By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
Simple Definition of feminism
- nthe belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities
- organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests
Source: Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary
Using that definition, I’m very comfortable being a fire service feminist. And here’s why.
I truly believe that all fire service organizations–career, volunteer, and combination–need more women. They need more women for several reasons:
- According to U.S. Census figures, the number of females in the U.S. as of July 2014 was 162 million. The number of males was 157 million. A commonly cited figure has women making up approximately 3.7% of career fire department staffing in the U.S. With women making up 51% of the total population, the fire service in general is “missing the boat” on a great deal of talent.
- That talent includes better (compared to men): interpersonal skills; team building and nurturing skills; and academic performance and more college degrees.
- Fire service organizations serve communities where 51% of their constituents are women. More women in the fire service, particularly in leadership roles, can lead to better policy development and decision making that can improve the level of service delivered to all members in the community, especially women.
The Fire Service Culture Must Change
Before the fire service can move forward in recruiting and retaining more women the overall culture in many organizations must change. We have to eradicate the “idea” that the fire service is a male-dominated vocation or avocation. Yes, right now that’s a true statement because of sheer numbers and the fact that men predominantly occupy leadership roles in fire departments.
But beyond the numbers, we have to recognize that male privilege exists in the fire service and take action to change that. We have to get the fire service “out of the headlines”, both in print and across social media when it comes to women firefighters being the victims of harassment, sexual assaults and rape, and workplace discrimination among other topics.
We have to get to the root of a problem that’s resulting in too many lawsuits that are wrecking the lives of the people involved, damaging the reputations of departments, and costing taxpayer “big bucks” in legal fees and settlement costs.
And that’s going to take strong leadership on the part of incumbent fire service leaders–men. Those leaders must not only “root out” the bad behaviors and bad actors in their own organizations; they must also openly condemn the harassment, sexual assaults and rape, and workplace discrimination against women in other fire service organizations. There is no other way to change the fire service culture. If there is, I’m “all ears.”
Organized Activity in Support of Women’s Rights and Interests
I use this blog as my forum for doing just that. I write these blogs in support of women firefighters–current and future–because I love the fire service and I want to see it make progress. Progress in recruiting and retaining more women into the ranks and benefiting from the talents, energy, and passion that they bring (and will bring) to the job.
>During my 26-year active fire service career with the Chesterfield County (Va.) Fire and EMS Department, I had the opportunity to work alongside many such women. Women like Carol Johnson, Kathy Kahlson, Amy Fulcher-Davis, Amy Vest Burnette, Mary Willis, Sheri Vaeth, Melissa Parker Ahern, Julie Luckey and Jo Lin Rohr.
Working and learning with those women (And I’m sure I’ve left some out) helped me to learn and grow and become the fire service feminist that I am today.
And that education continues to this day. The other day Captain Kahlson posted a piece on Facebook about an essay on feminism that President Obama had written for the New York Times. In her comments, Kathy wrote:
I have often thought the feminist movement was an “us versus them” scenario. With women being mad at men and men being on the defensive. Obama’s perspective comes from the father angle as opposed to an adversary. So the use of his voice, married with his role as a leader and a father is radical in the sense that we have never seen them used in concert.