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Girls & Women

'Fireman Sam' Sexism Debate Rages Online — and Clearly Some People Think It’s the Apocalypse


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Just 6% of the London Fire Brigade’s (LFB) operational firefighters are women. The problem is tied up in outdated gender stereotypes — the notion that some jobs are for men and some for women — which can severely hamper progress towards Global Goal 5 for absolute gender equality. That’s why the LFB called out an old British cartoon called Fireman Sam, urging it to become more inclusive to women by calling employees “firefighters” instead. But it’s provoked a wave of online criticism. Join our movement and take action nowto tackle gender inequality around the world.

The end of the world has now been officially confirmed — at least, according to some Twitter users after the latest gender equality debate.

It’s a surprisingly early exit for Planet Earth — which many thought had at least another 12 years to go until climate change doomed us forever — as social media commented that the world was finally broken; while some observed that the 4.5 billion year-old rock had somehow “gone mad” when faced with its own mortality.

Sources traced the apocalypse back to UK television show Good Morning Britain — fronted by serial provocateur Piers Morgan and award-winning presenter Susanna Reid — who over several days debated a statement made by the London Fire Brigade criticising outdated gender stereotypes in children’s cartoon Fireman Sam.

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Fireman Sam is an animated series created in 1987, set in the fictional Welsh town of Pontypanty, that follows the alarmingly frequent emergencies that writer Dean Burnett points out occur among a population of just 23 – over a quarter of whom are firefighters. 

It’s clearly a place where they've failed to educate the public about basic fire safety. But the argument that has emerged online focuses on the title of the show itself: whether it should be called Firefighter Sam to encourage more young girls to dream of applying to the fire service.

Just 300 out of 5,000 of the LFB’s operational firefighters are women — a meagre 6%. And if you look to Wales, Fireman Sam’s Grand Slam-winning home, the problem is way worse: Just 4% of firefighters are female, compared to a third of the police force.

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“I want all young people, girls and boys, to be able to be the very best they can be and not be influenced by gender stereotypes,” London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton told Good Morning Britain. “There’s still the very basic concept that women … don’t understand that women are firefighters.”

But the suggestion of more inclusive characters has provoked, according to Twitter, the world suddenly catching fire. At time of writing, there has been no mention that what we probably need, therefore, is more firefighters.

“When we’ve done the research, what we see is that gender roles go into children at the age of seven,” journalist Harriet Minter told the television show on Monday. “So by seven, children, if you say to them, ‘draw a firefighter’, will draw a man.”

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In October 2017, the LFB launched a campaign called #FirefightingSexism to improve diversity and representation in the fire service. The following year, a YouGov poll conducted by the mayor of London found that a quarter of people thought men made superior firefighters, while only 7% thought the same about police officers.

Across the whole of Britain, just 5.2% of firefighters are female.

“I hope that we at some point see a revised version of Fireman Sam,” Victoria Atkins MP, minister for women, told the House of Commons on Feb. 7. 

“I think we know from social media campaigns that children grow up expecting firefighters to be male, which then cuts off perhaps their career opportunities or expectations as they go through school and into training.”

The LFB also highlighted the use of the word “fireman” on children’s show Peppa Pig, commenting that gender stereotypes in language have a “huge influence on kids”.