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Girls & Women

'Love Island' Stereotypes Put Off Female Firefighters, Says London Fire Brigade

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 The problem is tied up in outdated gender stereotypes — the notion that some jobs are for men and some for women — and the first woman to hold LFB’s top job has now pointed the finger at one of Britain’s most popular television shows. Take action now to tackle gender inequality around the world.

Remember Love Island?

Britain’s most popular reality television show was seemingly omnipresent for months. Almost every evening, another fix of abs, jabs, and Alex’s signature sunburn — until it was gone, leaving millions jilted, addled, and suddenly free with a plethora of extra evenings to reluctantly spend with loved ones.

But the series certainly wasn’t without its flaws.

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The Love Island casting crew notoriously select hotties: a particular version of attractiveness bound up in fake tans, bursting biceps, and unbuttoned floral shirts (or no shirts at all). Contestants in makeshift couples completed a series of bawdy challenges — and, on occasion, the games were firmly rooted in outdated gender stereotypes.

One such challenge involved the men dressing up as firemen, performing a striptease, and carrying their female partner away as part of a mock-rescue.

And London Fire Brigade’s (LFB) Commissioner Dany Cotton has now hit out at Love Island’s representation of firefighters, arguing that the “offensive cliché” is part of a wider societal problem that discourages women from applying to the service.

Cotton is the first woman to hold the LFB’s most senior position, according to the BBC, and wants to see “lazy” stereotypes in mainstream pop culture brought to an end. In October, the LFB launched a campaign called #FirefightingSexism to improve diversity and representation in the fire service.

"I'm especially concerned about how many young people think firefighting is for men,” Cotton said. "When popular shows like Love Island roll out every offensive cliché possible with their so-called 'fireman challenge', it reinforces the misconception that all firefighters are muscle-bound men.”

“No wonder so many young women are put off by that,” she added.

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Just 6% of the LFB’s operational firefighters are women. That’s 300 out of 5,000 — a statistic which underlines why Liz George, an LFB watch manager, felt “infuriated” by the challenge.

“Even saying 'fireman', emphasising it’s just a man that could do that role, is quite frustrating when I'm out doing that job every day," George said.

In Wales, the problem is even worse: just 4% of firefighters are women, compared to a third of the police force.

"From a young age boys are told that they should aspire to professions like the fire service, whereas girls are told that they aren't strong or brave enough," said Cerys Furlong, CEO of Welsh gender equality charity Chwarae Teg. "Children face gender stereotyping at every turn, from the toys they play with, to the books they read, to the outfits they dress up in, to what they're taught in school."

And Cotton agreed that the underrepresentation in the fire service is especially stark when compared to the police. It’s strictly based on data too: a YouGov poll conducted by the mayor of London, also published on Tuesday, found that a quarter of people thought men made superior firefighters, while only 7% thought the same about police officers.

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"It was 30 years ago that people were shocked to see women police officers and it's frankly embarrassing that the public are still shocked to see women firefighters today,” Cotton continued. "The armed forces and the police force have all been enriched by having women better represented across their ranks and it's time the fire and rescue service caught up.”

"Role models like Juliet Bravo and Jane Tennison changed people's perception of women in the police force,” she added. “Now it's time for advertisers, journalists, and marketers to stop relying on lazy clichés and help change attitudes which will in turn encourage more women to embark on a wonderful and fulfilling career in the fire service."

And it looks like change could already be in the air.

On May 17, the Committee of Advertising Practice launched a public consultation that will examine a ban on sexist adverts across television, radio, billboards, posters, and print. Any new rules will then be enforced by the Advertising Standards Agency.

A similar ban already exists in London and Paris.