Gender inequality in the United States has existed since this country’s founding, and although in recent decades we have made progress toward a nation of equals, problems still exist today. A big part of the solution is not only the advocacy of equal opportunity, but the advocacy of equal standards. As a society we are used to the lobbying for equal representation of both women and men, especially in the workplace. Something we often overlook, however, is that we expect different results from different genders. One example of this is firefighting. It is a well-known fact that firefighting has become a vocation open to both men and women, but what is unknown is that the standards for both are being challenged even today.
Though each state has different requirements for becoming a firefighter, the testing process is often criticized for containing elements that are irrelevant to the occupation. Many of these irrelevancies often pertain to the physical examinations, and are sometimes even contradictory. For example, according to the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services (IAWFES), “Some tests reject trainees for slowness in sprinting when many departments forbid sprinting as fatiguing and worsening smoke inhalation.”
As a result of physical examinations, the enrollment of women firefighters has dropped significantly, and the IAWFES proposed to universally lower the standards for physical examinations to allow for more women to meet the requirements. This is a prime example of the problem our society faces today.
Lowering the standards for female firefighters is not only dangerous, but it promotes the idea that we should expect different results from a person based on his or her gender. Requiring the same criterion for both women and men creates an atmosphere of equality, rather than one that encourages a difference between the two. If men and women are truly to be viewed as equal, they must be given the same rights, but more importantly, the same responsibilities. If saved from a burning building by a firefighter, I would not care if they were male or female, but if that firefighter was unable to drag me out of the building because he or she was subject to lower standards, I would care a great deal.
This principal extends much further than firefighting. Consider women in the military, who are prohibited from serving in combat roles. While there are areas, such as submarines, where allowing both genders to work in the same space can be tricky, combat situations demonstrate a key field where uniform requirements can make a tremendous impact.
If women are not subject to the same scrutiny and physical training demands as men, there is no possibility of ending discrimination on the battlefield. Requiring men and women to pass the same exams, to endure the same physical tests, and to possess the same skill sets would promote a military where gender does not determine your ability to serve your country. It dictates that neither is greater or lesser, but that certain characteristics and abilities are required by all.
The feminist movement in the U.S. advocates equality among genders, and though it must be noted that men and women are fundamentally different, we cannot allow for mixed standards and expect equality to exist at the same time.
As promoters of equality, we institute the same argument presented against the notion of separate but equal, in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. We argue that even the idea of separation implies inequality, and though civil rights advocates lost the case in a highly controversial verdict, we now have the opportunity to demonstrate a society where men and women are not only provided with the same opportunities, but treated with the same standards.
I do not consider myself to be a feminist per se, but I do consider myself someone who values equality. As a result, I feel that both men and women, especially in America, a country that takes great pride in its freedoms, should be held to the same standards.
By Ryan Stevens