Women in wildland fire
I just want to say that
I have never experienced harassment or degrading treatment by anyone I’ve worked with in fire. I was the only woman on a 20-person hand crew my first year of fire and the guys were always quick to teach me things or answer questions. They were my brothers and they took care of me.
The one detail I’ve done on a hotshot crew, it was the same way. I was the only woman and they treated me the exact same as any other hotshot filler.
In the past eight seasons I’ve worked with few women. Some were mentors with tons of experience, others were crew members in the same experience range as me, and some I considered myself a mentor to. All of them were incredibly capable and right up there with the guys while hiking or working on the fireline.
Generally, women make up about 10% of federal wildland firefighters. I’ve heard stories of women being put down or diminished because of their gender, but I’ve found that it’s like anything. If you allow it, it will keep happening. This is not victim blaming for serious physical or emotional harassment, that is completely different. I’m just saying that it was hard for me at first to speak loudly and confidently and lead others as a woman. When I was wishy washy or not sure of myself, everyone picked up on that energy and didn’t respect me or my decisions because it was obvious that I didn’t either.
It may take a while, but you will find your place on a crew as long as you work as hard or harder than everyone else, don’t complain, or have a bad attitude. At 5 feet tall, I will never have the physical capacity of a 6 foot 7 dude, but I can still carry my weight on the crew. I can always find ways to contribute and be part of the team.
Also, your body is capable of so much more than you ever thought possible. It’s important to find your mental and physical barriers and push through them. Raise the bar for yourself. You can hike with any amount of weight for a short while. You can run faster. Hike farther. Dig line more efficiently. You will earn respect by putting the work in.
Be direct. Find what you’re best at and use it to your advantage. Work on your weaknesses. Think before you speak. Clarify if anything is confusing. Volunteer for special missions or difficult tasks. Confront others individually if there’s a problem, never go to a supervisor if it’s something you can solve yourself. You are capable. Help other women as you come up. We need to rely on each other instead of seeing each other as competition. There’s plenty of work to be done.
Working on your period
I use a DivaCup in place of pads or tampons during my period. It’s saved me money and annoyance because it’s useable for years, it’s easy to clean, I don’t have to deal with used tampons in the woods, and I never have to remember to restock supplies in my bag, it just lives in my personal backpack when I’m not on my cycle. They take a month or two to get used to, but I can’t recommend them enough. There are tons of options besides the DivaCup, all are the same and great options over pads/tampons for ladies in the woods.
My energy levels are all over the place during my cycle and I think it’s great to be aware of your own cycle and how you feel and what you need during each stage. Sometimes I need more water or a salad or some gummy bears for energy. It’s important to be gentle with yourself if you’re feeling lethargic or blah due to cycle fluctuations. If you have an off day it’s ok. Everyone does and guys have no excuse :) It’s something I never talk with the guys about for obvious reasons, but I try to work to my energy levels and take care of myself as much as possible.