Flat White

Feminist firefighter flak backfires

17 November 2019

10:23 AM

17 November 2019

10:23 AM

Watching our heroic firemen facing the mighty blazes last week, I couldn’t resist making an obvious point.

I posted the following comment on Twitter and Facebook. “Our media is full of images of brave men fighting the ferocious fires. As always, it’s usually men who do the really dangerous, difficult work protecting everyone else. Give thanks for the good in men.”

Heaven forbid we ever single out men for praise. As you can imagine, female commentators everywhere hated my comment and the usual media sources all piled on. I loved the item in The Saturday Paper — put to bed, as they say in the trade, well before the weekend — which quoted my post as an example of my “increasingly bizarre campaign against women”. So, according to this newspaper saying something nice about men means I am attacking women. How extraordinary.

The paper added, “The really dangerous, difficult work is pretending gendered violence doesn’t exist.” That was a swipe at my ongoing battle to change the misguided view that only men perpetrate domestic violence by presenting the abundant evidence that most family violence is two-way, involving women as well as men.

Predictably, The Guardian was scathing about my “ridiculous” sentiment and responded by posting photos of female firefighters. Somehow, they failed to mention how many of the 20,000 firefighters involved in the current fires are actually women.

I have firefighters who have written to me who are trying to track down the numbers. It looks like the proportion of women is less than 20 per cent of volunteers and about five per cent of professional firefighters. Overwhelmingly male, as expected.


Midst the twitter frenzy that greeted my remarks, Moira Rayner, the former Victorian equal opportunity commissioner, retweeted my comment with the caption “That’s a woman firefighter,” referring to the photo I used to accompany my tweet. It was “liked” over 5,600 times.

“I know my topic,” Rayner told BuzzFeed. “Bettina didn’t and her tweet was presumptuous, disrespectful to the specialist and the countless numbers of local community volunteers, and a little bit foolish.”

Well, then a reporter at BuzzFeed, Cameron Wilson, tracked down the firefighter in my photo, who turned out to be male — Dennis Wamsley, a volunteer with the Gloucester Rural Hearth Brigade.

“‘That’s a woman firefighter,’ said one tweet dunking on a men’s rights activist,” the introduction to the Friday piece (too late for The Saturday Paper to make changes) began. “One problem: it wasn’t.”

A reverse image search reveals the image was credited by multiple news publications to AAP photographer Darren Pateman.

On the company’s website, a series of Pateman’s photographs taken on Nov. 9 2019, including the image shared by Arndt, were captioned with “firefighters work to contain a bushfire along Old Bar Road”.

Pateman didn’t know the photograph’s subject identity, but believed it was a man.

“I checked and it’s a crewman from Gloucester. I have no name sorry,” Pateman told BuzzFeed News.

BuzzFeed ran a second shot from the series:

Their article continued:

A user responding on behalf of the Gloucester Rural Fire Brigade’s Facebook page identified one of their volunteers, Dennis Wamsley, as the photograph’s subject.

“Yes, I believe that is me,” Wamsley said to BuzzFeed News in a message.

Wamsley recalls the photograph being taken about 20 metres from the road, not too far away from houses he was defending. The Gloucester resident wasn’t aware that the photo had gone viral in an online skirmish about gender…

Rayner didn’t answer when asked by BuzzFeed News if she knew for sure whether it was a woman or man in the photo before sending her viral tweet — but said it didn’t matter either way.

“Gender is irrelevant to both professional and volunteer firefighting skill, safety and performance,” she said.

What a hoot! Moira Rayner has been taking regular, very nasty potshots at me. This former “equal opportunity commissioner” has revealed her true colours, demonstrating why her former organization and others like it, have no interest in justice or fair treatment for men.

But the whole exercise was a sad demonstration of our distorted cultural dialogue, where any praise for men is immediately denigrated by suggestions that this is unfair to women. Yet it’s fine for men to be subjected to vile attacks, like the suggestion this week from domestic violence activist Sherele Moody that firefighters come home after battling the bushfire crisis and beat their wives.

Early last week I happen to have posted a comment about the type of research Moody used to support her inflammatory comment –- in this case, a survey conducted by feminist health workers from Goulburn which found self-selected women reported increased violence following another of our big bushfire disasters. The study was typical of the poor scholarship that is rife in much humanities research, with cherry-picked results and ideological claptrap substituting for proper data or analysis.

It’s a sad state of affairs. But I am enjoying the momentary glee many men, including male firefighters, are experiencing after watching Moira Rayner get her comeuppance.

Illustration: Darren Pateman-AAPIMAGE/Twitter

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