Safety as a Masculinist Activity

Every time we run a program or workshop the number of females that attend is quite low. Indeed, it is extremely difficult to find women who have stayed long in the safety industry. It is also difficult to find any women in the safety industry who openly profess a Feminist ethic. A recent report gives us an indication why ( ).

The safety industry emerged out of Engineering and Behaviourism and these remain the dominant worldviews that infuse safety. The change in name of the American Association of Safety Engineers (AASE) to the American Association of Safety Professionals (AASP) is simply a brand change. The Discourse, discourse and language remain the same (; ). And there is no strategy across any of the associations or curricula to address the problem.

When the ideology of the industry is zero and all of the intolerance associated with it, where would Feminist view get a voice?

The mythology that women are not interested in engineering (or safety) is maintained as a mechanism to normalize a Masculinist ethic.

I have written previously on a Feminist Perspective on Safety ( ) including a production of a video ( ). The video and topic of the conversation was initiated by these women and my role was simply as moderator. Three of this group of women have already left the safety industry.

Life and Work – Feminine Perspectives from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.

The Evolution of the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) comes out of roots in Deconstruction, Post-Structuralism, Feminism and Critical/Cultural Theory. See Figure 1. Evolution of SPoR (download the map here:  History-of-Social-Psychology-of-Risk )

Figure 1. Evolution of SPoR


Feminism is a philosophy/worldview and is not necessarily directly linked to gender.

Indeed, one can be Feminist and male just as one can be female and Behaviourist. It all depends on where one anchors one’s identity ( ).

Of course, this also means that one can be female and sustain a Masculinist Discourse. A Masculinist Discourse is anchored in power, objects, a deontological ethic, obedience, conformance and ego politics ( ).

Masculinism, Feminism and all the other isms are political ideologies and socio-political movements. None of this is discussed in safety ( ). No ideology is neutral or objective (also not discussed in safety). Silence is the great enabler of the dominant ideology.

A simple semiotic investigation will show that safety is a misogynist activity: Similarly, a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) will show that the safety industry is Behaviourist and focused on objects, counting and power (that is never talks about). Indeed, there is no discussion anywhere in the safety industry on Feminism or a Feminist understanding of power, ethics, helping, care or personhood. Even the Women in Safety movement don’t discuss such things and you certainly won’t find a Feminist ethic or Care Ethics discussed in the AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics ( ).

I watched a wonderful documentary recently on the subversive nature of a Feminist understanding of power through the eyes of Tantra Philosophy ( ). It is clear that such philosophy has been greatly distorted and misunderstood (in the interests of masculinist power). Tantra Philosophy is concerned with embodied meaning, holistic worldview, the power of mythology, the power of semiotics, Socialitie, subversion and counter-cultural dynamics to challenge the masculinist worldview (power and control).

I also wrote recently on the semiotics of the Beguines and phallic masculinity in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in Australia. It is simply confirmation of the thesis of this blog regarding the dominance of Masculinism. It is simply breathtaking that no one saw in this Women’s Network symbol the phallic power of Masculinism. Such is the blindness created by the nomalisation and enculturation of the Masculinist view. (See Figure 2. Women’s Network Semiotic)

Figure 2. Women’s Network Semiotic


Semiotics and language are critical to identity, and in the safety industry, so much of the language and semiotics devalues women (; ).

A good example is the proposed EHS Congress in Berlin ( ). Just do any low-level analysis and tell me what the images and language portray? Just look at the agenda, count the presenters (95% male), analyze the agenda and search for any Feminine discourse. There is none.

Even when the brand is ‘differently’ or ‘new view’ is used, it’s not new but just more traditional masculinism – controls, performance, and objects. Look at the panel of males, breakout workshops of males, the majority of male speakers. But more importantly the topics and ideology presented. Even the women present a Behaviourist Discourse eg. performance, controls, ‘design metrics’, ‘capture outcomes’. Nothing of Feminist interest is presented, so much for ‘differently’, debate and learning.

Then look at the semiotics, what do you see? Heroes (eg. ‘Indiana Jones of safety’), male egos, graphs, numerics and that front cover (OMG! Talk about shameless self-promotion).

The best way to subvert the image of Masculinism (or Behaviourism) is to not be identified with it, or subvert it and certainly, not to speak its language. Perhaps that is why women stay away from safety in droves, to the detriment of the industry.

The same ideological dynamic is evident in the way the industry shuns anything to do with Social Psychology or anything it may ‘learn’ from it.

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