Most of my life, I’ve toiled in male-dominated fields.
Most of my life, I’ve toiled in male-dominated fields. More than once I’ve been told that a woman should not be (fill in the blank). I know what it’s like to be looked at with suspicion and not taken seriously. I know what it’s like to want to be one of the guys.
I recently witnessed a woman in the earliest stages of trying to fit in under these circumstances. She’s taking the, “I’m every bit as manly as you are,” route. She’s tough. She’s aggressive. She’s territorial. She’s cold as ice. She’s a show off. She’s even condescending to her fellow female coworkers. If this were her natural state, I’d say, “Fine. Go for it. Be your insufferable self.” But it’s so clearly a show that it’s annoying the guys she works with. They find her to be pushy and rude. It’s making her become even more of an outsider.
Don’t get me wrong. I think women have as much right to be pushy and rude as men do. But I think that behaving that way simply because you think it will make you be accepted is the wrong way to go. Nobody likes an obnoxious person, regardless of gender.
Yes, I do things to adapt to my environment. Everyone does. I’m not going to carry a purse up to my bridge, or wear high heels. This is partly because I’d be laughed at, but mostly because these things would be safety issues. I expect to get greasy, and so I dress the part.
I also tend to be a straight shooter. I tell it like it is. But that’s in my nature. I think guys appreciate it, though. They don’t want to waste time having to read between the lines.
I knew I had made it as far in to the inner circle as I ever would when the guys started joking around with me like they do with each other. That is an achievement. I’ll take it.
I never wanted to get so far in there that I had to listen to locker room talk or discuss sports that don’t interest me. They can have that. I don’t want it.
But I think that I crossed my highest hurdle when I came to realize and accept the fact that no matter how hard I try, I’m never going to fit in completely. And that’s okay. Now, instead of feeling like a turd in that punch bowl, I look at myself as an exotic piece of fruit: Never quite blending in, and perhaps unexpected, but adding to the overall flavor in a significant way.
No matter how you look at it, I’m still here. And somewhere along the line, I stopped caring. For the most part, so have they.
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Americans sometimes shock people from other countries by asking them what they do for a living. In many places this is considered rude. Here, it’s almost as if you can’t really decide what to think about a person until you know what’s on their resume.
In Seattle, I often hesitate to tell people I’m a bridgetender. Oh, the initial reaction is the same as it was in Florida. “That’s so cool!” “Wow, I thought bridges were automated.” “I’ve never met a bridgetender. What’s it like?”
These questions make me smile. I am proud of my unique job. I love to talk about it.
But at some point I sense a shift. People are willing to ask me questions, but they’re not going to invite me to their dinner parties. This is a highly successful town, and I’m a blue collar girl. I don’t wear a suit to the office. As far as they’re concerned, I’m a glorified security guard. Fascinating to query, yes, but shouldn’t you be using the service entrance, dear? Be sure and wipe your feet.
I find this intensely frustrating because I have three college degrees, an extremely high IQ, and I’m now a published author. I’m much more than my scruffy work shoes.
I’ve even been passed over for dates because of my job. For example, I can meet a guy and really hit it off. Things can be going well. Then the career thing comes up, and he can’t disappear fast enough. I don’t know if he suddenly thinks I’m a gold digger or if he’s concluded that he couldn’t show me off to his friends, but poof! He’s gone.
I’ve also gotten the impression that once I reveal that I’m in in a traditionally male job, suddenly my sexual orientation comes into question. I get that a lot, actually. I usually don’t care unless I’m looking for romance.
Plain and simple: I am what I am, but that’s not all that I am. But I’m getting a little too old and tired to work up the energy to break through barriers that I myself haven’t erected.
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