Being back in construction, however peripherally, has been quite the flashback.
I’ve had a few years off from the constant swirl of male chauvinism, macho posturing, and the rivers of filth that pass for conversation on a job site, much less in a receiving bay. That also means that I’ve had a couple of years to get un-desensitized to the fact that being the girl on the job site means that I get to carry around a very thick skin and that I have to prove myself in a much different way than a new guy does.
At any rate, I’m back and I’m getting used to it all over again.
That also means that there’s a whole new group of guys to break in and train how to interact with a chick at work.
Guys just don’t know how to take me, especially in male-dominant environments like these. I’m clearly very feminine, with the painted fingernails and the sassy red bobbed hair and the sparkly diamonds on my left hand, and yet I’m running power equipment and scheduling jobs and talking to site inspectors like I know what I’m doing. It almost seems like I create a dysphoria in their minds between what I should look like and what I do look like.
Because, let’s face it, the women who take jobs in these industries usually fall toward the butch end of the spectrum in appearance… Even the straight ones. That’s a whole separate conversation; suffice to say, I get it.
Back to the “what I should look like” thing. I was walking out with one of my subcontractors yesterday. Halfway to his vehicle, he blurted out from behind me, “Why are you walking like that?”
Baffled, I stopped and turned toward him. We’ve been working together for close to a month now, and it really was a random fucking thing to say, so I was completely lost. Isaac said, “You’re not a girly-girl. Why are you walking like that?” And then he demonstrated by prancing a few steps down the aisle.
My eyebrow climbed into my hairline, and I steeled myself for the required reset.
“Isaac, you dumb son of a bitch. I walk like everyone else does, one fucking foot at a time. Why don’t you worry about steering that 15′ roll of carpet, and stop looking at my ass? Me being girly or not is not going to get that flooring done any faster.” And I turned back and walked off,
He came after me, stuttering, and apologized.
Here’s the thing. I know what happened. For the last three weeks, I’ve been the subject of all kinds of conversation. I’m the new girl; I’m an unknown quantity. Nobody knows if I know what I’m doing, if I can hack the job I have, if I’m going to be help or hindrance when it comes to getting shit done. Isaac has spent that time quizzing me at every chance about my background, trying to figure out what I know and how I know it. Because I have proven that I do, indeed, know my ass from a framing hammer, he had forgotten for a moment that I look and move and am, in fact, very feminine.
Until he suddenly got an eyeful, and the ensuing short-circuit in his brain just happened to fall out of his mouth.
I’m not angry at him. I wasn’t angry at the time. I just know how this game works. He says something rooted in typical male dumbassery; I slap him back into line. Life goes on. Isaac isn’t sexually harassing me. He’s just trying to make sense of my appearance in his world.
I’ve done this before. The best outcome is that they realize they’re acting like assholes and get over it. Sometimes they don’t; sometimes, the social conditioning and a lifetime in testosterone-soaked environs gets the better of them. Sometimes they just can’t interact with women as equals, regardless of what they look like. But usually, the fact that I know what I’m doing and do it well trumps my physical appearance.
The guys get used to me. Every once in a while, they’ll poke, trying to figure out how such a little princess came to be comfortable mixing Thinset and getting grout under her fingernails. But for the most part, I’m just one of the guys on the job, until one of them short-circuits again.
I think the most amusing part of the whole conversation, to me, was the “not a girly-girl” comment. Yeah, I was standing there in jeans and work boots and a safety vest. But the boots are FatBaby, and are black leather with a glitter overlay. The belt is my trusty black belt, rhinestone studded with a kitty-cat buckle. The pen sticking out of my pocket is pink with white polka-dots.
I really don’t know how much girlier I can be – but people rarely see what’s there before they see what they expect.
The guys will keep butching me up in their minds, and the job will get done.
And I will probably have lots more opportunities to be deeply amused at their asshattery before I move on to something else.