Fanning the flames? Negotiating gendered identity in forest fire suppression
Ross Stephanie L.
Master of Arts
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This thesis is an examination of gendered identity in a regional Canadian community. Using ethnographic observation and in-depth interviews, I explore the ways in which female forest firefighters negotiate ‘competent’ identities in the face of formal and informal workplace barriers. Drawing on literature from sociology and women’s studies that focuses on gendered subjectivity, spatial environments, sociology of the body, and women in non-traditional work, I examine how varied workplace settings and the social interactions that take place within them shape women’s gendered subjectivity. In contrast to the existing literature on forest fire suppression, the majority of which focuses on male firefighters, this study explores the daily experiences of female firefighters at the Thunder Bay District Fire Center and out on the fire line. I argue female firefighters in northwestern Ontario construct and maintain ‘competent’ workplace identities in ways that suggest a marked departure from the monolithic image of the firefighter as an ‘adrenaline junkie,’ a notion advanced in much of the existing literature (Maclean 1999; Thoele 1995). In this context, this study recognizes that the negotiation of gendered identity is a complex and nuanced exercise. I suggest that the work of Thoele (1995) and Greer and Hendrickson (2001), a promising point of departure, fails to adequately distinguish between the plurality of identities operating in the Fire Program.