LONDON, United Kingdom – The London Fire Brigade (LFB) launched this month a new anti-sexism campaign called #FirefightingSexism, which promotes the switch from the masculine “fireman” label to the gender neutral “firefighter” when referring to the profession.
The campaign, which already gained significant traction on social media, aims to eradicate stereotypes that firefighting is exclusive to men. The LFB cited internal research that revealed there are still women put off by the job because of the label and its masculine portrayal in the media.
Dany Cotton, who this year became the first female Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, is spearheading the drive toward a more diverse LFB.
“One thing for me that I still find really upsetting is the fact that lots of people still use the word ‘fireman’,” Cotton, who became a firefighter at a time when there were just 30 women and 6,000 men, told BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour.
“Because I want people to know that every time you say the word ‘fireman’ you’re excluding part of my team and you’re not including me.”
The LFB currently has 328 women out of 4,785 firefighters on the force, as of July 2016. But they aim to increase that number and employ more black minority fighters as part of a 10-year diversity plan.
But quashing deeply ingrained stereotypes in UK culture will be more difficult given other media portrayals of buff male firefighters, like the popular cartoon character “Fireman Sam”.
“That doesn’t help because that reinforces the image of little girls in school,” Cotton said of the character.
#FirefightingSexism was lauded by many including London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick.
“Discrimination has no place in London,” he wrote in a tweet with the hashtag. “I applaud (the London Fire Brigade) for breaking down barriers for women in the workplace.”
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) October 16, 2017
— Jim Fitzpatrick (@FitzMP) October 26, 2017
The Fire Brigades Union supported the campaign, posting on their official Twitter account a photo of General Secretary Matt Wrack holding up the hashtag.
— Fire Brigades Union (@fbunational) October 20, 2017
“We are proud and pleased to be part of this initiative,” the Union said in a follow-up tweet.
But in succeeding weeks the hashtag also attracted criticism from others who feel the label change is irrelevant, so long as they do their jobs and save people.
Others, however, accused the LFB of using public funds on “furthering political correctness rather than doing their jobs”.
The LFB responded to claims via their official Twitter account, saying no money was spent on the campaign.
No money has been spent on #FirefightingSexism. We’ll still doing our job protecting, preventing & educating whatever people call us. We’d just prefer to be called firefighters which we’ve been since late 80s. https://t.co/8CojdHqSzl
— London Fire Brigade (@LondonFire) October 17, 2017
Check out social media reactions to #FirefightingSexism below.