Dany Cotton is the first female commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, which should be enough to earn her some freaking respect. Yet, just mentioning that changing “fireman” to “firefighter” would perhaps encourage more women to join the force has led to nothing but abuse. Surprise.
The Guardian reports that Cotton was interviewed a few months after she was awarded her position in 2017, and mentioned a well-known animated British character named “Fireman Sam” who is “everyone’s favourite Hero Next Door!” according to his official YouTube page. Cotton didn’t even seem to be particularly out for Sam—she was just making a remark about stereotypes in firefighting:
“One single thing that would help bring more women into the service? Stop saying ‘fireman’. How many people still use that?” she says. “It would make a real difference if people stopped. Why did they have to go for Fireman Sam? What’s wrong with Firefighter Sam? We have to change that perception of a six foot hairy-arsed bloke who can kick a door down.”
In a speech this week at an event called “Gender Equality: will it take another 100 years,” Cotton explained that remark has lead to a campaign of harassment and abuse:
“The backlash I’ve had–the vitriol, the spite, the unpleasantness–truly horrified and shocked me. And it showed me we’ve got a long way to go,” she said. “For a little while it made me want to back off and hide in a cave because it was shocking. I had letters of hate written to me at work.”
She added, “I have nothing against him. I don’t want to kill him.”
As someone with a job that she describes as extremely “macho,” Cotton has faced discrimination in extreme forms, so to be brought to a low point by a fight over a cartoon really sucks. But she has risen above it, of course. Cotton wants to see more women in her field and encourages them to not apologize for wanting “fairness, equality, and rights.”
However, she was a bit hesitant when asked about imposing quotas for hiring women in roles traditionally dominated by men, citing her own experience. Cotton says she’s always been accused of being given promotions because she was the only woman up for the role, including her current position, and thinks women hired via quota will face similar doubt.
In her previous interview, when Cotton initially squared up against Fireman Sam, she said that the management was “clearly under pressure to change the force,” but it wasn’t the management who has the biggest problem with her presence.
“The issue for some is that if a woman can do the job, then it isn’t the big hero job it was. It de-machos their role,” she said.
Fireman Sam, stand down.