I was at a construction meeting a while back when there was a lull in the conversation, and the eight or nine guys at the table with me all got to talking about pocketknives. For real, one by one, they all whipped them out and thunked them down on the table to see whose was biggest.
Seriously. Sometimes I am worried that I am going to pull a muscle rolling my eyes, and have to explain later how it happened. Oh, key point: I work in a male-dominated industry. Quite often, it is a male-dominated industry circa 1985. It’s so odd. I wasn’t at all prepared for 1985 when I changed careers.
Today I got a letter addressed
Just that. Not Dear Gentlemen, or To Whom It May Concern, or Dear <insert Boss Man’s name here>, or Dear Katherine, heavens not that one. Just
It was clerical error, a pull-up-old-letter-and-hit-“save-as” thing. It had the wrong project name on it, too; no big deal. Clerical errors don’t bother me. What wears on me, sometimes, is working in an industry where you would typically start a letter with
and think nothing of it. The person who sent me this letter has been corresponding with me professionally for weeks. He is perfectly nice and I’m sure is in no way dismissive of women. I have sat across from him at meetings. I have taken his phone calls. He knows my name. He knew I’d be receiving this letter, and he knows I am female. Oops. Darn “save as.”
I know it’s naive, but I just wasn’t prepared for the whole gender dynamic to be an issue in this enlightened age. I don’t mind that at a construction meeting I am usually the only woman at a table of a dozen men; what I mind is that is that it visibly unnerves some of them. They get awkward when I walk in the room. They say things to me they would not say to anyone else at the table. Such as:
- I almost brought this drawing to your office so you could copy my notes on it, because I’m sure your handwriting is so much prettier than mine. (It’s not.)
- What do you think of these paint colors? My wife will never let me pick out colors. (I’m good at paint colors. I’m good at lots of other things, too.)
- We thought you’d like it that we tidied up the construction site for you. (Couldn’t care less. The male owner of the building asked you to tidy it. I am only interested in the integrity of your construction. Punk.)
- Why didn’t you ever get married? You can tell me if I’m out of line. (You are. This is a job site review meeting.)
The other day I forgot it was construction meeting day and I accidentally wore a skirt. SO much worse when I show up with some sort of over-the-top reminder that I’m female. Skirt? Or heaven forfend, heels? They can’t even look at you if you wear heels.
The whole “binders full of women” thing is so silly. So Last Presidential Debate. I wasn’t even going to mention it, until the “gentlemen” thing. I mean, I feel like it’s pretty clear why Romney wasn’t able to name any qualified women of his own personal acquaintance. If you isolate yourself from progress and diversity and, well, 2012, that’s how you get yourself into a spot where you have to say, “Quick! You there! Minion! Find me a binder of women so I can pretend I feel like they are capable of rational thought despite the fact that I don’t trust them to make decisions about their own health care.” No worries. I didn’t vote for him. I enjoyed the not voting for him. And I think he’s an idiot.
What I want to know is, how the hell do I get into one of these binders of women? What would it take to prove I’m qualified enough to be recommended for something more than paint colors and typing meeting minutes? More than two years of interning, I know that. But one day, please, let someone pull my resume out and say, THAT ONE. We need that one on this team. That one is a powerhouse. That one gets things done. That one can solve some problems. That one is unflappable in a crisis. That one can manage the hell out of a project. That one can design something sustainable. That one knows what she’s doing.
(I think I’ll do all of that wearing lipstick and heels and giant earrings. Just because.)