When I was a kid, I never thought about the fact that my mom always did the housework while my dad worked. I accepted it, I didn’t ever wonder why my mom wasn’t expected to understand plumbing or carpentry, why my dad could get by without understanding how to make lasagna. These expectations of men and women are so deeply ingrained in our society that it takes a deliberate eye, and usually an outside force, to see them. For me that was my mom sitting me down and explaining how much work she does around the house, making me aware of all the time she spent dusting and cleaning and organizing. Once she made me aware, it was impossible to flip the switch back into ignorance. I could see the set of expectations set before her, those placed in front of my father, those given to a 15 year-old (my age at the time), even the things we expected of our dog. It took time for me to understand just how deeply these expectations run, and how much they can affect our choices and our belief in our own abilities.
I was brought into the fire world by a woman, so you could say my views on fire have been upended from the start, and absolutely for the better. The fact is that working in fire has always been seen as a man’s job. The fact is that some 90% of firefighters are men. The fact is that women have and continue to experience huge, disgusting sexism in this field. These are the facts that accompany one harsh reality present in almost all forms of our society: the reality that women aren’t treated the same as men. Especially in physically demanding fields, women aren’t even considered as contenders. They’re seen as inferior, physically incapable, and mentally fragile.
The reality is quite the opposite. Women are immensely capable mental warriors who do more work with less support in almost every field. They deal with terrifying levels sexism in every facet of their lives, and yet are able to perform at unimaginable levels. Women in fire are tough, quick, brave, careful, and (most importantly) able to multitask like no man I know can.
Below is a video by REI about women in fire. I ask that you think about the women in your organization, in your life, and the fact that wherever they are, they are most likely experiencing a large degree of difficulty because of sexist policies, procedures, and people. I ask that you lift these women up, recognize their struggle, and do everything you can to help them. Recognize that they have to work twice as hard, do twice as much, be twice as good just to be recognized as adequate. Talk to them, listen to them, help them. Especially in fire, we need all the help we can get right now. Listening to and working with the women in our organizations will help us be more effective as teams, and will give voice to a wealth of new information and collaboration. Listen to the women you work with!!!