Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Firefighters and Masculinity

I am slightly late in posting this story, but the NYT had an article on Dec. 4 which began:

By now, the 242 recruits at the New York City Fire Department’s training academy have climbed hundreds of flights of stairs carrying at least 100 pounds of gear....

Generations of firefighters have endured this rite of passage, but this group is different. When the class graduates on Thursday, it will be the most diverse in the city’s history, with minorities making up 62 percent of it. The change is a result of a federal judge’s order that the city reform the hiring practices of a department that was nearly 90 percent white.

As rendered, the story seems to be about race.  And it is, of course.  But it's also a story about gender.  One of the vanguards of the "law and masculinities" movement, Ann McGinley at UNLV, has written an intriguing article addressing this angle.  The abstract reads:

This Article applies masculinity theory to explore the aspects Ricci v. Destefano and its political reverberations. Empirical evidence showed that virtually all written tests have a disparate impact on minorities, that a neighboring city had reached less discriminatory results using a different weighting system, and that other fire departments used assessment centers to judge firefighters' qualifications for promotions. While the black male and all female firefighters were made invisible by the case and the testimony, the fact that Ricci's and Vargas' testimony lionized a particularly traditional form of heterosexual masculinity was also invisible. While the command presence required of a police officer may differ from that required of a firefighter, Cooper's advice is valuable to employers establishing assessment centers because it will enable employers to make visible the invisible race and gender biases in the assessment that assume that command presence and leadership skills describe a particular masculine type of man. An understanding of the case and its political response requires a historical and contextual approach using a multi-faceted lens that considers not only race, but also class, gender, and politics. It then offers suggestions to public employers faced with decisions regarding how to proceed after Ricci. It argues that municipalities should consider the lessons learned from history and masculinity theory in establishing its methods of evaluating candidates for firefighting and supervisory positions in the future.

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