‘Firefighter’ vs ‘fireman’: are women really put off by semantics?

Benedict Spence

Topics Politics

Dany Cotton, the first female commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, is spearheading a campaign to ask people not to use the word ‘fireman’. This ‘outdated’ expression is discouraging women and girls from becoming firefighters, she argues. She suggests using firefighter instead.

But are women considering a life-threatening, heroic career, one that involves strenuous mental and physical endurance, really being put off by semantics? I don’t think so. Clearly it didn’t stop Cotton from joining and rising up the ranks. And if someone was that bothered by it, they’d hardly have the mental fortitude to do the job.

Women have worked in the fire service since the 1980s. It’s true that they make up only a small proportion of firefighters – between four to six per cent, depending on the region. But a lot of this is likely down to the nature of the job. Being a firefighter requires impressive levels of physical strength and endurance.

Does this mean that women aren’t up to the job? Of course not. But it is quite plausible that many simply don’t fancy it, just as tens of millions of men don’t.

It doesn’t matter if firefighters are male or female – all that matters is their ability to do the job and save lives. If Cotton wants to encourage more women to join the fire brigade, good for her. But let’s not pretend that brave would-be firewomen would give two hoots about such semantics.

Benedict Spence is a writer based in London.

spiked needs your support

Defending liberty isn’t easy – especially in times of crisis, when freedom is so often traded away in search of security. But amid the coronavirus pandemic we at spiked have continued to speak up for our principles, calling for more scrutiny of the authoritarian measures being wielded over us and more debate on the best way forward. To continue to do that, we need your help. spiked is free and it always will be, because we want as many people to read us as possible. But to keep spiked free we rely on the generosity of our readers, particularly those who can give regularly. Even £5 per month can make a huge difference to us. We know it’s hard out there for many of you, now more than ever. But if you support what we do here and you can afford to contribute, to make sure we can continue to produce our free and fearless journalism for anyone who wants to read it, please do consider making a donation today.

Thank you! And stay safe.

Donate now

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


Leave a comment

You must be logged in to comment. Log in or Register now.