Australia — Victorian authorities have been horrified by video footage of outer-suburban men battling this week’s fires wearing nothing more than shorts and a singlet.
In some cases, as Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley noted, men fought fires while “not robed at all [shirtless]”.
But Mr Lapsley wasted no time diagnosing the root of their stupidity.
“I think males are the problem,” he said. “The reason why is because they want to go and do something. Adrenalin kicks in. The female will want to think about safety, particularly if the female is a mother, they will think about the safety of others.
Indeed, researchers have identified a stark difference between how men and woman behave in a bushfire emergency, with many males wanting to stay and combat whatever Mother Nature throws at them.
It is a clash gender expert Meagan Tyler says has pitched husbands against wives, even at the eleventh hour, as the fire front looms.
“Women wanted to leave and live and men wanted to stay, and sometimes that conflict hadn’t been resolved by the time we interviewed them which is very dangerous,” Dr Tyler said.
The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission uncovered text messages and phone conversations that showed whole families had perished after disagreements between spouses over whether to defend the home.
“Always a man wanted to stay and women wanted to leave,” Dr Tyler said. “These arguments may sound a bit trite, but it can be a matter of life and death.”
Since the death of 173 people during the Black Saturday fires, Dr Tyler’s study has conducted 200 interviews with those who live in the nation’s fire-prone areas.
They did not find a single case where the gender roles had been reversed and a woman had wanted to stay and defend the family home, against the view of her husband.
Instead some females she interviewed still felt very angry at being made to choose to leave, and abandon their male partners, or to stay and risk death.
In one case, a woman said she felt like she had no choice but to stay because she knew her husband would be stranded if she took the family’s only car.
Yet in this debate, history has conclusively shown the woman to be right.
Men are significantly more likely to die during bushfire in Australia, because of their propensity to stay in the thick of the action.
Dr Tyler said society should not make heroes of the blokes who stay on with a garden hose to defend the pub in shorts and thongs, but instead celebrate the man who listens to his wife and helps pack up the car well before the fire arrives.
“You can’t say ‘leave and live’ and then congratulate a person with a bucket that saves the pub,” she said.
“We want to look for the good in any tragedy but there will be also people that follow that model and die.”
This week Craig Lapsley said Victoria needed a TAC-style campaign to counter the macho “protector” instinct that kicks in for men and teenage boys during fire.
He also wants a further gender shift within fire-fighting organisations, which have traditionally been governed by the male mindset of preparing to stay and defend.
“We’ve got a very good cross pollination of male and female in our teams but the most senior people in the positions of fire are all males. Now that will change over time, but the industry has been traditionally dominated by males.
“You will see cultural change in the business and the industry that’s got to occur.”‘