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21.10.06

Women And Children First?

A common example of anti-male sexism used by those who think men are oppressed is the "women and children first" philosophy of evacuation in the event of a disaster. The usual response to this claim is to point out that this philosophy is condescending and infantilizing to women, and that any benefits they get from it are trivial compared to the many forms of anti-woman sexism in our society. As it turns out, though, in the case of wildfires, spiriting the women away to safety puts them even more at risk:

More women and children are dying in fires trying to evacuate the family home while men stay behind to defend it.

Head of the Centre for Risk and Community Safety and RMIT researcher Professor John Handmer believes this scenario is occurring more frequently than in the past.

"We have documented that in many cases men will order women and children to leave the property at the last moment fearing that it looks very ugly," Professor John Handmer said. "Women and children are put in the car and told to drive off — into the fire front unfortunately in many cases — while the men remain behind protecting the house, so they are in relative safety."


Australian research -- and I have no reason to suspect this wouldn't be true of the US as well -- has pretty clearly shown that nearly all civilian deaths occur from hasty, last-minute evacuations. Further, most homes burn down well after the fire front has passed. If your home is well-prepared (defensible space cleared around it, screens over windows and eaves, etc.), you can safely wait out the main wall of flame inside. Then you'll be there to put out the embers that could eventually torch the house. So condescending attempts to spare the weaker sex from active front-line defense of the home in reality puts them in greater danger.

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