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Writing from the Columbia River Basin

Can I Even Hug My Coworkers Anymore?

Can I Even Hug My Coworkers Anymore?

In guiding, like many industries, we've started talking more about sexual harassment and assault in our workplace. And in the last twelve months, as I travel from event to event and crew to crew, I've been struck by one common thread in conversations: fear.

There is fear from guides that guiding will become sanitized. There is fear that guides, who rely on their crews for camaraderie during emotionally and physically tough seasons, won't be able to have those close friendships anymore.

"Can I even hug my coworkers now?" is a question I often hear, half joking, half serious.

I understand the fears, especially from guides that escaped the often culturally stifling 1980s and 1990s and found their freedom in river canyons and wild landscapes. But as our world outside the canyons becomes more accepting of different lifestyles, we can put less pressure on our place of work to serve that need.

I think most of us agree that our river canyons should be welcoming. And as this conversation evolves (and as my smart and savvy editors who helped me frame this pointed out) we need to understand the legal implications of this conversation. Anti-discrimination laws date back to the 1960s. Intoxicated people are legally incapable of providing consent. There are places to report sexual harassment and assault beyond your direct supervisors. Additionally, many outfitters have or will soon have policies around this, which will drive the conversation. The below thoughts, however, largely exclude legal framing because I think you are going to start hearing that from your outfitters or your industry and if you don’t, you should seek it out.

Because I trust that legal-driven training will begin to happen elsewhere, I instead want to speak more unofficially about how we partner making our river workplaces inclusive, safe and legal with our culture as it stands now. And listen, I get it because I've been a guide.

Guides will fall in love. Guides will fall in lust. Guides will hurt the hearts of others and hurt themselves. Friendships will turn into more and then go back to friendships. I'm not asking we pretend that won't happen. Regardless of what our federal, industry and business documents say or don’t say (and you sure as hell should know because those policies have teeth), I believe we can agree on the following as a place to start.

I don't write these condescendingly, or because I've adhered to or avoided them all. I write from my own experiences and not representing any organization. I write them because I wish someone had told eighteen-year-old Emerald, fresh out of high school and straight into the guiding world, that these were our rules.

1) It’s often about power. If you are in a role of manager, trip leader, outfitter, or in any way in control of the schedule, you should not be flirting with, sleeping with, or otherwise romantically entangling yourself with your crew. Period. If you can't remove that part of yourself from guiding, you need to remove yourself from that leadership role. If you really think you are destined to be with this person and live happily ever after, it can wait until the end of the season when you're not working.

2) Lose the booze. Drunk consent isn't consent. Legally, or really otherwise. And I hear you that a cold adult beverage can make romance a lot more fun. But if you can't make the first move without having four beers first, you aren't as smooth as you think we are. I know it's scary as hell. I know it might be asking you to approach relationships in a completely new way.  I'm confident you're badass and brave enough to make it work. Make a move when sober and the object of your attention is sober, and respect the response. If the response is enthusiastic yes, there will be plenty of time for booze-fueled fun later on.

3) Jokes are only jokes if your audience is laughing. If the only jokes you know start, "How do you get a female raft guide pregnant?" you aren't that funny. If you can't think of a prank that doesn't involve a Maxim magazine, you're bad at pulling pranks. I know you want me to lighten up, not take it so seriously. And I ask you this - is your right to make a crude joke worth more than a person's right to feel safe at their job? You have no idea what trauma is joining you on your crew this year. You don't know who was raped in his childhood home. You don't know if your new trainee once woke up after a college party naked, not knowing who had sex with her. I'm being explicit and extreme because to many, your jokes are not lighthearted, they are explicit and extreme. I really don’t care to hear your “snowflake” excuses.  Tell your shitty jokes somewhere else or better yet, don't tell them at all. Hey, what do you call a fish with no eyes?

4) Avoid gender stereotypes. Men and women are both capable of doing all the parts of guiding, the hard and the soft, the emotional and physical. Don't let tasks become gender divided, it sells everyone short.

5) Don't be a bystander. On your crew, especially (but not only) if you are in a place of seniority, silence is consent. Speak up when you see shitty shit happening. Bystander intervention can and should be an entire training and could be an entire blog post of its own. Intervention can be as simple as inserting yourself into an uncomfortable one-on-one conversation you observe or as in-depth as helping a co-worker file a complaint. Explore what this looks like for you and your community.

6) Guiding isn’t the problem. Never let anyone tell you that the first four things are, "What make guiding, guiding" because they aren't. What makes guiding, guiding is river canyons, teamwork, rising cutthroat trout, physical exertion, natural and cultural interpretation, and falling asleep under the Milky Way on a deck of a boat, the most content you've ever been.

Laws are laws are laws, and you should know them. I also understand the nuance and the gray area in all this among crews that work, live and build communities together. Being present and thoughtful in your actions, asking questions and listening to others, and understanding the way power differentials and alcohol can challenge our ability to effectively know what we want and what other people want are great places to start.

I hope that this season, instead of approaching this topic in fear of what might be taken away, we consider what we might gain as a community and industry instead.

Shit Fly Fishing Gals Say

Shit Fly Fishing Gals Say