Wilderness survival expert Megan Hine has been described by Bear Grylls as “stronger than 99 per cent of the men I know”. Though she thrives in extreme conditions, working in a male-dominated industry has been a learning curve
London’s Metropolitan police and the UK Supreme Court both appointed a woman in their leading role for the first time in 2017. Meanwhile in the US midwest, many men who once worked in manufacturing are finding new careers in healthcare. While gender stereotypes for many roles persist, the unwritten rules are breaking down. What if all jobs went to the person best suited to them?
“In moments of high stress, my automatic response now is to lock my emotions – fear and anxiety – into a metal box in my head. It gives me the clarity to make quick decisions in potentially life and death situations.”
So says wilderness survival expert Megan Hine, the woman Bear Grylls once described as “stronger than 99 per cent of the men I know”. Chatting with Positive News via Skype from Panama, where she’s currently based, she talks with such ease that it would be easy to underestimate the type of moment she refers to. But life and death is no exaggeration: Hine has been chased through the Thai jungle by armed opium farm guards; has abseiled past bears in Bulgaria; and has faced circling lions in the Namibian desert.
Luckily, remote environments and terrifying situations are exactly her bag. Whether leading expeditions and bushcraft survival courses or working on survival-themed TV shows – rigging up challenges and keeping crew and contestants safe – she thrives in the toughest of conditions. “I’ve always been into pushing my limits: physically and mentally,” she says. “I love discovering that I’m stronger than I imagined.”
Hine rattles through a couple of choice memories: a snakebite in Mexico followed by a tense wait to discover whether it was a non-venomous mountain king cobra or the “almost identical” deadly coral snake; being stuck in a landslide in Nepal with a group of teenagers – “it would have been very easy to curl up into a ball and just say ‘shit!’”
She doesn’t know any other female survival experts in the TV industry. “But then there aren’t really that many guys either.” (Her partner Stani is one.) “I can only think of four or five people who do this full-time anyway, so the fact that one of them is a woman is maybe not that bad,” Hine says. “The pay isn’t great and it’s a lifestyle choice – I’m away for 10 or 11 months of the year – which becomes very difficult if you want to have a family.”
I love discovering that I’m stronger than I imagined
Do female survival experts approach the job differently? “There is a difference,” says Hine thoughtfully. “Women tend to analyse situations a lot more before jumping in, whereas guys will jump in first and think later, dealing with the problems that arise afterwards. I see this in business too. Female clients say that if a promotion comes up, guys will go for it whether they have the skills or not, whereas women will really question their capability before they put themselves forward. So, when I meet a woman in a really high-powered position, she usually has an incredible foundation of skills, knowledge and experience beneath her.”
Has Hine’s capability ever been questioned because of her gender? “All the time,” she answers, hilariously recapping a recent occasion involving deep mud, a stuck 4×4 and a team of men who “eventually let me have a go”. It ends, predictably, with her driving it out, while the men look on with dropped jaws.
But Hine doesn’t bear a grudge. “I’m very careful with labelling things as sexist because I don’t think it can be called that if someone isn’t aware of what the other sex is capable of. In my industry, the typical character is male and ex-military and I’m neither. So, although the assumption that women can’t do something is frustrating, it’s not malicious; they’ve just never been exposed to it.”
Many of the skills taught on an average bushcraft course would, traditionally, have been ‘women’s work’ anyway. “That always makes me laugh a little bit,” says Hine. “I see it in tribes when I travel: the guys are sitting playing dice or cards and they’ll go big game hunting, but it’s the women who look after the children, patch the huts, and hunt and gather smaller animals and plants. I think that’s where the whole multitasking thing comes from.”
When starting out, Hine, now 33, found herself emulating the guys she worked with. After all, there were no women. “But more recently, I’ve started to take ownership of it,” she says. “I still sometimes feel like being a woman is a vulnerability and find it hard to show my femininity. The sexual side of things I tend to lock down so that it’s not distracting and people don’t think I’m flirting, when I’m actually just trying to get on with the job.”
But she loves working with men too – “they rarely hold a grudge”, for one. Discussing the #MeToo movement, Hine says: “My only concern is that we don’t [make progress] by undermining the men in our lives. I owe the guys that I’ve worked with so much.”
That said, she does set aside time to balance out her testosterone-fuelled workplace. “I do love getting dressed up and hanging out with my female friends when I’m at home. I have some incredibly supportive women around me.”
Although the assumption that women can’t do something is frustrating, it’s not malicious; they’ve just never been exposed to it
What about children? “I think if my lifestyle was conducive to having children, I probably would. But I love what I do and so I’d need to be in a position where I could step out and come back. At the moment, it’s not conducive to that, but maybe it will be a possibility in the next few years.”
Hine regularly posts inspiring photos and messages on social media. Is she trying to inspire women and girls? “Yes, but boys and men too,” she corrects, gently. “Me screaming and shouting about a lack of women in this job is only going to get people’s backs up. But by having more of a presence, that’s the way any industry will change. It’s women doing their thing, doing what they love, and showing that they’re capable of being up there, up with the guys.”