CW: offensive speech, misogyny
Two weeks of few words from me was the result of two straight weeks of training and multi-day exams to become a PADI SCUBA instructor. Thank the lord, I passed. Hooray. The course was hard for so many reasons. I wasn’t confident this was the right move as a Watson Fellow (I am now), there were no days off, and the instruction I received often came first in the form of criticism. I had a couple accidents and was teased for limping around. I was in a room full of men for two weeks, where I had to defend my feminism and sense of personal dignity more than I’d ever had to before. Then, finally, some days I got to go for a dive. The scorpionfish was only barely worth it.
Don’t get me wrong, I learned how to handle a course, manage students’ bodies under the water, fulfill PADI’s educational and legal standards, use the very expensive educational materials PADI provides. But the number of times I was told that I was trying to teach too much, to just fulfill examiner expectations, to just get it done, blew my mind. “You can teach how you like after the exam, but you missed points on your evaluation for not selling gear well.” I get it – the Instructor Development Course is designed to teach to the test. I get it – scuba diving is an industry. But more importantly I see, have seen, scuba as a tool to inspire wonder and a sense of responsibility. It was disappointing to see that most people use teaching diving to perpetuate their own lifestyle regardless of their student’s needs. I felt this most in the way my instructors treated classroom comfort.
While traveling, sometimes I try to keep an eye on my feminism. I’d prefer to understand what feminism looks like where I’m at before shoving my approach down people’s throats. It’d be irrelevant, probably rude, possibly oppressive, boring, and imperialist. But Koh Tao is an island saturated with us farong-foreigners, and I have no problem telling a guy from North America that I disagree with his framing of an issue, or advocating pretty aggressively for my politics. I’m on the edge of telling off peers for stupid jokes that come at a woman’s expense. If a “Westerner” is pulling a “I’m not a feminist because I believe in equal rights for everyone” move, I’m going to want to talk about it. Still going to want to talk about gender, sex, identity politics with Thai folks, but my hackles would probably be down.
I have never advocated for my feminist politics more than I did during my instructor training. I have never been verbally called out as a Feminist as a way of segregating me from the rest of my immediate community. “Rennie, you’re a feminist – would you wear booty shorts?” a Canadian guy asked, somehow both teasing and honest. When someone was asked to kneel down for a skill demonstration and the request came out as “Bitch get on your knees,” my indignant shout from the back of the classroom was ignored.
Alternately, in vague apologies, one instructor and student would pin their gendered behavior to nationality. “Sorry, in Belgium calling a lady “honeybum” is flattering. Are Americans offended by this?” or “We’re just more comfortable with gay jokes in my country.” Worst: when I told my instructor that I didn’t think his holocaust jokes (multiple jokes) were funny, he said “It’s not funny to you, but it’s funny to me.” I’m fed up that I keep hearing cis-males use their foreigness to justify saying that I shouldn’t be offended. The worst part is that I would make these feelings clear. I would say to the assistant instructor that I would probably learn better if they found something other than beer fines, maybe if they explained causality or verbally harassed me a few fewer times a day.
I honestly struggle to come up with a single person who has the right to tell me that I “shouldn’t be offended.” I am shocked that someone who calls himself an instructor can’t hear a student’s feedback on their educational experience.
How is this supposed to make me feel heard? Feel invested? Like I can ask questions? Instead of threatening a “Beer Fine” if I make a stupid mistake, maybe motivate me by better describing the implications for my students when I, for example, accidentally leave my mask on my forehead. Is this the function of prescriptive, market-driven instruction? Am I being silenced by the sale? Particular to scuba diving is, I think, the intimacy of the relationship between activity and industry. But I can tell you first-hand and from an academic standpoint (hello, thesis, we meet again) that a sense of wonder perpetuates scientific improvement and technological innovation (if that’s your goal). Even at 3.5 bar, I can’t escape market pressure.
Masculinity is pretty fragile when abroad.
I can carry more weights than you if you let me pick them up, or ask before pulling them from my shoulder. (Which makes my life more difficult, by the way.)
It is with immense relief that I return to the family at New Heaven Conservation. There, you can find the few people on this tiny island who are running towards something and not away from it.
Thank god for the feminists in my life who responded to my pleas for support with delicious things like this list.