"So is your husband on SAR?"
Inspired by the curious man in the coffee linup today.
The question bothered me this morning when maybe it shouldn't have. It’s certainly one I’ve heard before. There’s a lot of assumptions in that statement I felt like breaking down for the innocently, curious gentleman. Maybe it bothered me even more now because I don’t have a husband. But in truth, the first time I encountered this gender bias, I was still married so let’s go back...
In early 2018, I had just been accepted into Search and Rescue and was tasked with putting together my ready pack. (As volunteers, we are required to provide all our own gear for the first year, for the pack we carry on our back, which keeps us ready for any situation, hence the name). So here I was, at the hardware store, looking for a folding hand saw. A kind employee approached me asking if I needed help and I asked for feedback on which saw was most lightweight and durable - “It’s for Search and Rescue use.” I explained. He responded “Ok, so what will he be using it for out there?” I paused for a moment, and realized that this assumption was far too often the norm.
To be honest, I had expected my first gender bias moment to come when I joined, what was and often is the male dominated, first responder's environment. But to my surprise, when I showed up to our first training day, I saw 5 out of the 8 of us - selected from the 80 or so applicants were women. And funny enough, when one of us curiously asked if they had chosen because the team was making an effort to seek more gender equality, our Member's Officer stared at us funny and replied “We just chose the best applicants.” Chilliwack Search and Rescue is the raddest family you could join, ladies (and people of all genders), let’s be clear of that!
As time went on it started happening more frequently and strangely enough, the question wasn’t just from men. The next time was actually at our first regional training event. One of the incredibly awesome, rad women from another local team, whom I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting yet walked up to me and asked “So whose wife are you?”. We are friends now, so I am sure she won’t mind me sharing this story - we both had a good laugh, at this eye opening moment. After 18 years on her team, she had gotten so adapted to other’s opinions of what a SAR member should look like, that she simply assumed I was there to support someone else.
Now, even in our women’s fit uniforms, with a “SEARCH AND RESCUE” decal on our personal vehicles, myself and new female teamates often get asked “I noticed your jacket, is your husband on SAR?” Mostly we just smile and politely explain. Often the question is just because the passerby is wanting to share a personal story of how SAR touched their lives in some way. It's often follwed by a thank-you, which means a lot for the record! Though I must admit, this morning fueled potentially by frustration from something else entirely, I was tempted to break out my tank top, flex and then just walk away silently from the poor guy. But don’t worry friends, I refrained… this time… 😝
Image by Dan Mcauliffe
So I’m writing all this to get to a point - if you are a human out there, breaking gender norms, or glass ceilings or just breaking out of your comfort zone - I want to say Kuddos to you! The world needs more bravery, and I am so proud of you for putting yourself out there. And if you are one of those curious sort of humans, who sees a jacket or a decal and has to ask a question, please remember, this is the year 2020. It has long been sorted out that women are more than capable of being doctors, lawyers, politicians and yes even firefighters and SAR technicians. But please do ask how life is on the team, or what kind of training we have to do to become a member, because I could tell you some pretty cool stories!
And I can’t write all this without adding a plug because we only take new recruitments every second year and this is the year folks! I write this for everyone, but because of my experience this morning I want to write it specifically to the women around here. If you have been considering joining our team for a while, and you live or work in Chilliwack - and hiking endless hours in the dark, and rain while carrying copious amounts of heavy gear for no pay is your thing, please come to our recruitment night on January 25th. Doors open at 10:30 am at the Chilliwack City Hall. We will be there to meet you and we’d be happy to share how life on our team is maybe exactly where you were meant to be.