Exciting times at The Avenue this week: we had a woman work at the site. But before I elaborate, firstly a quick run down on the prevailing attitude towards women in my workplace.
We’re all familiar with the popular image of construction workers whistling and harassing women walking past. Well from my experiences the image has strong grounding in fact. This is precisely how my work colleagues act. It’s particularly embarrassing when I just happen to be the one standing closest to the targeted woman, who in turn automatically glares accusingly at the closest male in work cloths.
Until this week, the only women I’ve seen at any of the sites I’ve worked at have been clients checking up on their properties. My work colleagues are always polite and courteous in front of them, but as soon as the woman in question leaves the room, they all start to smirk, giggle and exchange knowing glances. Not unlike 14 year-old school boys.
The company that supplies us with storage containers and skips, have also very kindly given us a calendar of topless women, which adorns the walls of our coffee room. The highlight of every month, after payday, is changing the calendar page and seeing what’s next. Once we see the new page we all look on in amazement, as if a picture of yet another topless woman was the last thing we expected to see. We then all discuss what to do with the page we have just ripped off. Should we just chuck it out, or is it worthy of displaying on the wall so we can continue to stare at it for months to come? So far, after seven months, our hall of fame consists of five pictures, meaning we could only bear to depart with two.
In short, the opposite sex is an exotic novelty, and source of much amusement. So when a team of workers showed up on Monday to install the lift, and one of them was a woman, I naturally expected her to have a pretty tough time. I should point out that she wasn’t some big butch lady with tattoos and a crew cut, capable of rearranging a man’s face before he can finish saying “Get us a cup of tea love’. She was a tall, slim, very attractive young woman, who during breaks liked to braid her long blonde hair and reapply her makeup. She looked completely out place amongst thirty grotty uncouth men.
I expected her to be subjected to the same whistling and jeering dished out to passers by, as well as constant stares and bad pick up lines. Only she wouldn’t have the option of walking away and would have to endure it all day. But in actual fact, my work colleagues were on their best behaviour. She did very little work as whenever she attempted to do anything, someone would step in and offer to do it for her. She just had to stand back, flutter a smile, and relish all the attention. Despite all the grease and dust inherent in our line of work, at the end of the week her blue overalls were still immaculately clean.
Of course once she left, everyone descended back into chauvinistic misogyny. We argued about which one of us had the best chance to pick her up. We speculated on her sexual past, and finally we collectively fantasised about her sexual desires.
The bigotry doesn’t end there either. My co-workers are as equally racist and homophobic. I’d be lying if I said these situations presented a personal dilemma, as I’ve never even considered doing anything other then keeping my mouth shut. The last thing I’m going to do is stand up and deliver a lecture on political correctness, as you can imagine how popular that would make me. But it is still quite alienating. One of the hardest things about this job is the fact I feel I have very little in common with any of my work colleagues. Last week, after I spent the day shovelling rocks into a wheelbarrow, one of my work colleagues quite sympathetically said to me, “I bet its days like this you wish you went to school?” Most people in this industry have been working since dropping out of school at a young age. I wasn’t quite up to telling him that not only did I go to school, but I also spent five years at university and have two degrees. Oh yeah, and last year I won the Walkley Foundations Student Journalist of the Year Award. Don’t get me wrong, most of my co-workers are friendly, helpful, and I generally manage to get along with them. But we come from different worlds, and I don’t mean Sweden and Australia. Whether I like it or not, I’m quite clearly a politically correct, inner city, latte-sipping, middle class university student, and there aren’t many of my kind in the construction industry.
PS. I found the photo above through a google image search and originally comes from a website that sells erotic costumes. A few of them seem to have a ‘construction worker’ theme. I’ve heard of school uniforms and nurses, but construction workers?