to make?
Amelia Goldberg finishes her three part series covering the dark site in this issue of the GuideStar. It’s written from the perspective of a long-time member, a master observer… and a woman. I won’t steal her thunder, but take a look at her article. She reports on a possible solution to both the sociological and biological problems of would-be women observers—thanks to some forward-thinking, fair-minded men and women.
Note: I'd like to thank Amelia Goldberg for agreeing to take on the three part series about our Dark Site. Beautiful job. Our Observatory Director Mike Edstrom and committee have been transforming the dark site and observatory, and consequently our astronomy club. Thank you, Mike and crew. And members, if you haven't made it to the dark site recently, you ain't seen nothing yet.