Category Archives: Feminist

Quite the character

image

Dark hallway in a giant parking garage where I've been working some days... It's even colder than it looks

I finally got together with that other queer female apprentice working for my company; let’s call her Jacky, for the sake of the story.

Jacky is quite the character, as I expected… I mean, she’d have to be, considering that she’s taking on this new electrical career at twice the age of our most of our coworkers Turns out she’s turning 50 years old this summer. FIFTY. Wow. Prior to her apprenticeship, she was a computer geek for a couple decades, and then more recently, a bus driver on the local transit system. I actually remember her, I realize now, from when she’d do the campus routes and come into the cafe I worked at in the university book store. She wore shorts, even when it was cold outside.

We talked about so many things, and generally had similar feelings and thoughts about our jobs, our company, our coworkers, our trade. It was good, to have the chance to share.

Like me, Jacky frequently hears this reaction from strangers when they learn what her job is: “You’re an electrician? That must be so hard!” And they invariably mean the labour itself, thinking it’s difficult to carry and maneuver heavy objects… Or else the math and physics involved, in figuring out power arrangements and trouble-shooting circuits. I’m not gonna lie to you: My job does tire me out, physically, and the problem-solving can be wretchedly tricky.

But! But what few people seem to realize is what’s actually hardest about the job: The social aspect of the workplace. No matter what, Jacky and I are just so alien, both as women and as queers. It was such a relief to hear her try to describe this. Yes, I kept saying, I know, yes, exactly, exactly. It’s nothing we can’t deal with, get over, ignore, or whatever… But it’s still a big thing, to try to navigate social situations where we can’t even hope of fitting in. Of course, I think we’re both got such distinctive personalities that we’re hardly the type to try to fit in anyway!

I asked Jacky what her goals are, what she wants to do once she’s got her Journey status. Does she think she’ll go for foreman? She laughed at my questions. “You forget,” she said. “That it’s totally different for me… I’ve only got 15 years left, really, to your 35.”

Huh. I’d never thought of that: Thirty-five years to go. Of course, I doubt I’ll be able to afford retirement at age 65, but it’s still an interesting concept. (And what would “retirement” look like for a person like me, anyway? Wouldn’t I keep doing all the shit I already do, only more of it?)

So no, she doesn’t think she’d like to be foreman. Jacky’s hoping to simply have a good wage and good work. Which, really, is all I’ve ever wanted too, though maybe with a little bit of adventure thrown in to keep me going.

Right now, Jacky is working on the construction crew that is putting in a new warehouse building at the naval base. It’s steady work through to September, which is nice for the bank account, she says, but a bit hard on the sense of freedom. She’d prefer to have some variety and flexibility, because it’s more interesting, and would allow more time for her own projects as well as short trips away. I can totally relate: My schedule is often all over the place, and I rarely know where I’ll be working from one day to the next, and I love it.

I hope that we’ll eventually get to be on a crew together, Jacky and I… With our company having so many apprentices and so many projects, it’s not particularly likely to happen, but I like to think about it anyway. In the meanwhile, I’m simply glad to know she exists.

Advertisements

Model minority in math immersion

The entry-level trades program I did over a year ago was self-paced. This second level course isn’t. I thought I’d hate it, having to attend classes and do all the same work at the same time as my classmates. To my surprise, I really enjoyed the first couple weeks, because I grasped a lot of the concepts fairly quickly and so had very little homework. Then we hit circuit analysis, and suddenly I became the one student holding everyone back with my questions and confusion.

Fuck, I hate that… I already stick out as the only woman in the room, and having to ask for clarification from the teacher makes me super self-conscious. And yeah, I know I have a right to be here, and to ask questions, and to get frustrated just like any other student… But these are the effects of being constantly reminded that I am fundamentally different from my peers: I am determined to succeed and excel, to prove not just that I can do it, but that women can do it. It’s fucked, but that’s how I feel… Like I have to “represent”. Classic symptoms of a model minority, hmmm?

It doesn’t help that I hear this message over and over from others in the trade. I’d thought it was just me, until another female apprentice at the hydr0 boot camp told me that she gets the same thing: Upon learning that we are electrical apprentices, the immediate reaction of lot of older, male journeymen is to start telling us about the one or two woman electricians they’ve known throughout their careers, and how PERFECTLY BRILLIANT they are/were. I gather these men say these things because they’re trying to show that they support women in the trades. However! The actual way it comes across is a reinforcement of the fact that there’s a higher standard for us: We can’t just be sorta okay at our jobs, like the majority of the schmoes we work with. Instead we have to prove ourselves over and over, by being THE BESTEST-24/7!!!

Which is exhausting, and unfair, cuz really, as much as I like to be good at things, I also have other priorities aside from the trade, and I’m not always going to rock out 100%. I would like to be okay with that, and I would like my coworkers, classmates, and teachers to be okay with that too: I’m human, dammit.

Having said that, I’m working very hard, and so far have achieved a 95% average after four exams. Only 8 more to go!

It’s mostly math, which I really like, when I understand it… It’s getting to that place of understanding that’s the trouble. Going through this schooling as an adult has been an amazing journey in understanding my own learning styles.

For instance, I know now that I need to have all information clearly laid out and labeled, and all equations in sequential order, in order to make sense of it. My current instructor writes partial formulas and calculations all over the whiteboard at the front of our classroom, haphazardly drawing diagrams and graphing results. It drives me completely nuts. In the past, I’d have simply given up, mired in frustration. Now I plow through, rewriting his equations on my own notepaper, taking extra time but arranging everything in a way that’s accessible to my own quirky brain.

I also know that I really benefit from spending loooooooong amounts of time on the same concept: Entire days of math immersion really does wonders to cement it in my understanding. In high school and university, everything was arranged in 1 or 2 hour blocks. I never questioned this, because it never occurred to me that it may be related to why I struggled so much. Concentrated bursts of difficult topics, I’ve learned, are exactly the sort of thing that send my mind into panic mode. I get worried that I won’t have enough time to comprehend the lesson, and I’m so distracted that I *really* don’t pick up anything the teacher is showing us! So when I’ve got full days on entire topics, I’m more relaxed, and then I can follow along. My current instructor is forever apologizing for the length of time we focus on topics, but it’s just about perfect for me.

I can’t help but think: If only high school had been 6 consecutive 8-week long courses instead of 6 simultaneous courses over 40 weeks, I might have ended up an engineer by now. Ah, well… If that’d been my path, I would have missed out on all the great scenery on this route, and what a shame that would have been.

“Just don’t let it bother you!”

I heard back from the provincial utility authority: A letter of regret, stating that I would not be hired on as an electrical apprentice. I suppose it’s a bit of a letdown, but mostly I don’t really care, which is surprising considering how wound up I was about the whole screening process. Really, if I’d been rejected right away, I’d be upset, because I had so much emotional investment in trying to succeed… More than a month has since passed and I’m all like, “Meh. Whatevs.”

Which isn’t to say that I won’t be applying next time ’round, cuz I will!

So I started back at trade school two weeks ago, and it was a total reunion show: Instructors stopping me to say hello and ask what I’ve been up to this past year, old classmates also back for their Year 2 training, and tons of guys from the construction site taking all different levels of courses, who remember me as the lottery girl. Despite being the only woman in my class of 16 students (and possibly one of only four in the building…?), and despite the shitty time I had last time I was here, I feel remarkably comfortable and confident. I feel like I belong: It’s a huge shift from where I was at 14 months ago.

Why the shift? Partly it’s because I put in those months at the construction site, which proved to me that I could make it, even in the sort of trades environment I’m not especially keen about. Partly it’s because I was chosen to try out for the hydr0 apprenticeship, which was a real honour.

Partly it’s because I’ve got a totally different attitude.

Over the years, my righteous anger over oppressive bullshit has often been met with a wide range of folks telling me I should just relax, calm down, stop taking everything so seriously, get over it, etc etc etc. Which is a pretty common reaction, from people who don’t feel themselves to be targeted by hate: Somehow, sexism and homophobia and racism and ablism are hilarious or no big deal, if you’re not the butt of the joke. I resent this.

And yet resentment is tiring. So is being angry, no matter how righteously so. And devoting time and energy to meeting with authority figures and pushing for systemic change? That’s fucking exhausting.

At the end of the electrical entry level training program I did last year, I was pretty burnt out, from all that shit. I don’t regret it, and I don’t think I could have done anything differently, because that was where I was at. However, I decided that if I was going to continue in the trade, I was going to stop.

I took it as an experiment of sorts: Being the sort of person who has rather reliably called people out on their oppressive words/behaviours/assumptions over the years, I really didn’t know how my life would be different if I shut up for a while.

To be sure, I knew I’d be unable to ignore comments or action directed at myself or my loved ones, but I decided to let go of the microagressions. I still tell my friends and family about these events, especially when it was something totally absurd like the sexual innuendo from my crew safety officer (the very person at the construction site to whom I would report such incidences!), but before getting upset, I ask myself if it is worth it.

What would I gain?

What would I lose?

I began to value my time and emotional energy as being much more important than the stupid deeds and opinions of other.

After years of being told “Just don’t let it bother you!”, I finally tried not letting it bother me.

Overall, it’s been great.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still fiercely mean and critical and liable to bring down all sorts of harshness on someone who tells me that queers should die and whites are naturally superior and women belong in the kitchen and fatties should hide their bodies and anyone who can’t easily walk up that flight of stairs should simply accept it instead of requesting accessibility.  And I’m more committed than ever to the organizing I’m doing with the local radical queer events collective.

But if my new classmates diss our homework by saying it’s “gay”? I’m just not engaging. I don’t have time. If they said this in a conversation that includes me, I probably won’t be able to resist commenting “Hey, I’m gay too! No wonder I’m so good at these assignments!” then laughing very hard, but that’s about it.

My new strategy is all about self-preservation, and so far, it’s working.  I feel happy.  I acknowledge that the world is fucked up, and I’m making peace with the deliberate steps I’m taking to address this fact while learning to be okay with all the shit I just can’t handle.  One day I will take it on again, but this is me at the moment, taking a break.

Emma Donoghue is up for the Booker

Though frequently mistaken for a Women’s Studies student, I’ve only actually taken 2 WoStud courses during the seven years (give or take) that I attended university. The first was an intro to indigenous women in Canada, where I met one of the the best friends I’ve ever had. The second was an upper level course on Irish women, which was way beyond my academic level but to which I gained entry by emailing the prof about my adventures in hitchhiking around Ireland two years previously. In retrospect, the prof shouldn’t have let that substitute for actual experience in academic research/writing/analysis, but whatever. She turned out to be tediously euro-centric and upper-class-focused in her ideas anyway, so we would have clashed on that if my own lack of comprehension hadn’t gotten in the way.

However, what was rad about the course was that aside from the readings taken from journal articles, we read novels. And one of those novels was Hood, by Emma Donoghue. And that book, my friends, is pretty much my favourite ever. If you read the description, you might think that it’s sad sad sad, since it deals with the death of the protagonist’s lover, but instead it’s funny, smart, a wee bit tender, and simply thought-provoking.

Emma Donoghue had just moved to Canada that year, and she came to our class to talk about the novel, which made me love it even more: She expanded on the themes of religion, family, body size, and identity that flow through her story, showing how much greater her sense of nuance is than I ever thought possible.

With that in mind, I was stoked to hear this morning that Emma Donoghue’s newest novel, Room, is up for the Booker. Irish queers, represent! Well, okay, I’m Irish by ethnic descent as opposed to nationality, but I barely believe in nation states anyway, and really, since Oats is taking my good Irish surname and our kids will have it too, reading about the success of Emma Donoghue makes me feel extra-Irish, as well as extra queer.

Natural born gleaner

I’m at home this afternoon, admiring the sunshine from the comfort of my bed, while a head cold (or something) does a number on my ability to get shit done. I did work for a while this morning, but no one wants baby greens that’ve been sneezed on and I was slow as hell anyway, so my boss suggested I go home. That’s the crappy thing about labour jobs: It’s not like in my computer geek days, when I could soldier on as needed, through most ill health… I couldn’t always make it to the office, but emails and IMs made my physical presence less than necessary. Which is in direct contrast to now, where my physical presence pretty much *is* the job.

I’m reminded of when I got my period during the months I was working at the construction site: Standing at the top of an 8 foot ladder in an unfinished section of the building, measuring a length of steel conduit for installation on the ceiling, as a sudden massive mentrual cramp rocked my body. I grabbed the top of the ladder and held on until the pain dulled enough for me to climb down, then dosed myself with more pain killers. I think that was the first time I missed working a desk job, where there was nothing much to fall off of save an ergonomic rolling chair, and nothing bad to land on save a dirty section of wall-to-wall carpet.

Before I felt as crummy as this, the illness was just another round of bad asthma, and I was trying to keep busy in between long bouts of laying around in bed with Oats, who has been sick as well. One of my projects has got me kinda stoked, because it might make me a bit of money for a pretty small investment of time and supplies. There’s a lot of random waste at the farm, simply due to the economics of staffing and space: Sometimes, it makes sense to plow in a field of young, under-producing rhubarb plants so that the area can be sown with higher-grossing winter root veggies. Enter the over-enthusiastic farm hand! I dug up as many of the plants as I could, and stored them on my patio in a big bin. On Friday, I went through these rhubarb roots, chopping them into smaller segments and replanting them in 1 gallon plastic pots (also free, from the farm). It made 22 new plants, and that was only 1/3 of what’s still to be done. My plan is to let them grow for a few weeks, then sell them via the local free online classifieds.

I did the same with the strawberry runners, which I had to cut and remove anyway as part of my regular strawberry bed maintenance last Thursday.

Realistically, this little gleaning project is not going to make me rich, but it sure as hell makes me feel better about some of the decisions I’ve made in the past few months. Despite my last post, I’m still uneasy with choosing farming (and sustainable energy networking) over moving up through the world of trades. In fact, I’ll probably always feel like this, because I’m a product of a capitalist system and my mind is warped.

Also warping my mind is the impending visit of my father and stepmom. I love them, and am looking forward to having them here, but every conversation I’ve had with my dad these past several *months* has been about the visit and I’m so bored by it. He oscillates between casually insulting my chosen city, and casually questioning my success as an adult human being. Really, Dad, there are *lots* of things to do here (he keeps lamenting the lack of interesting stuff around where I live), and really, you *don’t* have to rent a car (he’s free to use ours, as we’re far from car-dependent). I haven’t argued with any of his offers of grocery shopping, however, because though Oats and I have a very well-stocked pantry, we’re penny-pinchers who buy store brands in mass amounts, and rarely treat ourselves to the variety or quality of foods my parents would get.

Also, cooking will unite us… I’m even planning on getting fresh goat milk from a local dairy, so that we can make cheese together. Stuff that into squash blossoms, then fry in a cornflour tempura batter? Yes, please!

I hear parents always have trouble treating their kids as grown ups: Is this rumour true? I suppose my mom’s still pretty parental towards me, just differently than my dad, and I can handle it better. She likes to sit and read or write emails in a companionable silence, whereas my dad likes to do more talking. As well, she’s already semi-parented my three older step-brothers into their adulthood, and seems more comfortable with stepping back from her role as guardian. My dad, he’s a hoverer.

My stepmom, luckily, is not, or not with me at any rate… My younger half-sister, her daughter, bears the brunt of that. With me, my stepmom is fun and interesting. She has also been very supportive of me going into the trades, more so than other 3 folks I call parents. That’s the nicest thing about having so many of them: I can shop around for opinions, more so than my peers who have just two.

In other news, wanna know what Oats and I have been doing while sick in bed? Hmmm… Okay, aside from the obvious? We’ve been watching a certain television show about four women in a big city, because Oats had never seen it before and this fact blew my mind. Let me tell you, watching Sex and the City with a (gender)queer feminist for the first time is hilarious, especially if she’s simultanously reading the snarky episode summaries on Television Without Pity. Oh, the snark! Oh, SATC! How I love to hate thee, and even more, how I love to share my hate for thee with my lover.

Hate-ons aside, I should probably add the show to the list of things that are warping my mind, because it made me desperately crave nice hair. I haven’t had my hair cut since before I went to Australia over a year ago, and it was getting not only frizzy but boring. I recognized the teevee-induced vanity for what it was just in time, and managed to solve the problem myself with a pair of sharp scissors. One step further and I’d have dropped $80 at a salon, and that’d be all my gleaning money gone in one fell swoop. Now I’ve got asymmetrical shaggy bangs and the hair on one side of my head is much longer than on the other side, and I like it very much. Take that, New York City.

The thing is, underwater robots are just so cool.

I got an interview with the marine research company, to assemble components for underwater monitoring devices (mentioned in this post).  After hemming and hawing for a little while, I decided to at least take the interview, to learn more about it.

As much as I enjoy my job at the constuction site, and know that it’s good education for me and that it’s a small step in a well-worn path to a professional trades career, I don’t believe in the sort of unsustainable development we’re doing or the hiarchical structure of the management.  So, the temptation of another position in an area that focuses on sustainability and seems to involve so much rad geekiness is really too much for me:   I have no idea where such a path may lead, but would be kicking myself if I didn’t at least check it out.

The thing is, underwater robots are just so cool.  Simple as that:  If I were able to say that’s what I did for a living, instead of being an electrician, it’d be worth the uncertainty of taking a job that wouldn’t give me hours towards my apprenticeship or lead in a foreseeable direction.

I left work early on Wednesday, and went to the interview:  In the industrial disctrict around the corner from my house, which was a delightfully short commute by bike.  I was aleady fantasizing about rolling out of bed at 8 am instead of the 5:30 am I currently see on the alarm clock every morning.

And then I walked into the worst interview I’ve ever had in my entire life.

It’s not that the interviewer was especially horrible, because I’m sure he’s an okay person in one way or another.  He is the manager of the manufacturing division and sounds to be very keen on it.  Having said that, I’ve taken part in a fuck-load of job interviews in my lifetime, on both sides of the table, and this dude?  He was incompetent.

In case you don’t know this, I am a talker.  I love to talk, even and maybe especially with strangers:  I want to know the why, how, and where of your life, and will readily discuss with you my own takes on life, culture, politics, whatever.  Which is why I love blogs, incidentally (and also why I get into awkward situations with straight men who think I’m hitting on them… Another post!).

So when I say that the interviewer talked AT ME for 20 minutes non-stop, I mean that there was essentially no interview:  He talked, I nodded and tried to comment, he kept talking, and it was over.  There were no questions, just long rambling decriptions of the company, the work, and the contracts.

Well, except for one other thing:  Among the multitude of words pouring from his mouth, the interviewer made a stupid crack about hoping I wasn’t “afraid of power tools”.

Which told me two things:

  1. HE HADN’T READ MY FUCKING RESUME
  2. HIS ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT MY GENDER WERE DEFINING HIS IDEAS ABOUT MY CAPABILITIES

And it’s a shame, really, for him:  If I hadn’t found the actual position to be rather boring, and if he hadn’t been so tedious, I was so well-sold on my own idea of a life with underwater robots that I’d have been a damn incredible employee.

Mostly though, I’m just glad I discovered one more thing to enjoy about my construction job:  More often than not, every assumes I know more than I actually do, and it’s up to me to lead the clarifications and assert my need for instruction.  It’s tough sometimes, especially when I have to reveal my utter ignorance about industry lingo that veteran workers take for granted, but I still like what it represents:  That I am capable, intelligent, and equal to everyone else.

I’m debating whether or not I ought to drop a brief note to the HR rep over at the marine research company, the one who arranged the interview and seemed quite nice on the phone:  Should the company be told that their manufacturing manager has no idea how to interview a potential employee (or read their resumes), and makes inappropriate jokes?  My mom and Oats both say yes, but I’m not sure I have the energy to care.

In other news, I’m hosting a lamb supper on Sunday afternoon for ~10 guests, and I have yet to secure any lamb.  Dear guests, if you’re reading this, please don’t fret:  I have a lead, and hope to have fresh meat in hand by midday tomorrow, thanks to the careful sleuthing of Sum and Capt. Pestou!  Still, it’s a bit stressful, especially because I’m blatantly attempting to channel the roast lamb meals of my childhood, and really am not sure I’m up to par with my dad’s culinary skills.  He gave me all the directions, however, and will be available by telephone if needed.  Should be an adventure, at any rate.

During this afternoon’s failed lamb mission, I bought these, because I couldn’t get over the colours:

Tradeswoman Q and A, Part 2

(Part 1 is here)

It’s the end of Week 2 of my new job as an apprentice electrician at the construction site of a new local hospital building.  I’m still exhausted and wondering how the fuck people do this:  Work a very physical 40 hours of labour each week, and still have the energy to be present and engaging with their family and friends.  I take the dog to the park when I get home each day, and throw balls for him while laying in the grass until my feet stop aching and he sits down next to me.  Then we go home and cook dinner and all I want to do is watch television or have a bath and go to bed.  The next day, I’m up at 5:30 am and it starts all over again.  It’s difficult to get used to, though I know I will eventually… For now though, it’s making me feel a little isolated and strange.

Yet also oddly proud and “grown-up” too, I must admit.

Some more questions I’ve received:

What do you wear to work?

I have a single pair of C@rrhart work trousers that my mother bought me years ago (against her will I might add… She said there were “too ugly”), which I wear every single day.  They are identical to those worn by most of my coworkers, though mine have a hand-silkscreened patch of a garlic bulb sewn onto a rear pocket.  On my feet, I have crazily-heavy steel-toe boots that I bought for $140 the weekend before I started the job, plus extra padded socks meant for wearing with work boots.  I developed a corn on one of my toes during that first week of the job, which made the boots more noticely painful than heavy, but it’s being treated now and today there was no pain… Just tiredness.  Up top, I wear a tank top that is pretty long, over which I layer one of two long-sleeved t-shirts and the same black hoodie that I wear every day.  At the end of the week, I throw it all in the wash, and wear again for the next five days of work.

My company supplies PPE:  That’s Personal Protective Equipment, don’t ya know.  When I started, they gave me a hardhat which was soon adorned with two stickers from the two safety orientations I attended on Day 1.  The hardhats of construction veterans are adorned with many such stickers; One day, I hope mine will be as well.  I was also given a pair of safety glasses, which are now scratched as hell, and a reflective orange and yellow safety vest.  The vest conveniently features many pockets, and I find it very useful from a practical standpoint as well as safety.  I was also made aware of the various locations where I could grab disposable foam earplugs, which I wear all the time I’m at work.  Just this past Thursday, I was given an additional piece of PPE:  A ventilator mask with screw-in cartridges, to keep the dust from my lungs.  I am very glad for it, because my asthma’s been acting up and though I can’t know if it’s the stress, the cold I had last week, or the particulate matter in the air on site, I’d rather not take any chances.

I also wrap my hair, à la Rosie the Riveter, to keep it clean-ish and out of the way.

Are you out at work?

No.  Not yet, anyway.  If the opportunity arises and I feel safe, I will mention my queerness, but so far it’s not come up and I harbour few illusions about it being safe when it does.  At the same time, I’ve also encountered significantly less of the casual homophobia I witnessed at trade school, which is worth noting.

Do you feel that the optional pre-apprenticeship program at trade school prepared you well for the job?

Yes!  Yes, very much so.  In fact, if anything I’m surprised by how little tedious grunt work I’m given, and how much confidence my foreman and the supervising journeyman have in my ability to do “real” electrical systems installations.

How do find the demands of the job physically?

DIFFICULT.  I’m quite zombie-ish, as mentioned above.  A lot of that comes from the huge size of the site where I work, because I have to trudge up many flights of stairs throughout the day, sometimes taking several trips to carry all my tools and equipment.  I thought I was quite fit when I started, and let’s be honest: I am!  But my body wasn’t ready to have such demands made of it.  If I’d thought about this ahead of time, I’d have done some upper-body strength development, because that’s what I’m lacking most of all:  Using the hammer drill on the concrete ceiling requires both my hands/arms to keep it steady, whereas the more seasoned workers use only one.

Still though, it’s very good to feel my body in this way.  I’ve always been rather tall and large, and had to invest a lot of energy in learning to appreciate my size and feel strong instead of “fat”.  It’s amazing to spend days surrounded mostly by big, solid, muscular people after years of office, computer, and cafe jobs where my coworkers were more likely to moan and complain about not being thin enough (when they were all smaller than I’ve ever been).  My body is now needed, not just for its beauty or overall health, but for its sheer bulk and endurance.  I feel like we’re connecting better than ever, and that’s an unexpected gift that I cherish very deeply.

Any word from your other job applications?

None:  Not BC Hydr0, not the local naval base, not even the marine research company.  Which is a bit off-putting, since I have top marks and a random university degree to boot, plus an interesting CV.  But I’m learning to be okay with it, since my current job is providing industry experience that will just make me look better on all future job applications.

Hey readers: Got anything else you want to know?  Throw it in the comments, or drop me a line at feralgeographer@gmail.com