Young Lady

The words we use with each other matter. Yet sarcasm and jokes and silliness are a dominant flavor in the way me and my crew communicate. This morning, while in the prep-shop, a foreman from a different crew came in. His head was down, his brow was puckered and he was leafing through a stack of blueprints on the other side of the room. Rather than interrupting him, I continued cutting my pieces of conduit. Once he found what he was looking for on the prints, he greeted me with, “Aaaaaaand how are we this morning, young lady?” Jokingly, I replied, “I’m neither young nor a lady!” He scowled, and I could safely guess he was unaware of the condescending tone in his voice and the patronizing nature of the words he used.

My response had upset him. He sputtered, “Well, aren’t you younger than me? You ARE of the opposite gender, and I was treating you as such! I’m just trying to say good morning and here you are arguing.” It was obvious to me he had deeper personal stresses affecting him this morning. Sure, he was just trying to greet me: I can see this. So, I took an audible breath in and said, “Let’s re-set. Good morning, my friend. How was your long weekend?” He seemed to relax a step yet we weren’t able to chat much. I was done with the bandsaw and wanted to return to my work.

Later, a different electrician informed me that his whole crew heard I had chewed out and/or bitten off the head of the foreman that morning. I repainted the exchange of greetings for him and we all started laughing. I suggested we need to have a group hug and a trust fall because look at me: I’m 41 years old and I’d been working outside in 90+ degree heat. I smelled and I was dirty and goddammit, I was carrying my own weight of the work assigned that morning. We could all laugh and agree that in the context of work, I am neither young, nor a lady – just a sarcastic electrician trying to get her work done.

In processing the exchange of greetings, I see that he was simply trying to connect. And something in my smart-ass response (which was calling him out on his word choice) disoriented him. It’s difficult to explain to this white man why a phrase like “young lady” is microaggressive. There’s no “how would you like it if….” scenario that can be handed to him because he most likely has not had to prove himself week after week over the course of his career. When he applied for the apprenticeship, he probably had an interview panel who were also middle aged white men.

It surprises me how strong this notion of “man’s work” still is in the year of 2014. And this morning has shown me that some men are so threatened by women doing “their” work, they unconsciously throw us into a more diminuitive pigeon hole.

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