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I finished reading the book entitled, Hard Hatted Women- Life on the Job. It was edited by Molly Martin. I would like to shout out to fellow electrician, Molly Martin. We are now connectetd on Facebook. She is an activist and a trailblazer and mentor for women in the trades. I appreciate the fellow women from all different walks of life who contributed to the enrichment of the book!! You got to hear short stories from women in the construction trades, truck drivers, police officers, fisherwomen (yeah, I made that one up), engineers, and women working on the farm. This book gives perspectives from all throughout the United States.
This book was published in 1988. Therefore, the women who collectively have written this book had shared stories for at least 40 years prior to the publishing date! It just goes to show you that there were some fearless women opening doors for young women today! They helped open the door for my presence and I appreciate it fully. I have almost 20 years in the union under my belt. I count my military experience, I am up to 23 years experience. I felt I had less pushback in the military than I did as a young apprentice in the civilian world. Then again, my military experience helped me as an apprentice first starting out in the union. Perhaps people felt that if I was strong enough to make it through military training, then I would get a pass to learn the business. I know my size and muscles did help me tremendously in the beginning. Men didn’t want to challenge me since there was a high chance they would get their ass beat in a fight or hurt badly at the very least.
It seemed like the women in this book all used different tactics in order to gain respect in the trade. Many strides have been made since women first started in non-traditional trades. Make no mistake about it, ALL WOMEN who step foot on a job are considered useless until proven otherwise. Women must make their reputation on the job one day at a time. Women must be smarter and know how to work before getting ANY KIND OF RESPECT. All it takes to ruin a reputation is sleeping with a guy on the job or being to open and free about your personal life. Ladies must keep their dating and personal life a secret!! That is the way it is and I doubt it will ever change! One piece of truth can be turned into a nasty rumor in no time. If you choose to become a friend with another female trade person, hopefully her work ethic matches your own. Men will lump your work ethic into her work ethic. I have heard countless times of guys talk about a female on the job who is only there to shop for a husband so she can have babies and eat bon-bons on the couch. I guess it makes sense to try to trash people you consider a threat to your livelihood.
One story that stuck out to me was a tin knocker woman who was doing work on a government building with a chair. She spoke about the heights and the dangers involved in that job. There were men afraid of working on that structure. She swallowed her fear and went out there every day and did her job. I was reading it while on the treadmill. I had a sense of pride for her that she mustered her strength and courage and didn’t give up!! I felt, in the reading, that the carpenter women had the most to prove by far!! They have to hump sheetrock and wood and there is just no light duty tasks at all (in case you beat up your body or get pregnant). It is hard enough for a man to do the job. Men could have an off day or week or month. Women carpenters must be ready to battle ALL CONDITIONS at all times. Any moment of weakness, then your value goes to zero. Try to never get injured on the job since there are no light duty tasks one could do while healing up. There is no time ever to be sick or weak (my opinion).
I know in the beginning, I used to shy away from women. Once I got a pass from the men as hard worker, I felt a sense that I could breathe and rest easier. I used to have a fear that a new woman coming on the job could be weak and her bad work habits could rub off on me. I felt that all my hard work to earn a great reputation could go out the door in seconds. I now know that the men didn’t want her there. Let’s use our token female worker bee on the job to scare her away since she could be more powerful than our influence. It is done on subconscious level rather than a conscious level. Since I wanted to remain a ‘part of the boy’s club’ I was willing to offer the silent treatment to the new girl. Meanwhile, I was being used by the boys to push their agenda than my own agenda. It took me awhile to learn to not feed into that nonsense. In my later years on the job, I learned to listen to my iPod not get sucked into rumors and gossip. That strategy ended up working for the best.
I would say the merchant sailor had the most mental stress to battle out of all of the stories. She contended with group of old school thinkers who felt she was there to merely clean up after them. This made it even more intense within close quarters. It seemed like it would take a long time before co-workers could ever see her as an equal. She may never live to see that kind of equality. I am starting to believe that women from foreign countries have more equality than American women. This is exactly why I want to read more foreign perspectives of women in non-traditional jobs. My next book to read was by a group of women plumbers from England. I can’t wait to read and share that book!
I appreciate the fact that some of the women use humor to their approach in dealing with difficult situations. One example comes from a female carpenter foreman:
Well, uh, er, we have had other girls work here before. (PUFF, PUFF on the cigar) And, uh, er, they just haven’t been able to handle the work.
(Translation) We don’t really want you broads here, but were being forced to hire you. The other women couldn’t take the abuse…will you?
One girl missed a lot of time, and another didn’t want to do the heavy work.
(Translation) Your period is no excuse..and you’re gonna get the shittiest, dirtiest jobs we’ve got. You’re gonna have to work twice as hard as the men if you want to stick around.
Known as the “Every woman” speech
I appreciated reading the humor that some of these women had in their heads while being told some song and dance by a male co-worker.
In a nutshell, any woman that has the courage to step foot onto a jobsite where she is considered useless as a first impreession. Few men could handle that type of behavior towards them much less women. It is tough to manage daily scrutiny from all trades on the job. As a foreman, you never have to babysit a female on the job. Just ask the nearby laborer on the job. He will offer play by play action of what she did all day. It makes no sense to try to come in late or leave early since everyone on the job is watching. You might as well not cut corners either since tht will get noticed too. It’s best to take your time and do the best work you can do. You must be known for doing the best work on the job. If you don’t, you will get blamed for the worst work on the job (even if you didn’t do it).
All these women in this book are made out of steel since you must be reslient at all times and check your emotions and hormones at the door. I was once told by an African-American co-worker that I now know what it feels like to be him for 7-8 hours a day. He said the good thing is that I get to take that suit off and put my snowflake suit on and go home. I can never say that I fully can share or know his experience but I definitely have empathy for his plight due to my experiences.
Overall, I enjoyed the book and the storiess are right on par with what I expected to read about. Despite the huge time span, I can say that not much has changed during that time frame. Men still do not want women on the job. A small group of men have resigned themselves to the fact that a few are going to attempt at it so they deal with it. There will always be the group who share the “barefoot and pregnant while chained to the stove” sentiment. You just yes those kinds of ‘boys’ to death. You watch them get into their car to go home and make their own wives miserable. Either that or their wives kick the shit out of them and their solution is to pick on the female co-worker. Usually razor-sharp wit and humorous charm sprinkled with hard work can win the toughest of personalities on the job over time.
After all, just be thankful you don’t have to go home with some of these guys; you just have to get through huge chunks of your life on the job daily. I forgot to mention, instead of being 1 courageous woman on the job, there are now 3 courageous women on the job. The way the men speak, at this rate all jobs will be run by and worked on by all women. Not going to happen in my lifetime. I know guys like a female presence since they can use her to get better accommodations on the job. I have rambled on enough about this book and my experiences. I am glad to read about the struggles these other women faced. It makes my own struggles seem not so bad. I am grateful to only have dealt with a few major issues over the span of my career.
So pick up a copy of Hard Hatted Women on Amazon. Enjoy the rest of your day now that you have read my long ass winded book review!!
Leslie M Jasper