Title IX, signed into law 40 years ago next month, put women on the playing field, forever changed the way we think about athletics in this country. What Christine Thomas started a couple of decades later wasn’t quite as monumental, but for many American women it also opened up a new world -- the great outdoors and its abundant sporting opportunities.
Thomas, as part of her studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the early-’90s, conducted a survey that ultimately proved the inspiration behind the program known today as ‘’Becoming an Outdoors-Woman.’’ In her survey, Thomas asked why so few women hunted or fished, and from there she soon began BOW, its mission to encourage women to take to the fields and streams, be it with shotguns or fishing rods, or merely with compass and map, or with an eye trained on identifying a hare’s delicate footprint in a blanket of new-fallen snow.
‘’My life changed because of it,’’ said Julie D’Esposito, a 39-year-old attorney at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Concord. ‘’I mean, it really changed.’’
D’Esposito, who grew up in Natick, never paid much attention to our state’s outdoor offerings, until one day in 2008, surfing the internet for something different, she stumbled upon a BOW website. BOW is for beginners, pure novices, including women who haven’t had the slightest urge to be in the woods, were clueless where to begin, or perhaps felt intimidated by a domain typically dominated by males.
Four years later, after getting ‘’totally hooked’’ by BOW, D’Esposito has shot a deer and a turkey, regularly helps teach others (women and men) how to fish, and truly can’t believe she didn’t see the woods for the forest until her mid-30s. She also now belongs to a rod ‘n’ gun club, the Hopkinton Sportsmen’s Association, where she often shoots skeet and trap, and gets a good giggle out of surprising some of the women in other parts of her life when apprising them of her next best outdoor adventure.
‘’It’s great,’’ said D’Esposito, a graduate of Natick High, Assumption College and New England Law in Boston. ‘’We’ll be sitting there, and they’ll be talking about getting their nails done, the best place to buy a handbag, maybe get a facial, and I’ll pipe up with, ‘Well, I’m going on a turkey hunt next week. Yep, I’m gonna go out there and sit in the woods with my gun. My mom likes to say, ‘She’s our renegade.’’’
Being out there, be it hunting or fishing, said D’Espsoito, provides her a welcome respite from the day-to-day stress of being a lawyer. Instead of working through legal entanglements, she can focus on quirkier tasks such as untangling a fishing line or helping other women slip the hook of their outdoor phobias.
‘’Jim has a classic line he uses all the time when someone is squeamish about baiting a hook,’’ said D’Esposito, referring to Jim Lagacy, who coordinates angler education for Mass. Wildlife. ‘’He tells them, ‘Look, if you’ve had kids, you’ve touched way worse than this.’’
BOW here in Massachusetts hosts a number of events throughout the year and one of the biggest annual happenings will be staged June 1-2-3 in Becket, just north of the Mass. Pike in the Berkshires. For $275, including all meals and two nights lodgings at Chimney Corners YMCA camp, women (minimum age 18) can pick and choose from a vast woodland’s sampler.
So, granny, this may be your best chance ever to get your gun. Remember, no experience necessary. In true BOW spirit, women with zero outdoor experience are the prime target (true targets, bullseyes included, are made available for the riflery and archery sessions).
‘’Fun activities, nice people, an encouraging and welcoming environment,’’ said Mary Griffin, commissioner of Mass. Department of Fish & Game, ticking through a long list of what’s good about BOW. ‘’You’ll see some women, first-timers, who are just naturals, they take immediately to whatever they try. But there’s a very large group who are nervous at first, and it’s just great to see them try something new and their reaction after is almost always, ‘Wow, I’m really glad I did that.’’’
Marion Larson, chief of information and education for Mass. Wildlife, noted that a recent three-day BOW session in Becket brought together four generations of women from the same family. The first-time outdoors women, she said, are all ages and from all walks of life, including singles, mothers, lawyers, doctors, construction workers, teachers ... an array as vast and varied as the plants in the woods and the fish in the camp’s pond.
‘’Some of the women don’t want to hunt or fish,’’ said Larson, ‘’and, hey, that’s fine, because they can canoe, kayak, or take a class in outdoor photography or finding edible plants. There’s something here for everybody.’’
Including a small element of fashion. What would BOW be without a touch of haute couture? For years, one of the impediments to women getting outdoors was that clothing manufacturers in the hunting and fishing category produced almost exclusively men’s wear.
‘’The women all dine together in the cafeteria,’’ said Griffin. ‘’So there’s all sorts of social activities there, sometimes skits, and even an outdoor fashion show -- the women really have fun showing off their camo gear.’’
D’Esposito has become a regular in Becket, where BOW also hosts a large annual winter event, and kiddingly lumps herself among the ‘’repeat offenders’’ who try to make as many BOW events as possible. She’s got the outdoor bug now, and not even an industrial-sized can of ‘’OFF’’ is going to change it.
‘’My dad grew up in Chelsea, a city kid,’’ mused D’Esposito, whose two siblings aren’t the outdoor types. ‘’He fished a little while I was growing up, and you know, like a lot of dads, he worked, mowed the lawn, watched the Sox on TV and now and then went fishing -- maybe to get away from us kids, right? Well, kind of a neat thing about all this for me, since I’ve been fishing, is that he’s become interested in me and what I’m doing. We even go fishing together sometimes, and I can tell, he’s proud to see his little girl out there fishing.’’
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man a fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Teach a woman to fish, and there’s no telling what might happen.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.