“We Can Do It!” blares across the top of the famous poster from World War II featuring a woman flexing her arm in the rolled up sleeve of a blue denim work shirt.
That image is a caricature known as “Rosie the Riveter” and she turned 70-years old last week reminding us of how far things have come. Her likeness adorns the wall of my three-year-old daughters bedroom as well as a refrigerator magnet in our kitchen. “Girls can do anything,” is what my daughter thinks it says and I couldn’t agree with her more.
During WWII, women were needed to fill vacancies left by men who were off to combat in the Pacific and Europe. Women were mobilized in a similar fashion during World War I but to a much lesser extent. After WWII the women were expected to return to the home but many had experienced a freedom they didn’t want to lose again.
Over the past seven decades a woman’s role in society has changed vastly but there are still elements where they are greatly under represented. The outdoors is a prime example.
Women like Rebecca Kent and Mercedes Akinseye are among a group in Minnesota working to change that. The group is known as, “Women Hunting and Fishing in All Seasons,” and its members call themselves a group of women and girls who love to be outdoors and want to get others out there as well. “Our mission is to increase hunting and fishing participation by Minnesota women of all ages and backgrounds through education, inspiration and empowerment,” Kent said.
Kent is a recent college graduate who spent part of her undergraduate studies working with the DNR to study the reasons women aren’t participating in the outdoors as much as men. She interviewed women to find out the barriers that prevent them from getting outdoors and what opportunities could be presented to increase those numbers.
Kent and Akinseye recently spent a weekend up in Bemidji filming ice-fishing segments for a series of videos showing women ice fishing and talking about how other women can have similar experiences. Those videos will eventually end up on the group’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/WHFIS) and website (www.womenhfs.org).
Local fishing guide and promotional angler Bryan “Beef” Sathre of Fathead Guide Service and Promotions worked with the two showing them a few of his favorite hotspots. “Beef was great at letting us do our own thing like we wanted but he was a valuable asset to narrowing down our search and putting us on some solid bites,” Kent said.
On Saturday, Kent and Akinseye spent the day fishing three different Bemidji-area lakes eventually catching six different species. It was a non-traditional “women’s-weekend” but that’s exactly what we set out to do, Akinseye said.
“We stayed at the Hampton Inn here in town and it’s a very nice hotel with all the modern accommodations—but we spent the day on the lake rather than in the spa, salon or shopping,” Kent said. “That’s what we went up there to do and wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Bemidji is loaded with those amenities as well but the pair chose the location because the outdoors opportunities are plentiful and very accessible. From their room overlooking the lake they could see thousands of shelters dotting the ice, some within a stone’s throw of the Hampton lobby.
“We had a beautiful day on the ice. We were always comfortable and warm in our pop-up shelter,” Akinseye said. “The fishing was steady as well and we caught some good keepers for the dinner table later on.”
After a day on the ice, they still managed to find time to relax in the hotel’s indoor-outdoor hot tub—a welcome rest after a day of drilling holes and hauling fish through the ice. “It was great to get back from a fun day on the ice, hang up our gear to dry and head to the restaurant for a drink and dinner,” Akinseye said.
It was a weekend any Rosie the Riveter might have enjoyed after a long week of working—something most women today are doing already, compared to seven decades ago. The difference today is that a woman is the driver of her own destiny. The decisions are hers to make.
“You can still preserve those things that make you a woman while doing other things you want to that used to be considered just for men,” Akinseye said. On the ice the attire was function over fashion with red StrikeMaster bib overalls, boots and a hearty coat but there was plenty of traditional femininity mixed in.
“I like to keep my nails looking nice and I always put on make-up before going fishing,” Akinseye said. “It’s not like I’m trying to impress anybody, and the fish don’t care. I do it for myself.”
That image on that famous Rosie the Riveter poster is similar to Akinseye in that it features a woman who obviously works hard but also has make-up on her face. The main difference is that in the 1940s, a man painted the image expecting women to be tough while also maintaining her looks for his sake.
Today, a woman can decide how she’ll look, for whom she’ll look good for, and what she does for fun. Being tough is just who she is for her own sake, not to mention when battling a scrappy walleye.
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