I’m sitting here at my keyboard, paralyzed. My hands trembling. Heart pounding. Squinting at the monitor through tears. I’ve written hundreds of posts for the Oregon Fly Fishing Blog, but this is the highest stakes article I’ve ever had the courage to write. And that’s odd, because it shouldn’t require courage to write this, but somehow I know that writing about this topic involves breaking a taboo. The taboo of calling out my fellow anglers and our industry for inexcusable behavior.
Read the words aloud, please. Now tell me what the words mean.
I know it is a fly name. Anyone who fishes for trout with streamers knows what it is, but I want you to stop for a minute, think, and tell me what the words mean. Do you think the words are funny?
What do you think goes on in dungeons?
I’d be willing to bet that most people know that bad things happen in dungeons, and …. sex dungeons?
Let’s step back for a minute and try a game of imagine if …
Imagine you are a grandpa, sitting at your fly bench, with your seven-year-old granddaughter standing beside you, watching how you blend materials and craft your masterpiece streamer fly.
“What’s that fly called, Grandpa?” She asks.
“This is a Sex Dungeon,” you answer.
“What’s a Sex Dungeon?” She asks.
How will you answer her? Will you lie? Will you change the subject. Will you laugh it off?
Are you still with me here? Are you still reading? Have you dismissed me and this blog post as over-reaction to harmless locker-room banter?
If so, you are part of the problem, and you need to change your behavior because the words aren’t harmless. This kind of talk normalizes sexual violence. Harsh words? Yes. True? Yes.
The demographic realities of fly fishing say that if you are reading this blog, you probably identify as male. Could gender influence a person’s perceptions? What if you were a grandma instead of a grandpa?
“Grandma, look at this pretty fly that Grandpa tied for me!”
“Why, that is a beautiful fly,” you answer. “What is it called?”
“It’s a Pole Dancer, Grandma. What’s a Pole Dancer?” Your granddaughter asks. “Grandpa just laughed and said I should go ask you.”
How do you feel, Grandma? Is this harmless?
Let’s play Imagine if again.
Imagine that you are a mid-twenties male, out in the drift boat with two male friends, floating down the river one fine autumn afternoon. The trout are biting and you’re having a great time with your buddies, when someone says, “I think I’ll try a Pearl Necklace.”
Do you think anyone will laugh? Do you imagine any one of you will say anything about the meaning of the phrase? Perhaps you think it is OK to use some of these names because they are double entendres and the real meanings can be debated?
A word or phrase open to two interpretations, one of which is usually risqué or indecent.
Just because it is a double entendre doesn’t make it OK. The language serves to endorse and coddle and perpetuate a culture of male sexual dominance.
Excuse me. I’m under the impression that the fly fishing industry is making a determined effort to recruit women and children as fly fishers. Is this how we plan on making them feel welcome?
I’m not an expert. I’m not even a great writer, and I have no credentials to have researched these issues. But I know how I feel when I see these fly names. I know the meaning behind the names. They are intended to catch the consumer’s attention. They are meant to sell a product to a consumer that is usually a white male.
But the words hurt everyone, regardless of gender. The words convey the approval of sexual dominance and violence in our society.
Let’s play Imagine if again. Pretend for a moment that you’re a female who is a professional fishing guide with two male clients. You are packing up after a riverside lunch, getting ready to resume the afternoon’s fishing. One of your clients passes you their fly box and begins telling you about the contents. “That top row is filled with Stacked Blondes. Next row down is loaded with my Barely Legals.
And the last three rows hold my Lap Dancers, T & A Bunkers, and Bottoms Up.”
In case you didn’t know, the English language dictionary says this.
in American English
Entertainment, as TV programs or movies, characterized by the deliberately titillating display of the female form.
Remember, you are the female guide, hired by two male clients. How do you feel about these fly names? How do you feel about your clients?
Or more to the point, how do you feel about your fly fishing industry that allows this to go on? These fly names are not new. The fact that the industry hasn’t had the guts or the courage or the smarts to put a stop to this bullshit says something.
Some people will claim it says that the industry is OK with this. Others will claim that this is only a tiny little naughtiness. And certainly some people will say that I’m making a fuss where none is warranted.
Well, it isn’t a little transgression, and it isn’t just naughty. These names and associated visual images don’t belong in a box of fishing flies. These fly names reflect a culture of male dominance that expects superiority in all things, sex included.
And if this is a problem, then who is to blame?
Here’s the thing about these little flies, all of them sitting so innocently in their fly bins in shops and in people’s fly boxes and fly fishing vests and boat bags and strung on their fly rods: No one and everyone is responsible. It is you and it is me and it is every one of our fly fishing buddies; it is all anglers of all genders. Every one of us who has heard or seen these fly names and not spoken up is to blame.
I’m pissed at every one of my friends who has never stood up to this issue.
I’m pissed at myself, and I’m embarrassed that I’ve been too cautious to take a stand on this issue before now.
I’m pissed at every professional fly fishing guide, regardless of gender, for not taking a stand on this.
I find it difficult to understand the silence in the fly fishing industry on matters like this. I’ve been searching the Internet for a week, trying to find anyone who has called attention to the connection between the language we use and tacit approval of sexual violence.
Instead, I found articulate revelations by female fishing guides who are constantly on their guard to avoid situations where they might be vulnerable to male dominance (verbal and physical).
It makes sense. It makes perfect sense.
When female fly fishing guides work for male clients who live in a world populated by Stacked Blonde Pole Dancers who would love to get a Pearl Necklace in their Sex Dungeon, well, what else would you expect?
I’m done. No apologies.
Jay Nicholas, February 22, 2021.
P. S. When I finished writing this blog, I could not find a category that seemed to fit the content. So I listed it under Fly Fishing Books, Fly Fishing Glossary, Fly Fishing Travel, and Fly Tying. I decided not to use the category Fly Fishing Porn; that category has always bothered me.
P. P. S. Oh heck, maybe we men should all go out and grab ‘em by the pussy. A pussy is just a little cat, you know.