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. Read the rest of this entry »


That’s MAN’S Work!

He said it. He said it this morning and my crew immediately went quiet and looked at me with mouths and eyes wide open. “It’s man’s work that we are doing.” We might as well have ripped a vinyl record out from under its needle. In a split second, I had to decide how (or whether) to respond to my foreman’s comment. Read the rest of this entry »

The Dance

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? Read the rest of this entry »

“The Talk”

Just because it’s the law doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Boys will be boys, right? (Wink, wink! Guffaw, guffaw!) In this male dominated world of skilled trades, I have mixed feelings about the sexual harassment training the IBEW foists upon its apprentices. As soon as the topic came up in our formal training, a tangible discomfort smothered the room. My class has four women and 22 men and all of a sudden, nobody was looking up or offering personal stories from the field. After some awkward silence, one guy shared experience from his military time: “Yeah, we had the one girl who was all loud. She was like one of the guys, ya know? And then she got a bad review, so right after that she made harassment charges and some of the guys got disciplined!”

Great. Thanks. What we’ve just learned through this guy’s tale (which was probably missing some facts) is that girls can twist the statute around into punitive measures, and that most allegations of sexual harassment are probably bogus or coming from somebody who is just “over-sensitive.” Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Never Overt, Is It?

I got mansplained all over the place last week. Willy Wonka, who has a unique blend of lineman and electrician talents, is also a bit of a buffoon. He’s got a crass and immature sense of humor. You can hear him bellowing in his gravelly, Michigan/Wisconsin-accented voice from just about anywhere on the job site. One of the first things he informed me when he was my main journeyman at a different job site was that I didn’t have to worry if I farted around him. He’d worked around diesel for so long that his sense of smell was fried. Then, he rambled on and on about whether that was an offensive thing to say or not. “Listen, ” he says through his thick glasses and walrused-out mustache. “I just tell it like it is, ok? Down’t be thinkin’ I’m sexist or nothin’. I’m an equal opportunity farter!” He never looks you in the eye when he talks to you. Thing is, Willy, has a huge heart so it’s not like he’s an instantly despicable person. He just… wears on everybody he works with. Because he’s so over the top, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his craftsmanship in the trade. Somebody once told me I would learn more from the difficult people than from the even-tempered ones. It’s true! Sometimes it’s in a “this is what NOT to do” context. I remind myself of this frequently on my current site – and I’m not even working directly with Willy! Read the rest of this entry »