html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: We don't brag about it, but sometimes it comes up.

Monday, July 30, 2007

We don't brag about it, but sometimes it comes up.

Over at Obsidian Wings, Hilzoy wrote in the comments:
And the thing is: this sort of story isn't just obnoxious in the obvious way. It's also about seeing someone who is doing normal professional stuff through the lens of her cleavage. -- My sister used to have a job that involved supervising construction sites. She thought that was really cool, since she loves construction sites. The very first time she ever got to go out to one of the sites she was supposed to be supervising, she was really excited, and really psyched to do a great job. And the first thing that happened was that the guy in charge made a pass at her. And it was bad not just because strangers making passes at you is always obnoxious, but because at this moment when she was really psyched to do a really good job, it was as though he had walked up to her and said: you might see yourself as a professional; I see you as genitalia prancing around in a hard hat. -- Which is a different sort of insult entirely.

Posted by: hilzoy | July 29, 2007 at 06:06 PM

Hey! My sister worked on construction sites too! My sister told me about her first ever business meeting as an industrial engineer. She had just been hired on with an engineering firm, and they took her to her first business meeting at the P*rt of Oakland. As the consultants, they got to the meeting early and set up in a super intimidating conference room with the big table and lots of steel and glass. All my sister wanted to do was listen so she would understand her new projects. A couple managers from the Port show up; everyone passes out business cards. It is still early, and one of the managers starts looking at my sister and looking at her card. (From her first ever stack of business cards.) He's looking over at my sister and she's getting nervous, 'cause she doesn't know if this is how all business meetings go. She's the only woman in the room. Finally, he asks her. "Were you an actress?" Now she has no idea where this is going. Is he saying that she doesn't look like an engineer? Why would an actress be at a meeting at the P*rt of Oakland? Was the client going to ask her out? What does she do if the client asks her out in front of her new boss in her first ever business meeting? "No", she says. "Why?" "Your last name," he said. "There's four or five actors who play Ronald MacDonald in the TV commercials. One of them has your last name." Oh. My sister denied that she was transitioning from her lucrative career as a Ronald MacDonald into industrial engineering and then the meeting started.

I called my sister to ask her if I could tell that story. She said "sure, but I have better ones." She worked onsite at the P*rt of Oakland for a while, walking past the guys every day. One guy's job was to count the number of blows the pile driver had applied to the pile. You know, those giant steel rods getting driven into bedrock, shaking the ground for blocks around. Takes 63 blows to drive a pile deep enough and he counted them for hours a day. My sister's walking by the pile driver counter and he says "Hey! My friend has a crush on you. He thinks you're cute." "Your friend? What friend?" And the counter-guy points way out to the water and my sister sees this teeny-tiny centimeter big guy, all covered in soot and getting shook to pieces. His job was to hang in a harness next to the pile and make sure that the pile driver didn't get caught in the rabbit, which my sister says is a U-shaped cup around the top of the pile, keeping vertical. My sister laughs just to think of it. He was so far away! How could he possibly have an opinion about her? She says the guys on a site can sense women at any distance. She told the pile driver counter-guy to say thanks, and the pile driver counter-guy said "I think you're cute too."


ADDED LATER: I didn't mean for this post to protest against harassment at work. I was contrasting Hilzoy's sister's first day on the job to my sister's, where the attention went off in such an unexpected direction and wasn't gender-based after all. See?

But then I wondered why my sister and I don't get hit on/harassed much, despite working on construction sites or ag fields. Don't know about my sister, but I'm pretty sure I switch to friendly, one-of-the-guys mode, which I must have picked up in my long, long history of being the only girl in the room. Math/science school, when my Asian girlfriends weren't allowed to stay late or go out? Me and the guys. Martial arts, lots of nights when I was the only girl there. Engineering school at CalPoly, only girl in a couple classes. Not often, but sometimes I'd get to pick-up Ultimate and be the only woman for a while. I remember a conversation on Unfogged when women commenters were saying they got very slightly revved and nervous alone with several men, and I remember thinking 'What? Only woman there is my natural state.' It is fun, with more moving about and knocking people around and trashtalking. I love groups of women and mixed groups too. But hanging out with only guys is great. I'm very grateful that it has never gone sour for me, at work or anywhere.

19 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've spent a lifetime denying both institutional and interpersonal sexism. I still don't buy the statistics that equal pay folks use. I also think some people are overly sensitive about issues of gender and sexuality.

But I cannot deny the legions of badly behaved men who either openly or only amongst the company of men are crude or sexist. Ugh. Everybody has an 'other' that they think it's okay to denigrate; for some, it's women.

Both sides have taken the fun and playfulness out of what should be fun (men/women in a workplace).
-K.

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I might slip on the hairshirt one more time and say that guys like me who sit quietly as crude behavior goes on around us are part of the problem. -K.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Dizzy said...

Something that really bothers me is when guys seem to think a girl who gets a lot of sexual attention is being "rewarded" and "lucky." Like, who cares if some guy thinks you're cute and tells you so? In a work setting, it's just a horribly awkward moment and the fallout can be so bad. But so often I've heard guys say things like, "Everyone at work is drooling over her tits so she's got no problems..." Ick.

8:19 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I didn't mean to make this all serious, y'all. We can, if you have to, but I meant for both episodes to be funny. 'Cause, like, she thought she was about to have to negotiate a sexist remark, but instead got compared to a cartoon clown? Get it?

I haven't worked in construction, but I've spent days in the fields with laborers and not had a problem. Nearly always, things go well, and we just do our jobs as industrial or agricultural engineers. Rarely, there's shit to deal with, but that isn't the most of it.

8:41 PM  
Blogger billo said...

Maybe I didn't get the context, but I don't see how being compared to a cartoon clown is "funny".

11:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, Megan. Guilty conscience.
-K.

6:52 AM  
Anonymous Peter said...

Not that this behavior of construction workers is anything new. Women were greeted with whistles and catcalls whenever they passed the construction site of the Great Pyramid.

Also, why "P*rt?"

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ronald McDonald isn't a cartoon. It's an actor in a clown suit.

And, it's funny, because the guy was probably seriously asking.

Justin

10:52 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

WOOO-HOOO! Justin thought something I wrote was funny!

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, but it was someone else's story. So, all you did was type up what your sister told you.

You should write your own funny stories, in your own words. Geeze.

Justin

11:59 AM  
Blogger billo said...

Ronald Mcdonald: an actor?? Get away! Next you'll be saying they really did land on the moon!

1:05 PM  
Blogger Dubin said...

Yeh, Megan, why don't you tell us any funny stories in your own words? Justin and I were just wondering...

1:13 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I guess my sister is the funny one. I have no excuse.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Dizzy said...

Actually, I think construction workers and laborers are less likely to make sex a big thing. They may try to psych you out with it, "Whatever the little lady wants..." or pay some awkward compliment, "I have to do it when someone as purty as you asks..." but there isn't the, "I can get you vouchers for the cafeteria..." thing while they ogle your chest that you get in a more middle class setting.

But I noticed, too, that more powerful women won't get either. It's when you're new, so no one knows you or will stick up for you yet, and when they're trying to get the upper hand. The cliche is, "It's not about sex..." and it's true. Angelina Jolie could wear a bikini to work on a construction zone, and if she has the power in the situation, no one will say a word.

5:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And there Megan, speaking 40-something bloke to younger woman, is why you have trouble finding the man of your life, in a nutshell.

Part of the problem, to be fair, is someone as smart as you, and as talented, is going to frighten the heck out of a lot of men-- men like women who are dumber than they are, and who don't show them up. You could show most of us up by, showing up, and breathing.

Take it though from the other side, from the guy who could befriend any woman, who could meet her and be discussing her mother's death from cancer, or her shite boss, within 5 minutes, or the role of women in the Chinese workplace.

Friendship is the death of romance.

You need to have that mystery, that aura, that thing that says 'we, might wind up in bed, but you're going to have to work for it'.

I always despised this idea, that this was how I was going to have to play the game. But it works on women. And it works on men. Not quite The Rules, but you *have* to have that mystery, that allure that says: 'you might get in my knickers, but it won't be that easy'.

Allure. Feminine wiles. If you have big breasts (you do, I gather) that dress that says "I have big breasts, but you don't get a peak".

Within I would say 6 months of working this out (in my late 30s), I had found the woman who became in very short succession my lover, my flatmate, my best friend, and my wife.

"Seduction is a game in which a man chases a woman, until she catches him".

7:12 AM  
Blogger Spungen said...

Don't know about my sister, but I'm pretty sure I switch to friendly, one-of-the-guys mode, which I must have picked up in my long, long history of being the only girl in the room.

Hmmm. I think that made things worse for me, not better. Because guys want sex, easy sex, and if you think like a guy you should understand that, right? They feel like they don't have to bother with any of the niceties or good behavior they waste on the real girls.

But so often I've heard guys say things like, "Everyone at work is drooling over her tits so she's got no problems..."

Yeah, the dry cleaning bills alone are outrageous.

11:24 PM  
Blogger Spungen said...

Megan, do you really think sexual harassment is something that can be ended by a woman acting friendly or like one of the guys? You do see where women who've been harassed could possibly find that suggestion offensive ...?

I think the situations you described where you were alone with men just aren't the type of situations in which harassment would tend to happen, regardless of the ratio.

I remember when I was the only woman in a scuba license class, guys seemed happy to have me around because I lowered the bar. When the waves were too high, for example, I would be the first to chicken out, and then no guy had to feel less manly for agreeing.

But I don't like it when I'm in a courtroom, or a deposition, or anything involving money, and am the only woman there. Very different.

11:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because guys want sex, easy sex, and if you think like a guy you should understand that, right?

I understood you to be quoting the attitude you attribute to them, right? Cause I find that men are way more complicated than that, and want very many things, easy sex among them. Women, I find, are exactly the same. But I don't run into the situation where I am mistreated for being friendly one-of-the-guys when I wouldn't be if I acted in some other fashion.

For the same reason, I disagreed with everything in the comment from A7:12. Men aren't homogenous; acting in any particular manner won't guarantee an outcome with any one of them and I am especially not interested in acting in a manner that dovetails with stereotypes that confine women and men.

But I don't like it when I'm in a courtroom, or a deposition, or anything involving money, and am the only woman there. Very different.

I don't like it anywhere, and I think it is incumbent on everyone to cut that crap out, not on the woman to act friendly or something. But I don't run into blatant stuff often, on fields or in my work. (Got more of it in grad school than I have since.)

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Nathan Zook said...

Funny how many anonymous cowards suddenly showed up...

Megan, I had exactly the same thoughts that the 7:12 guy started with. "One of the guys" is NOT a lover, let alone a wife. I say this as a sucker for the strong woman type. As a man who has constantly been in 85-95% male work environments, I can honestly say that there is a direct, negative coorelation between the professional respect that I have for individual women at work and ease with which I can call up their sex. Keep that switch on outside of work, and men are likely to continue to see you as "one of the guys".

As for the Rules? Well, unless a guy knows he is after kids, there is hardly a reason for him to marry if he's already getting what he wants, now is there?

BTW, what martial art do/did you do? I'm finally back in Hakko Ryu Jujustu after a nineteen year hiatus.

7:03 AM  

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