I’m not a tradesperson. However, I do work in a trade adjacent field, and I have extensive private experience with both building and renovating, so I’ve certainly run into the same kinds of chauvinism and archaic mindsets that women in the trades do. And really, there’s only one thing to say about it.
Women can build shit, people. Get the fuck over it already.
Of course, if I ended it after that one thing, this would be a very short, and not particularly entertaining, article. So let’s dive into some stories, shall we?
My primary job for the last gazillion years or so has been in home improvement retail. And hoo boy, do people not like to deal with women! Not all people, obviously. In fact, not most people. Most people are cool.
But then you get people like my personal favourite buddy who was parked smack dab in the middle of the lumber pad one afternoon, blocking anyone else from using the space, in a pickup truck that had never seen a day of work in its life. I guess I was the first person he saw, because he hollered across the parking lot at me, “Wanna get me a young fella to help me with this?” “This” was one of those monster tool boxes, which was sitting in the truck bed.
It’s not often I help a customer without saying a word. Friendly interaction is, after all, a job requirement. But this time I did, grabbing a cart and hauling one of the pieces onto it by myself before he even realized what I was doing.
At least he looked sheepish and had the decency to apologize. (Although his apology, in which he said that if I knew his daughters I’d understand why he thought women couldn’t do physical work, left a lot to be desired. I’m glad I didn’t break my vow of silence to ask him how much of his daughters’ helplessness was learned from his attitude towards women. I really didn’t need to get fired that day.)
No, most of the But-She’s-A-Girl! customers stay the course when their attitude blows up in their face. Fellow female co-workers and I are always exchanging stories about having customers refuse to deal with us, making us find a male co-worker to help them. We generally agree that it doesn’t much bother us, as not having to deal with assholes actually makes our jobs easier. We also agree that it’s hilarious to watch the customer’s head explode if the male co-worker we’ve fetched doesn’t know the answer and has to ask us. And we all think it’s awesome when the male co-worker deliberately plays dumb and repeats the customer’s questions to us and our answers to them, like some kind of chauvinist-to-woman interpreter.
Although the absolute best is when the customer simply leaves the store rather than deal with a female employee.
So that’s my professional experience. My personal experience is even more mindbogglingly eye-rolling. See, I love doing renovations. And not little ones, either. With Ron, I’ve gutted and redone several houses, and have built some wicked sheds and decks from scratch.
I specify ‘with Ron’ for a couple of reasons. One is, obviously, credit where credit’s due. He’s got a fantastic design sense, and extensive knowledge that he’s shared with me over the years, plus he works harder than any other human being I’ve ever met. He’s definitely the master to my padawan. But the second reason is, because we work together, most people who don’t know us assume it’s all him while I make him a sammich.
For example, we once built a shed that was so big and nice that some neighbours jokingly referred to it as our summer cottage. One of the main features was the roof. Ron had gotten a bunch of leftover shingles from a roofing friend – maybe half-a-dozen different colours, none of which were enough to roof an entire job. We used them to create a unique patchwork design.
When our hillbilly shed was all finished, the neighbour across the street came over to admire it. This neighbour, I must point out, often saw Ron and I working on the shed together. I even remember him and I having a hollered conversation across the street one day – him standing in his driveway and me on the shed roof – about being careful.
So, this neighbour was ooh-ing and aah-ing specifically about the roof. He complimented Ron on it and, being the awesome ally he is, Ron pointed out that the design had been mine. To which the neighbour said to me, “So you stood on the ground and told him which shingle to install next?”
Speaking of roofs, Ron once invited a neighbour in to tour his house, as a relative of hers had owned it when she was a child, and she was interested in seeing the work that had been done. She was blown away by the changes, and kept telling him what a good job he’d done. And Ron kept pointing out, over and over again, that we’d done the work together. Finally she gave me a condescending look and said, “The finishings do require a woman’s touch.” I thought Ron was going to choke to keep from laughing when I replied, “Yeah, we like the roof. It keeps the weather off.”
From the guy who laughed – literally, laughed out loud – the time he saw me using a nail gun, to the delivery driver who stopped short of actually patting me on the head while reassuring me that lots of women are doing their own renovations these days, to the realtor I worked with while buying my first investment property who insisted that I had to discuss every decision with my “husband” Ron first … it gets a little tiresome.
So I’d like to take this opportunity to tip my hat to every woman in the trades – both for leading the way in making inroads into a male-dominated industry, and for not strangling anybody in frustration while doing it.