I am trying to write a bit more about work things. Usually I don’t write too much about it because sawmill work doesn’t really seem that interesting. But I have been realizing more and more that I am truly in a rather unique situation right now at the mill. Since the beginning of September, I have been the only female under the age of forty working in the entire plant. For a while I was on a shift that had one or two other ladies on it. I think it was actually a bit of a coincidence that three of the like five women working production were on the same shift. Now that I am not on that shift I am always the only woman on my crew. Sometimes I am the only woman on site.
Over the last eight or so years I have worked on and off in this extremely male dominated job. I have also played pick up basketball on and off with a group of guys in town for quite a few years. At basketball I am also almost always the only girl. Over time, I have started to notice patterns in the way that I am treated in these environments. As I have become more self-aware and self-confident I have become increasingly annoyed with what I feel like is dismissive or preferential treatment. I see the way men interact with each other and then I see the ways that they interact with me. I have begun to notice more and more that there are specific ways that men seem to interact with me in these places. I have been able to define categories. Nearly all of my interactions with men at work or at basketball fall into one of these categories. I cannot say that I am treated this way because I am a woman. That would assume that I knew what was going on in other people’s heads and understood their motives from their point of view. All I can say is that I am a female in male dominated environments and I am consistently treated in these ways and they are different from the ways I see men interacting with other men. Sometimes it makes me angry that I am treated these ways. Mostly I just feel like I always need to be working to overcome these perceptions of me and get to the point where I am treated normally. The longer I know a guy at work or at basketball, the more likely he is to treat me normally. Depending on which category he falls into on our initial meeting, I will have to react in different ways to try and push our interactions into the normal category.
The “She’s Made of Glass” Guy
At work it takes the form of repeated and unrelenting help. Usually a guy who I have never seen help a fellow man, but who will drop everything if I so much as have a single board out of place. It’s like he has a special radar. As soon as I pick up a pike pole to fix something, there he is to fix it for me. I don’t want to be ungrateful here, I appreciate when people want to help me, but when a guy steps in every time something goes wrong and never lets me do anything for myself it starts to get on my nerves. It makes me feel like he thinks I am incompetent and unable to do my job. Whether or not that is what he is actually thinking I can’t say, I can only tell you how it makes me feel. At basketball it takes the form of apologizing every time he touches me. Any slight elbow or contact of any kind comes with profuse and gushing apologies. God forbid I should get knocked down. That is accompanied by even more apologies and repeated ‘are you sure you’re okay’s’. Sometimes he won’t even really play around me. It is like I have a forcefield around me and he will go out of his way not to get within a foot of me. Sometimes he will play easier defence against me or let me take easy shots, which is even worse than just avoiding me.
Every time I touch the ball I get a “good job” from this guy. Doesn’t matter how bad my shot was, he will tell me I did a great job and try to give me a high five. He doesn’t seem to notice or care that I don’t need or want his affirmation; he is insatiable. He seems convinced that I am insecure and deserve extra attention for being brave enough to try and play with boys. I get this one less at work, more when I was brand new or when I meet people for the first time. Usually takes the form of extra attention. Lots of questions and comments and extra reminders about job tasks and safety things. I never see him ask the new male employees those questions or remind them constantly about things.
This is a very common one unfortunately. At work this is when a man doesn’t think I know what I am doing or talking about and just dismisses me without giving me a chance. I am fully aware that sometimes these men dismiss other men, but I know it happens to me more often. An example: I was on basement cleanup and got a call about a conveyor that was down. I found the problem: a jam in the conveyor under the stacker. I went to the stacker operator to let him know he needed to shut down for five minutes so I could lock out and clear the jam. I got his attention and said, “Hi, so there is a jam in one of the trim block conveyors…” and before I could get anything else out he cut me off with “Call your supervisor if you need help.” Sometimes it also happens when I am at a job station and my machine breaks down. A tradesman will come to fix it, and instead of asking me what is broken, he will approach the closest man and ask them instead. I could give a lot more work examples, but I’ll leave it at that. At basketball, this is the guy who just straight up will not pass to me. I run up and down the court and never touch the ball unless of course I manage to get ahold of it myself. Then he expects me to pass it to him.
This is when he just sort of pretends I am not there. At basketball he doesn’t look at me and doesn’t pass to me. I straight up don’t exist. Or at least that is how it feels to me. I might as well just sit on the bench. At work it can be a few different things. Sometimes it is just that he straight up ignores me. Not out of anger or meanness (I don’t think) but he won’t make eye contact with me or speak a single word to me. One guy that I used to work with didn’t look or speak to me for at least three months when I came back with no explanation. The other way this manifests at work is when there are three of us in a group and he talks to the other guy about me while I am standing right there. For example, instead of saying to me “do you want to do this job?” he would turn to the other guy and say “she probably doesn’t want to do this, eh?” and sort of either expect him to give some sort of answer on my behalf or for me to overhear and butt in. This happens more than you might think.
I have been lucky in that this is pretty rare. I have only had a few truly awkward and uncomfortable encounters. Never at basketball, just at work. A few examples at work: a guy leaning in really close and saying, “tell me about your boyfriends”; a guy commenting on the size of my thighs; a guy who was training me on a machine standing directly behind me and watching me for an extended period of time; a guy standing really really close to me every time he talks to me.
So those are the initial categories. Every once in a while I meet a guy who treats me normally from the start. But believe it or not, that is really pretty rare. Usually though, situation dependent of course, I will eventually work my way out of these categories and into this one:
The Normal Person
This is the guy who just treats me like a normal person. He talks to me like he would normally talk to a person. At basketball he plays like I am just another player. If he can block me, he will. If he can take the ball from me, he will. If I am on his team and I am open, he will pass to me. Sometimes he might hit me or knock me over, he says a quick “are you okay?” and then keeps playing. At work he talks to me like I am a normal person. He interacts with me directly. He might offer to help me but he won’t take over or talk down to me. He makes jokes and has actual conversations with me. Sometimes he will sit back and not help while I am busy with a spilled load or a jammed unscrambler because it is not his job or problem. Sometimes he will help but because sometimes I help him when he has a mess to clean up and not because he thinks I need it.