So what does it actually mean?
As we can see there are a number of meanings, some of which somewhat conflict, or at least cause confusion. Stereotyping is the most commonly used example in current times, certainly in an issue which I will come to later, employment! However the second two are the more serious definitions, and ones that get my attention.
See, the issue I have here is, to combat discrimination, we discriminate. We have employment drives for more ethnic minorities, or more females in certain roles. This is open discrimination, simply telling British white males they many NOT apply for the positions as they are the wrong colour, gender or religion. What would happen if there was a MEN ONLY employment drive, or whites only etc.
Do you see what I am getting at here.
Fighting discrimination, in itself causes discrimination. Legally backed discrimination at that, and sanctioned from the highest levels.
Whatever happened to "may the best person win" (see how I avoided "man" there!)
When it comes to jobs, there are some that can be done by a trained monkey ( like my job) and there are others which require a certain set of skills. Common sense says that you employ the best character suited for the job, with the best skill sets possible.
So what happens when three men an a woman are shortlisted for a role. Ranked in suitability in this scenario, the woman is ranked #3. So does the recruiter overlook positions #1 and #2 as the gender is more important in the recruitment drive, or do they go with the best person for the job?
When I see big public services having drives to recruit more workers from a certain demographic, I often wonder how many people don't apply for a position, because they are aware that there is emphasis on another demographic, and they feel they would not be considered seriously.
Again, we are back to discrimination, but it's OK, because it is sanctioned! Ludicrous surely?
Now, before anyone starts flapping their arms in anger, or breathing deeply and huffing, let me explain something. I am all for equality, fairness, and overlooking gender for the best candidate for a job. However, there are certain roles which are predominantly one sex or the other for a reason. Be it physical ability, not really a male or female thing to do (this is a strange one, but accepted in a lot of roles for what it is), or indeed, due to dithering old sexist fools, choosing to hire "sexy secretaries" , or refusing to hire woman as they are the "weaker sex".
There is probably an argument somewhere that says some of these sexist fools only hired women into the boardroom, above the glass ceiling, for a peep up their skirt!
My main issue with this whole situation has come from a series of Tweets from areas of the LFB. They are having a #FireFightingSexism campaign at the moment, which I can appreciate, to a degree at least. More women firefighters, can't be a bad thing at all. Equality in the work place is a serious thing, and should be addressed in many roles. In many sectors we are seeing more and more balance of the sexes. Although the same can't be said for my own industry, comparisons drawn to similar roles but serving other trades would show the complete opposite. Different horses, for different courses and all that!
My problem comes when it comes to how people address a certain job role.
I have grown up with Policeman, Fireman , Postman, Milkman etc. It was a title for someone who carried out a role, and one I grew familiar with as I grew up. To me, the title is the same as Doctor, Manager, Actor etc. Actor being a strange one actually, as I grew up using actor and actress, but the gender was removed from that and it became actor. However many still use actress in day to day life.
Seeing a woman in a hospital, it was, and probably still is easy to use gender to identify a role, and a lot of people will still say "nurse" to a woman, and the same people will usually be surprised to see a man identify himself as a "nurse. It is an ongoing thing, but something I get the impression most are unbothered by, unless they are having a bit of a bad day, we all have them, right!
The main thing here is, these job titles are usually only used to address someone in a formal manner, or to get someones attention in a hurry. Not so much a term used all day, everyday.
And this is where my issue really starts to come into effect with firefighters. It comes across from the campaign, and many of the supporters of it, that it is the title (which many people will never use to address a firefighter) is the biggest concern. This came to a head yesterday for me when LFB Greenwich called out the wonderful Mr Nick Knowles of DIY SOS for using the term "firemen" in a tweet, thanking the Fire Service for their assistance.
When it comes to quickly hammering out a Tweet or other social media post, we revert to our basics, and quickly write what we feel while it is fresh in our minds. He didn't say "the men of the fire service" not even "the guys" but "firemen". This apparently is offensive and disrespectful to the firefighters, and was worth calling him out publicly on social media.
The post read :
You had the fire service in to help you pump out the water tonight. Clearly both male and female firefighters helping out, yet you referred to them as firemen. Did the woman not deserve recognition for her hard work too? #firefightingsexism
This was followed by this one :
If you see us as brave, please call us by our names. Surely that's not too much to ask? None of us want to be called firemen, we are firefighters.You're right, children do still call us firemen and most girls still think they can't become firefighters as a direct result of that.
Now, I am all for freedom of speech, and I am all for fairness and respect, but I start to lose patience when such things are put in writing, especially things like this.
Externally, the public perception of firefighters is fantastic. Sometimes we don't understand the realities of what they do. But the public rally behind them when cuts are made, wage increases are unfair, and safety is questionable. Events like Grenfell Tower really drove home to the people of London just how brave, amazing and worthy all these people are. Huge respect was shown, people lined the streets to thank them. But it seems after all that love and respect was shown, the real issue was the use of the word "man" !
When I was at school, I called the teachers sir and ma'am. Identifying them by gender, rather than by occupation. I get that that is different, there is no generic term for teacher, other than "teacher", which would be a little disrespectful. However, it is a term I was raised to use. As was fireman.
Forgive me for being a child of such a generation. I am told that the term "firefighter" has been the correct term for 30 years now, so maybe I should sue the education system for failing to teach me correctly. Maybe it is a form of child abuse to have been misinformed for so long. I am sure if I look for long enough, I can find someone to blame, but lets be realistic, it is too trivial to pursue.
I get that firefighters are not all men. I get that fireman is unrepresentative of the workforce. But that is what it is, a misrepresentation, nothing more. Not an intentional disrespect of the female firefighters, not a sexist attack on women, not discriminatory. It is just an old fashioned generalisation which has not yet died out. With time it will, just like other terms have been corrected over the generations.
The argument that the correct term has been "firefighter" for 30 years now, so people should be using it is invalid. The simple fact is, it has NOT been commonly known. People have not refused to use the term, they have simply not been educated. Society didn't rebel, or choose to be sexist, they simply never changed. Postman.... Still common a very common term, but very little said about that.
The rise of Dany Cotton to commissioner of the LFB is fantastic. great for workplace equality, great for moral, and a clear indication that sexism is no longer in place where it matters. I'm all for this sort of progress, and am pleased to see it continue into other sectors. Such as the Met, with Cresida Dick as the commissioner also. I wonder if the next push will be to demand that we use the term police officer religiously, rather than slipping up and saying Policeman. I do hope not. We are better than that, right?
My issue here, is not so much the message of the campaign, but the tone and ferocity of it. Being TOLD that firefighters will not have their job title dictated to them, and DEMAND that others call them by firefighter. Citing the term fireman as sexist and disrespectful.
I am going round and round in circles here now, I can tell, so I will summarise.
Some situations require a loud voice and stomping of feet to get the message across. Bully it through, and make people understand.
But sometimes, just a constant stream of information, repetition of a phrase, making it the norm, and more commonly used, is the way to go.
The media have trained us with many words over the years, more recently using immigrant instead of refugee, blurring the lines and changing the language of the masses, the same can be done here too.
People do listen, language does change, but not over night, and certainly not under duress. The message is fair, the method quite frankly sucks, and if there is anyone demonstrating disrespect, it is from the other side. Disrespecting the members of the public who dare to use a common adage, rather than carefully selecting the most PC term possible.
I love all members of our emergency services, and respect every single one of you. Just because I don't tell you every day, doesn't mean I have changed my views. Please, carry on with your campaign, but maybe stop being so precious about it, and making a huge issue of something which has not been addressed for 29 of the last 30 years.