*This was one of the 3 blogs I wrote in December and never got around to posting. I’m calling this “prologue” cause there’s a second part of the story, kind of a continuation from the drama and what’s transpired since my last shift before Christmas. I’ll have that one up tonight I hope*
Remember back to your days at elementary school. Everyone’s favourite day was when PhysEd class was on. Playing dodgeball or soccer or skipping. Running around and burning off steam with your classmates. A time when we’re carefree and invincible. But it was always nerve-wracking waiting to be picked for a team. Dreading being the last one standing and being unwanted by either team. And when you’re actually the last one picked, it’s awful. Maybe it’s because you’re too slow and the game involves running. Maybe it’s because you’re too weak, and the game involves strength and endurance. Regardless of why you’re last to be called, it fucking sucks. That’s how I’ve felt the last few weeks of work.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again I’m sure; being a woman in trades is hard. Every new job is like being the new kid in school all over again, knowing you’ll be the last one picked for the game. No one to eat lunch with until the crew warms up and gets used to you. No one who knows you and your capabilities or experience who can vouch for you in the beginning. Surrounded by people but super lonely and isolated. Being new at any job feels like this actually, but being the new girl on site is a cross between being the last kid picked for soccer-baseball in grade 6 and having a bloody, gaping wound in a pool of piranhas. You know you’re instantly being sized up, and for the most part people will quickly scan over you, deem you decent and carry on about their days. Many will give you lingering looks because as soon as you’re on a work site, it’s clear no one has seen a woman in what must be decades and you’re obviously there looking for a mate. Some will openly glare and leave no room for doubt about the fact that you don’t belong in their eyes and they would rather be a player short than have you on the team. Once you’re aware of this, it’s pretty easy to just ignore the attention and keep your head up and eyes forward. You kind of wait it out and see who is going to be cool and build a work friendship, who is gonna hate you no matter what happens, and who could swing either way. Most of the time there are enough good peoples that you don’t really care about the few who are anti modern women. These become your lifeline and make work easier and more fun, and let you do the job you were trained for with no drama and no bullshit. If you’re fortunate enough, there are other women in trades and you band together, even if you don’t speak, out of mutual respect and empathy for the often frustrating integration into a new environment. It’s nice to see your “sisters” (as my wicked shipyard ladies put it) out in the battlefield with you, and to know you’re not the only female around. 9 times out of 10 it’s a pretty easy transition into the new job, you get used to your new crew and they you, and life goes on until the job ends or you take your leave. Today’s post is not about that preferable situation.
I was super stoked about the new gig because for the first time in years, I’m working with a bunch of other millwrights. No longer am I one of 2 or 3, and have to constantly answer questions about what my trade does. It’s wicked to be surrounded by so many other people who have the same ticket as I do, who have lots of experience for me to draw from and learn from, and to have a real crew. My foreman was awesome right off the bat, my GF was solid, and most of the crew who I briefly met were decent. So day one, as always, starts with the guys I was paired with making typical comments/jokes about being a woman. Quick list of literally the same shit I hear every job I go to, and any of my fellow women in trades reading this will guaranteed hear the same things too:
- “Those don’t look like millwright nails”; please insert welder/pipefitter/electrician/crane operator/rigger/iron worker/literally any job that guys do which apparently come with a prerequisite for shitty nails. I guess all our hands are supposed to look the same? And god forbid I take care of my hands and wear gloves at work. And I actually wasn’t aware that each job had a standard appearance that I’ve personally defiled. Oops.
- Any comment about needing a purse instead of a tool bag. Come off it lol, we can call them “murses” if that makes you feel any better. Also not super creative, yet every dude thinks he’s hilarious when making this same old, tired ass comment.
- “You don’t look like a millwright.” Again, insert any and all trades or male dominated career choices. I’m still missing the memo on what we’re supposed to look like in general…
- “Why did you decide to go into a trade?” The first question I ask guys I’m working with isn’t why they decided to take industrial mechanic instead of something else, but everyone is always curious about why I did.
- “They make steel toes that small?” As if women are doll sized and therefore our PPE are novelty items.
- “Let me get that, you’re not strong enough.” I could rant about this alone for mega but I’ll leave it alone for now. Cause I’m weak.
- “Have you done any of this before?” Nah dude, I actually quit my job as a research analyst for the New York Times yesterday and thought this would be a fun change of pace for a day. Derp. Granted, things are different at every job, and also our trade is so broad that chances of doing everything we learn in school are zero to none, it gets a bit old when I’ve already stated that I have 2 years experience doing this exact task. If I haven’t done something I say so. So if I haven’t said so, where does that leave us?
There are a ton that I’m missing I’m sure, but these are the standard questions and comments I get everywhere. And it’s super super super fucking annoying to be treated like a first year apprentice when I have 6+ years in my trade, as well as my red seal and it’s known. I get that a lot too. It’s assumed that I have no idea what I’m doing, my opinions don’t count for shit, and I know nothing about anything. I can handle it to a certain degree, but seriously all the prejudice gets really old. And I’m quite sure that even the 1st year apprentices of the male persuasion don’t get half the ridiculous questioning and coddling women do. It’s frustrating because even though women in trades isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s still treated as though we just started getting into the industry. I’ve spoken to so many ladies over the years who suffer the same treatment and uphill battle of proving their relevance and capability in the blue collar working world. We build up thick skins, learn to give as good as we take, ignore the hard days and are thankful for the good ones.
This last shift was one of the hardest ones I can remember in over 10 years of working in male dominated jobs. I’m usually good about the stupid comments. You honestly do get use to them and can laugh them off because the guys who make them sound like idiots, not us. I can usually be less than concerned if someone doesn’t want to work with me based on my gender. I don’t want to be around anyone who doesn’t want to be around me and I don’t lose sleep over it. But out of the 5 different crews I worked with in my 2 shifts, I had one group who didn’t make any comments out of turn. Who literally couldn’t have cared less that I’m a woman, and who didn’t have preconceived notions about my abilities. That’s not to say that all the guys I worked with were sexist. It’s just not commonplace for them to work with women I guess (even though there’s actually another woman on my crew, and from what I understand she was a foreman on their last gig so they’ve worked under her), and I really don’t mind most of the jokes. But I found out that two of the other shift’s foremen have a huge issue with women in trades, and have been going behind my back to try and make me look like a useless twat. I don’t take kindly to being set up for failure and I have no patience for fake people. It really bothered me that there are men who get to dictate my daily tasks putting me with guys who have been known to dislike working with women. My direct foreman has even less patience for that kind of shit than I do, so he’s been one of my saving graces. There was one individual in particular that I kept getting stuck with, who made stupid comments more than necessary. He also made super inappropriate comments, and for anyone who knows me, I’m really hard to offend so you can imagine just what kind of stuff he was spouting out. I talked to my GF and won’t be working with that gentleman any more thankfully, but it’s still so insane to me that there are guys out there who don’t think women can or should do the same job as them. When I’m not allowed to carry tools (they’re too heavy obviously), or have any of my opinions taken into consideration for the job we’re doing (even though it’s a job I’ve done countless times and we wind up having to do what I suggest after several failed attempts their way), or when I pretty much spend my 10 hour shift frozen because I’m a glorified lawn ornament, I get fed up. This is why I like the supervision who actually notice who works well and with whom. Makes such a difference when you like and are liked by the people you spend 70 hours a week with, and when you can enjoy whatever job you’re doing and actually get to work.
So I was super drained from the first shift being stuck with the douchebag, and trying to fit into a new job and new site and new crew. Geoff and I want to buy property and build a house in the next couple years, and I was just laid off for 8 months so I really do need this job. It’s slim pickings for employment right now and I figured I could handle the shifts if I kept reminding myself that it’s only temporary. It’s working towards the greater good. I went back for shift number two, Geoff started up there as well so things were looking up. Same stupid comments from different people on round two. But even the guys I don’t mind working with who seemingly don’t mind working with me say some questionable things so by day 10 I’m getting antsy to go home. I shouldn’t be referred to as “helper” when I’ve got the same ticket and same job assignment. I shouldn’t even have to participate in a conversation about “how are you going to learn anything if no one lets you get your hands on the tools” when I’ve told you several times that I just left a job doing literally everything we do on this site, but by myself because I worked alone so it’s not a matter of learning anything. I just want to do my job, which coincidentally is the same damned job as the other 40 millwrights with our company. I just really don’t think I should have to constantly defend myself based on the fact that I’m not a man. I don’t like having to feel ashamed of choosing the career I did, because it’s so much harder when you’re the wrong gender. It’s exhausting maintaining a wall to keep from freaking out or breaking down, having to work twice as hard to prove I’m qualified for my position. And then knowing that any little mistake I make is magnified because “that’s why we don’t hire women.” We’re not held to the same standard as men, and it shouldn’t be this hard to just do my job. It shouldn’t be a constant battle to do my job. When I texted Mama to vent about it all, I actually cried partway through writing. I’m just so tired. Her response was that she’s sad and angry for me, and she asked why do I have to fight just to do my job. Valid question.
So after that shitty day, I was in the smoke pit the following afternoon. There’s a cranky old twat on the other shift who literally complains and whines about any and everything. He is miserable and no one likes to be around him because he’s actually horrid. So of course he comes over to chat as always (it’s always a rant about something, or the rare times he seems to be happy enough and talks about boring golf). That particular chat was about how women should know their place. Basically he spent 10 mins dictating to me what a woman’s role and job is, and that cooking/cleaning/dishes/changing the tv channel/making coffee without being told/mowing the lawn/shovelling the snow is pretty much what we’re here for. He dead serious thinks that the only reason you get married is to have someone to cook and clean for you. He asked if I was learning anything, and I said that I have never been more grateful for Geoff in my life. I said I don’t mind cooking or cleaning or any of the rest of it, but it sure as fuck isn’t my job. That’s when he told me I was wrong. That I’m just an apprentice and that women like me are basically what’s wrong with the world. That we went and ruined a good thing and women don’t know their place any more. I was so stunned. The fact that it’s 2016, almost 2017 and this mentality exists baffles me. One of the guys who was outside listening to Donald Trump Jr’s rant actually had to walk away. He doesn’t like him to begin with, and he couldn’t believe the things coming out of his mouth. When I told Geoff what happened he wanted to go find buddy. Buddy kept referring to his sister-in-law as “the stupid bitch” who ruined his life by teaching his wife that she doesn’t need to cater to his every whim. Hates her for her feminism and was rattled that she convinced his wife not to get up and change the tv channel for him or have coffee ready and waiting without being asked. And he has a daughter. That’s the scary part to me. Some poor girl was raised to believe that her only purpose is to find a man and to jump at his every command. Fuck love, fuck happiness, you just find a man who’s stuck in the 1950’s and be the perfect wife. When I found out later that day they’re considering him as the new foreman I broke. If I have to take my orders from a man who honestly believes my only purpose is a dishwasher, my days would be even more miserable than they have been. When my foreman asked me about it and I told him that I shouldn’t have to spend my smoke break listening to some old greaser tell me what I’m doing is wrong, and trying to preach to me that women aren’t equals, the higher ups literally just took Donald Trump Jr aside and “spoke to him.” And their next action is to “speak to all the millwrights about inappropriate comments towards the females in our workplace.” My union rep asked if I wanted to lodge a formal complaint since buddy is still in the running for foreman, and clearly that little “talk” did nothing seeing as he spent his next break losing his shit about it in the lunchroom.
I’m kind of torn. Part of me is like “Yep, let’s do this because he’s just going to keep at it and it will only get worse” and the other part of me wishes I hadn’t even said a word because nothing is going to change. I just shouldn’t have to spend my work hours worrying about if the foremen who don’t like women are going to win and find a way to get rid of me, and then spend my breaks listening to a coworker belittle me and embarrass me with his misogynistic remarks. I know people can’t help how they feel and we’re all entitled to our opinions. But I shouldn’t have to listen to shit like that, and to be honest people should know better than to speak shit like that out loud in this day and age. Save that for outside of work when you’re with other pricks who agree. I was raised by a human rights lawyer, so I don’t tolerate racism, bigotry or sexism. I don’t like bullies, and that’s just another form of it in my opinion. I don’t think I will make a formal complaint because that’s basically putting the nails in my own coffin. Pathetic that we have to worry about backlash when it’s a matter of sticking up for ourselves in situations that shouldn’t even exist. I hear the other girl has been dealing with his shit for a long while now though, so the fiery part of me wants to see it through for her sake as much as mine. I spoke with my best friend Brit who is also a woman in trades. She’s a welder (and hawt af might I add) and she’s dealt with all the same typical comments in her time at shops. We kind of came to the conclusion that we can laugh it off when it’s guys we feel comfortable with, meaning those who don’t seem to have any malicious intent with their narrow minded commentary. It’s still not really acceptable but it’s ingrained in a lot of people’s mentalities and so long as they don’t mean to be hurtful it’s not worth the hassle of correcting or arguing opinions. But she’s dealt with some awful guys over the years, and it’s things that wouldn’t happen to men (ie asking if she wants to see their genitalia…seriously.) Gloves are on, backbone is strong again and most importantly I will not spend any more time feeling stupid for choosing the education I did because there are pathetic men who are intimidated by me making the same pay and doing the same job. I shouldn’t have to second guess myself and my choices solely because of a few men with small minds and huge insecurities.
I’m exhausted from writing this all out, time for snuggles with my amazing boyfriend. Who cooks as much as I do, shares the household chores without a second thought, who is proud of me as I am and wipes the tears away when the burdens get too heavy. Who is instinctively ready to fight my battles with me, and only wants to see me happy however that may come. All the Donald’s of the world make the Geoffs shine that much brighter.