Friday, 4 June 2010

Women in construction and the construction of women

I have been working in the construction industry for the last 3 years but I have started doing other stuff so I thought I'd tell you a little story about what may be one of my last experiences in the industry.

Picture the scene: I was driving my truck down into Weymouth from the Wareham coast road side. In front of me I could see the colourful tower on the esplanade with the hill of Portland behind and the sea, flat calm and glittering in the sunshine to the left. The lane I wanted was blocked due to road works so I pulled out into the right hand lane and moved slowly past the roadworks along with all the other traffic. In the roadworks a tarmac tipper lorry was parked up with its back tipped and perched above a hole in the road but still closed. As I drove past at a snail's pace I noticed that the driver was a woman. I stopped my truck, she turned to me and we shared a smile. Then I drove off and we both continued with our day.

It may be that she thought that the quickest way to get rid of me was to smile at me. It may be that she smiles at everybody. However, I have always found that women working in the construction industry have made a conscious choice to go against the grain, to do something all day every day that it is not expected for them to do. I think that a recognition of that shared experience was in that smile.

I have discussed my own reasons for doing the job in a previous post and I didn't speak to this woman to ask her why she does it. However, a lot of people looking from the outside think that women working in construction and other masculine roles are themselves masculine which is why they feel more at home there but in some ways the opposite is true. If you, as a woman, are surrounded all day by men doing manly things like lifting and digging and building things, you actually feel more like a woman. Your gender identity is less challenged - it is obvious that you are a woman, because all the others are blokes.

5 comments:

  1. hi jenny, i'm reading, i had actually forgotten so thanks for the reminder!

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  2. you don't find that your female masculinity is more brought to the forefront rather than your femininity?

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  3. It's an interesting point ButchBoi. I would agree with you that by actually doing the job, driving the lorry, lifting the stuff yes, it is my female masculinity that is brought to the forefront. But by being the only woman in a group of men, it is my femaleness rather than my femininity that is brought into focus. Sometimes that leads to my femininity coming out more, sometimes it doesn't.

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  4. A long time ago, I was travelling in the former Soviet Union. I remember being really shocked by female construction workers (digging and tarmacking the roads). These women were true Babushkas - stripped to the waist, wearing full support bras and toiling away in the Moscow summer.

    In a way what shocked me, was their lack of inhibition; they were only interested in getting the job done, not who saw them or how they were perceived.

    It seems to me that so much of our sexuality in the West, is determined by clothes and make-up - lipstick, high-heels, mascara - that we women find it almost hard to be sexual beings just as we are.

    I wonder if being in a 'man's world' allows you to be a woman without pressure. There is no judgement or competition - no beauty best buys or fashion must haves. Just a job that needs to be done and a woman who wants to do it?

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  5. There are a lot of issues in that Mela!:
    Throughout history once the basic issues of food, shelter and clothing have been taken care of, one of the first things that societies choose to spend their money on is adornments so I don't think that's a totally modern Western thing. What each society considers to be sexually attractive changes over time but the desire to attract the best mate doesn't.

    My own experience is that when I first started, I felt I had to prove myself before I could be me at all. I was a worker first and foremost and a woman second. I have always made a point of not responding when any of the builders flirt with me until I know them well enough and know that they respect me to do my job first. I think if I turned up at work with make-up on, people would think that I was only in the job to attract men and would have less respect for me.

    Having said that, I have long blonde curly hair and I always wear it as loose as the job allows! Wearing full corporate uniform, it is the only thing I have any choice over and it is what I have to do to maintain my femininity in my own eyes.

    I don't know if I have responded to your comments or not, or if I am contradicting myself but I am enjoying getting comments so I can work out what I think!

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