The Feminist and the FireFighter.


alastair in uniform 2

Whenever I am working or an organisation where the issue of gender equality is not recognised, as in  “What problem? We have no problem? Women can progress if they have the required attributes,” I am reminded of a conversation I had with the Chief Officer of my husband’s Fire & Rescue Service in 1986. (That’s my husband in the picture, trying not to laugh).

We were at the passing out parade at the end of his training period. At that time it was almost unheard of to have women as fire-fighters and they were universally called FireMEN (language has a role to play). I was there with our daughter, aged 4, and son aged 6 months. The baby was in his buggy and the chief fire officer came up and made some friendly comments and then tickled our son under his chin and asked if he was going to grow up to be a fireman like his dad.

I answered on his behalf, that probably not but that our daughter might be interested.

A look of horror crept over his face. He had been caught with a feminist. Undaunted, I ploughed on. Why, I asked him, don’t you have women in the brigade? Surely with modern technology, etc. it is no longer an issue of sheer strength?

He looked at me, slightly ashen faced; this was a conversation he did not want to have. I smiled encouragingly.

Well, he blustered, If they had the correct physical attributes of course they could join.

Oh, I replied innocently, do you mean like a penis?

I was teasing him but the point was taken. A lot of jobs, especially in the 80s were apparently open to women but closer inspection revealed that you really needed a male appendage to get one. All the attributes and skills required were very male; it was all about being male. That was the yardstick by which women were judged. If you could be one of the guys you might fit. No wonder that was the era of power dressing and shoulder pads. We had to be like men to get ahead that we even adopted the pin stripe suits!

In many ways, of course, it has changed for the better, but there are days when I think not much has changed at all. Gender equality is good for everyone yet still we have a lack of women in significant senior positions across the board. In a later post I’ll be talking more about why gender equality is a force for good for all, but in the meantime, do check out Avivah Wittenberg-Cox ; she has some pithy things to say on this topic and some good advice to share.

Are you looking for a one day programme for women to boost their confidence levels and add to your existing offerings? Do check out RenewYou, a tried and tested day for women.


Posted on October 3rd, 2014 by

One Response to “The Feminist and the FireFighter.”

  1. Jane says:

    Liz, I really appreciate you sharing this. thank you. Well done for persevering but shame on those who made you have to. Good luck with the new career! You’re an inspiration.

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