It is astonishing to discover how little you know. I often have the audacity to believe I know a little something about a topic, but there are always those who are quick to disabuse me of this notion. And nowhere does this happen faster than in the great wilds of the online world, where those anxious to knock you off your high horse lie in wait at every corner, like hungry predators waiting for unwary prey.

It happened to me recently when I commented on an online story in our local newspaper. Someone had shot a bear in one of the residential neighbourhoods in my community, and I had commented that perhaps shooting bears (bears who were in a tree in a backyard, minding their own business and doing bear stuff) was incompatible with urban life. I typically use the same avatar for most of my online activity, and it has never been a liability until the bear discussion, when someone commented that I should “muse” on fashion, and not on bears since clearly I knew nothing about bears. When I responded that I have in fact dealt with bears many times over the last twenty years a different person responded that they could not trust my “pink dress” opinion about bears, implying that my interest in fashion and wearing a dress somehow made my opinion suspect. I was troubled by both these comments, and for many reasons. Both comments appeared to come from women, and I am clearly a woman. And both comments implied that because I am a woman and because I wear a dress I cannot know about bears.

I had no idea about this correlation, you see. I had never realized that wearing a dress meant you couldn’t know a thing about bears (or urban safety, or the lack of wisdom in shooting a firearm in residential neighbourhoods). And I really had no idea that women would still do this to other women, discrediting their opinions based on their appearance and no other factor. I could be a renowned worldwide bear expert for all they knew, but they saw a red dress (red, not pink, but I digress) and decided it meant I could not be bear savvy. I am not a bear expert, but I have spent years in close encounters with bears — but that red dress in my picture, well, it was the death knell for my knowledge of bears.

I’d like to believe that this is restricted to my own little community, but of course it isn’t. I’d like to think that my daughter, years from now, will not face this kind of behaviour and find her knowledge base questioned because of her appearance or her clothing or just the fact that she is a woman. I would love to believe that other women in particular would stop doing this kind of thing, because if we do it to each other then we condone others doing it to us.

Question my opinion based on facts, not on my red dress or my plaid flannel jacket or because I am a woman. Doubt me if you will, and argue the opinions — but once you bring my red dress into it we have ventured into territory that is far, far more dangerous than that where bears reside. Frankly, I’d rather deal with the bears.