The DancePosted: April 7, 2013
Whenever I start working with somebody new – which is often because of both this line of work and being an apprentice – I notice the same pattern of sussing out “who – excactly – ARE you?” happening through conversation and non-verbal cues.
Some of the directly verbal questions that almost always come out are:
– What did you do before you decided to become an electrician?
– How old are you?
– Are you married? / How many kids do you have?
– Where did you grow up? / Where are you from?
– Where do you live?
– So…what made you decide to be an electrician?
– What does your partner/husband/significant other do?
Can you imagine asking some of these questions in such a point-blank manner to a fellow office worker? It wouldn’t fly. No way. It might even be illegal. Being in the trades is a people-centered career. It’s imperative to know who exactly you’re working with – and to have good rapport with these people – because at times, you’re literally watching over each others’ safety.
I’ve caught my table mates checking out the contents of my lunch. If I buy lunch from the food carts too often, a comment or ribbing about lack of money management might surface. However, healthful non-processed foods might indicate a more liberal outlook on life. Comments about lunches and what they might mean have boomeranged back to me as innocuous or conversational tidbits: it reminds me how humans observe, assess and then judge even if we don’t realize it. Especially without realizing it!
I get the impression my fellow electricians are more interested in knowing:
– How settled am I?
Am I taking a job away from a “family man”? Yes, somebody actually told me this: that I took a job away from a man who needs to support his family. I just smiled and said, “Times are changing and I hope you jump on board. Apparently, the ‘man’ I ‘took this job away from’ couldn’t make it into the top 15% of applicants like I did. Talk to our union business manager if you’re unhappy about it. I’m not here to prove anything; just to simply support my own family.”
– How liberal or conservative am I?
If I live in the city and not in some far-flung rural area, I’m probably more liberal.
– Could I be (gasp!) gay?!?!
If I mention I have a husband, they seem to visibly relax. Women, specifically, seem to undergo a special scrutiny of, “Are you a lesbian or not?” In the trades, butch women are probably more tolerated than effeminate men; but this is a flimsy thing to celebrate. It’s ridiculous. I’ve experienced at least three journeymen do the following:
– Inform me in hushed tones: “She’s a total dyke! At first glance, can’t even tell if she’s a man or a woman!”
– Go on long, hateful rants about how they think gay people shouldn’t have “special privileges” such as the right to marry one another.
– Chuckle or over-apologize (or even test my reaction) when referring to a pair of side-cutters as “dykes”.
It’s not just being gay, though. Women receive a double-scrutiny because if there’s any perception she’s promiscuous, the whispering and speculating and judging is even worse. One specifically narrowminded journeyman I worked with defended his ignorant and hateful opinions by declaring,”Stereotypes exist for a reason!” I’ve been mulling over this statement because I catch myself making judgements and coming to my own conclusions based on these same nuggets of conversation and observation/assessment. My goal as an apprentice is to learn as much as I can and get my hands on as many different types of electrical work as I can. It’s hard when personalities get in the way – isn’t this true in any group work setting? I’m trying to keep an open mind and take my judgemental reactions in stride. But I’d be lying if I said the city/country, rednecked/cultured differences make me wary. One of the questions I’ve added to my own standard list when trying to find out who – exactly – I’m working with is, “Do you have any sisters or daughters?” Because we, as a society, can see that simply having a mother isn’t enough for some men to understand how to work alongside women in a calm, as-equals manner.