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August 17, 2005

Bigotry 101

I knew when I joined the Fire Department that I would have to be better and smarter than 'my brothers'. Not just because I'm a woman, but also because of my family name.
My Dad has been a fixture in the community for about 40 years or so now. He was one of the first paramedics in the state, and he's also been teaching first aid, basic EMT, paramedic, and anything else related to EMS for as long as I can remember.
My Dad is VERY well known.
So, whether I liked it or not (usually, NOT), I was always known as 'Lance's daughter'. Not that that's a bad thing, but when you're trying to be your own person, it can be quite detrimental.
My fellow firefighters had several preconceived ideas of the type of person I was. Some of what they thought was true, but alot was not.
They thought I was a loud, opinionated, pampered know-it-all. Well, they found out pretty quick that I am opinionated, and can be loud from time to time. But a pampered know-it-all? Nope, not this girl. I was never too 'good' for hard work, or getting my hands dirty.
What I did have was an advantage in that I had grown up with firefighting and EMS my whole life. I clearly knew things they did not.
As much as I wanted to show how capable and knowledgable I was, I knew I had to do so in a manner that would not offend the 'boys'. I needed to be accepted as an equal, not looked at as an overbearing bitch. As much as I hated it, I had to play their game. So, I kept my mouth shut, listened and learned. At appropriate times and situations, I would show what I knew.
I never deferred to any of them, but I didn't go in with my 'guns a-blazyn' either!
I was lucky to have met, and become friends with Joey & Rich. They became my mentors. They helped me understand the mind-set of the all-boy network, and how to approach them and have my opinions heard, and not be dismissed. But more importantly, they 'got me'.

As I stated in another post, the boys knew better than to be outright hateful, or prejudiced, but they made their feelings known, in other ways.
Within a month of joining, I had slept with practically every man in the department. So I was told. Being, young, single, decent looking, smart and friendly were NOT an asset to me.
It was ammunition! I had my fair share of offers from some of the men, and was treated even worse when I rejected their advances. I was prepared for all of this, so it wasn't any real shock when it happened. It was however, disappointing.
No, my shock came from the wives and girlfriends of my fellow firefighters.
This bigotry I was NOT prepared for. I stupidly thought that as a woman, they would applaud our efforts, and support us as we fought and clawed our way to gaining acceptance in a predominantly male environment.
I could not have been more wrong! If I wasn't a lesbian, than I was only doing this as means to steal their man! These women were outright hateful!! The married women didn't get treated quite so bad, but us single ladies??? Just tattoo a bright red "A" on my chest and call me Jezebel! I was guilty, whether I did anything or not. I was walking, talking, breathing, AND around their man in a way 'not fittin for a lady'. Ok, the men did see me all wet, with my clothes clinging to me after a fire, but I assure you, I was also dirty, sweaty, hair all snarled into a rats nest and reeking of smoke. Competition? If they thought so, but thoughts such as those never crossed my mind. I already had a man of my own, I sure as hell didn't want theirs!
What I did want, more than anything, was to work my way up the ranks in the Department, and someday become a Chief. I never did accomplish that goal; I only managed to become an EMS Lieutenant. Yes, it was a great accomplishment, but not the one I wanted. It was however, one of a few outward accomplishments we women were 'allowed'.
Female firematic officers were pretty much unheard of. I only wish it had been me.

Prejudice, bigotry and hate was thrown at us from all sides, but we persevered.
We fought, we clawed, and we worked our collective asses off to gain the respect and acceptance that each of us deserved.
I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for all the ladies who came before me, to the ladies who were there with me, and to the men who accepted me.

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