The first strains of the story: the lone female firefighter and member of the municipal council in a nearby small town alleged a long history of discrimination against her. My first response: disbelief. In my defense, it’s a learned response, a natural one to the tonnes of pure bullshit I’ve encountered throughout my life; at school, at work, in social gatherings, in the media…essentially everywhere. The stuff—if you care to look beyond the obvious—is so prevalent that, unless you wish to live a hermit’s life, the only response you can possibly have is to assume that everything you get second-hand has to be false and that a burden of proof rests on the story’s teller. “What makes you say that?” my inner voice always inquires whenever I hear anything.
But then the evidence came. Piece by piece the story came together: Brenda Seymour, the sole female member on s volunteer fire department denied the opportunity for advancement or further training. A personal, successful effort to obtain that training resulted in still no advancement opportunities. Time after time she was denied a fair shake but still she persevered.
The disbelief was replaced by a rising anger. How blind and spiteful could her so-called colleagues possibly be?
I sought answers; discussed it with friends and fellow workers. The overwhelming feeling was the same as mine. The one conclusion was that it was increasingly evident that the volunteer fire department in that rural community must have become the one sole holdout mens’ club and was fiercely holding on to that status for dear life. How quaint. Here in the 21st century there still remains, here and there, the notion that women need to be regularly and systematically excluded from the company of men and, furthermore, the civil unit charged with saving life and property is the most appropriate place to do it. Let the pretty little women busy their cute quiet adorable helpless selves (1) making cold plates to raise money and (2) laundering our undies and / or otherwise cleaning up after us. We men folk have real work to do; tasks that they are clearly not fit for.
Let’s take a quick joke-break. Riddle me this: how do you summarize the Entire Russian History in five words?
Answer: And Then It Got Worse
That’s just what happened to this story. Shortly after the evidence started to pile up in favour of Ms. Seymour a story came to light about an alleged short (not that “short” matters at all) pornographic video that was shown at the end of firefighting training session, a session in which Ms. Seymour was the lone female in attendance. (Sweet $#@!&% I can’t believe I just wrote that.) Apparently everyone had laughed at it. The training officer responsible for the “event” gave several radio interviews, verified that he had done it, and went on to indicate that he “meant no innuendo” and he’d only done it to “help blow off some steam” and it must have been OK because “even she laughed at it.”
I was driving home from work. I was tired and could think of nothing intelligent to say. Suddenly I was aware of what it must feel like when under the influence of mushrooms or acid. I tried to say something but in light of what I’d just heard my brain was simply incapable of forming any coherent thought. I imagine what happened to my neurons, under the influence of that onslaught of complete and utter ignorant bullshit was roughly the equivalent of what happens to your whole body when suddenly immersed in ice-water. Biological function temporarily ceases. Paralysis. Yes, complete bran paralysis.
I managed a snort. That was it.
Son #2, who was also in the car, recovered before me, “Technically the part about no innuendo was correct as innuendo implies a degree of subtlety. Nothing subtle about what he did.”
That was it. The anger boiled over. How in the name of GOD could anyone be that stupid? He showed pornography (yes, pornography!!!!) in an educational setting and not only saw absolutely nothing wrong in it but also is now angry at Ms. Seymour who has, in his mind, now betrayed the trust and camaraderie he had so perfectly brought together! Ah, yes, nothing brings da b’ys together like some shared porn and how dare that uppity woman for upsetting the cozy happy state of affairs he has so proudly cultivated in the 300 or so firefighting men he’s trained.
And then it got worse; more stories about the less-than-stellar behaviour of Ms. Seymour’s colleagues, including one about a firefighter’s headgear that’s just plain too disgusting to relate. Take my word for it.
And then it got worse; efforts to remove the pesky Ms. Seymour, clearly an all-out troublemaker, from council.
And then it got worse; twenty members of the fire department not only resigned but also, a few of the more thuggish among them saw fit to buzz by–intimidate, that is–on their loud snow machines when the media tried to interview Ms. Seymour.
Through it all, though, Ms. Seymour kept that same quiet dignity that she has so consistently displayed both on council and at the fire department. “I learned a lot of things in training to be Firefighter 2,” she noted in a radio interview, “but giving up was not one of them.”
Anger finally gone, I thought about how I should be feeling.
I thought about the many times she’d been denied promotion but no fellow man had shown the courage to speak up.
I thought about the community rally that had been organized to “save our men.” It had been judged appropriate that the quiet efforts of one victimized woman had resulted in the need for the whole community to gather behind and lend support to the male bullies. Poor things.
I thought about the group of men, plus one woman, that had viewed porn in an educational setting. Some thought it was funny but most likely felt some degree or other of awkwardness. None of the men, though, ever did stiffen their spine and object, instead taking the easy way out a just going along with it.
I thought about the chiefs—all men—who had never bothered to show leadership when it was required. That filthy disgusting incident with the head gear, for instance. Did it even occur to the chief that the one and only correct response was, “Go get your belongings and go home. Don’t come back.”?
Shame it is, then. There’s no choice left, is there? The kind of systematic, pack-related bullying experienced by Ms. Seymour was done by a large, organized group of men. Not only was the abuse done by many, and over a long period of time but, far worse than that, never once. NOT EVEN ONCE did a group of men or even a single measly male voice speak up and demand that it be stopped. This is not something that can be dismissed as the actions of a few yahoos. It is not something that can be attributed to a “small town mentality” or anything like it.
No, it’s far worse. It’s a vestigial nasty, ugly, primitive little piece of evil that has managed to stay in the male gene pool despite the fact that it provides absolutely no evolutionary advantage whatsoever. This is something that reflects not only on the poor clueless fools who still seek to defend their mindless misogynistic lives, but on all of the rest of us who have chosen to remain silent so many times when we bore witness to something similar. Because we have.
Shame it is.
To my female friends: if it seems that I’m a little more shy or withdrawn over the next few days now you know why. Please don’t make any effort to “make things better” by pointing out that not every man is as clueless, ignorant and just plain hateful as the few who continue to defend the actions I’ve outlined. Sometimes people need to be left in a funk for a while and allowed time to reflect on certain things they have taken for granted for far too long.
I noticed on social media that we should forgive the perpetrators because of the courage they have all shown through the years. We are assured that it takes great courage to run into a burning building.
No, it doesn’t. It takes nothing more than adrenaline. We’re wired for it. Under the right circumstances, especially with a crowd egging you on, anyone could do it. It’s a one shot thing, nothing more.
Real courage is what you have when you stand up and face overwhelming adversity.
I’m left to reflect on the courage and dignity shown by Ms. Seymour throughout all of this. I notice also that the Mayor of Spaniard’s Bay has written an apology to Ms. Seymour. I suppose it’s a start.
Now, I ask you, do you really think that the story that originated in Spaniard’s Bay, NL is a single, isolated one?
And then it got…