Alex Gaffikin writes about women in the Antarctic

Of the sixteen winterers here at Halley this year, three of us are female. This is the largest number so far. The first women to winter at Halley were Kate Charles (Physicist) in 1996/97 and Lucy Yeomans (Meteorologist) in 1996. Vicky Auld (Meteorologist) arrived in 1997 and also wintered in1998. Karen Shorey (Meteorologist) wintered in both 1998 and 1999. I, Alex Gaffikin (Meteorologist) wintered in 1999 and now 2000 and Lil Ng (Doctor) and Cat Gillies (Structural Engineer) are wintering in 2000.

When Lil asked me to write something about Halley, some aspect of my life, I thought that I'd write about women in the Antarctic and in particular my life at Halley. Initially I was wrong in thinking that women have had very little to do with Antarctica. Obviously the majority of explorers, scientists and visitors have been male, but women have been here more frequently and for longer than I'd imagined. I have just finished reading Women on the Ice by Elizabeth Chipman and I was surprised by what I read.

Women came quite late to the Antarctic continent itself but have been visiting the sub-Antarctic islands since the middle of the eighteenth century. At first women accompanied their husbands, the whalers and sealers, on ships and by the 1850's they were living on the islands at the whaling stations. The first woman on the continent itself was in 1935 and the first female winterers were at Stonington in 1947.

By all accounts life at Halley since women have been here is a lot more "sophisticated" - the guys themselves confess that they moderate their language when we are around! However I don't feel any different to any other winterer on base as I am capable of doing all basework and I go on all the field trips even in the depths of winter. I don't think that BAS would ever have just one woman wintering at Halley and I am glad of that. I appreciate having Cat and Lil here - it's good to have their friendship and support.

[This article from the 2000 Halley Station Diary was originally on the BAS website at:
It is reproduced here courtesy of British Antarctic Survey Archives Service.]