One of the Guys

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.

Female mechanic

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Beware Abundance

I absolutely love buffets, so I try to avoid them. I am frugal by nature, so when I’m charged a fixed price in an all you can eat situation, I tend to try to get my money’s worth. In other words, I gorge myself. I don’t think I’ve ever left a buffet without feeling slightly sick to my stomach and at least moderately ashamed.

Abundance is not something I’ve experienced very often in my life, so it’s not surprising that I tend to overdo. It brings out the worst in me. I can’t imagine who I’d be if I lived in a constant state of abundance. I suspect that this is why the super rich are, for the most part, despicable human beings. If they exhibit even a shred of decency, they’ve no doubt had to work extremely hard to maintain it.

When you have to work for what you need, you appreciate it much more. When you aren’t completely sure you’ll get what you want, it inspires you to strive toward your goals. Achievements are so much sweeter when you’ve actually had to achieve them.

It’s the struggle that defines us. I don’t think pride is such a bad thing when you’ve seen a hurdle and have managed to clamber over it. Yay, you! Victories are all the more delicious for having been hard-won.

I have much more respect for those who try and don’t always succeed than I do for those who have had everything in their lives handed to them on a platinum patter. For most of us, life is not a buffet. But there’s a certain dignity to being figuratively lean and hungry, all while maintaining your integrity.

Buffets

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Exhausto-Day

To say I have a really screwed up work schedule is putting it mildly. Part of the week I work swing shift, and then, to make life interesting, I switch over to day shift. That means that there’s one day where I only get about 5 hours of sleep between shifts. Needless to say, by the time I get off work after that quick turnaround, I’m completely worthless. All I want to do is lie around and gaze stupidly at the ceiling.

I’ve had this schedule for 3 ½ years, and I’ve learned a great deal from it. First of all, it’s best if I don’t make any major purchases on exhausto-day. More often than not, I’ll regret them. I also shouldn’t get into Facebook debates. They will only end in tears. (For someone.)

The blog posts I write on that day tend to have a little less meat on the bone, too. And it’s not a good day to reflect upon my past, present, or future, but that’s a challenge since I am a navel-gazer by nature. And if you tell me something important during that time frame, make sure I write it down, or I guarantee I’ll forget.

I’ve also learned that sleep is a luxury that one should never fail to take advantage of. I have no set sleep schedule. Some nights I’m up until 3 am, while other nights I’m already snoring at 6 pm. The most important thing is that when my body says it’s time to sleep, I need to listen.

I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that my quality control fluctuates from one day to the next. Exhausto-Barb is not nearly as efficient and level-headed as the Barb one encounters during the rest of the week. And that’s understandable. Once I finally stopped beating myself up for this ebb and flow, life became a great deal more tolerable.

One nice thing about my schedule is that my “weekends” (which don’t coincide with the rest of the planet’s, of course,) are 72 hours long. That almost makes the exhaustion worth it. Almost.

giphy

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Mental Health Days

Raise your hand if you’ve NEVER, not even once, called in sick to work or school when you’re weren’t technically sick. Anyone? Anyone? (I didn’t think so.)

Back before I was a bridgetender, I pretty much hated every job I had. And I called in sick a lot. Of course, I was younger then, and believed I could get another job quickly and easily, even if I pushed my luck. It also never occurred to me that catastrophic health problems could ever be in my future, and that it might be a good idea to hoard my sick days.

But every once in a while, you just need a break. You know? (Of course you do.)

I think the need for mental health days has increased over time. The world is just too crowded and there’s too much information flying at us from every direction. The pressure is building. It becomes increasingly impossible to keep up, emotionally, financially, politically, and culturally.

Sometimes you just need to push the reset button. Sneak out and see a movie. Or sleep in and hug your dog. Or take a walk in the woods. Or read a good book.

And that’s okay. If you checking out for just one day means the world will stop spinning, then you seriously need to learn how to delegate. Just sayin’.

slow down, relax, take it easy

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“I Don’t Consider Myself a Feminist”

I always cringe when a female says that. A friend of mine said it recently, and it nearly broke my heart. She referred me to Judge Judy, who, according to this article, says, “I never felt I didn’t have equal opportunity as a woman.” But in that same article Judge Judy admits that there were only 6 women in her law school, and the professors didn’t treat them well. She also concedes that she did all the housework and child rearing even though she and her husband both worked. I’m not sure how she characterizes opportunities for women, but this seems kind of contradictory to me. Yes, she may have overcome those hurdles, but the point is, an attitude of “suck it up and deal with it” does nothing to remove those hurdles.

Here’s why I think everyone should be a feminist: It means you believe that women should be treated equally. It means equal pay for equal work. It means not being harassed. It means an equal level of human rights. It doesn’t mean we’re out to get all men or expect special treatment as is often claimed by those who speak out against feminism. If your primary focus are those who occupy the radical fringes of this movement, then at least acknowledge that every movement will have its fringe elements.

When I have this debate with friends, they often state that they are not feminists because that equality of which I speak should be the way it is anyway. As if the unfortunate need to ask for equality or demand it somehow delegitimizes the right to have it. You may not want to be identified as part of this group, but like it or not, by virtue of being a woman you are being treated like it by outside forces.

Should equal rights be a given? Abso-freakin’-lutely. But here’s the thing: It isn’t the case. Judge Judy is the exception, not the rule. It’s awfully easy to not support the minority that you’re a part of when you’re at the top of the heap, but there are a heck of a lot of us below you, your honor.

And Judge Judy couldn’t have reached her successful pinnacle were it not for the work of feminists. For example, according to this article, here are things American women could not do less than 100 years ago:

  • Have their own name printed on a passport.

  • Wear whatever they wanted.

  • Work in “dangerous” jobs, such as in bowling alleys.

  • Maintain US citizenship if married to a non-citizen.

  • Work the night shift.

  • Hold a job while pregnant.

  • Enlist in the military.

  • Serve on a Jury.

In theory, we finally got the right to vote in 1919, but it actually took decades for that to be universally practiced in this country. Some Trump supporters, even in 2018, want to repeal the 19th amendment. Women fought and were tortured and jailed and force fed and died for that privilege, and yet only 63 percent of eligible female voters turned out for the 2016 election, and 42 percent of them voted for a man who admits to grabbing women’s private parts. I’ll never understand that as long as I live. Do we hate ourselves?

And if the Me Too movement isn’t giving you a sense of how shabbily women are treated in the workplace, your head is buried in the sand. I’ve written a couple posts about my personal experiences with harassment, and I’m pretty typical. Eighty-three percent of American women believe they have experienced discrimination in the workplace. That’s a statistic that ought to be hard to ignore.

According to this article:

  • The more education a woman gets, the higher the wage disparity becomes. The average woman will earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.

  • Only 30-40 percent of all small businesses are owned by women, and they generate 61% less revenue.

In my workplace alone (the Seattle Department of Transportation), in one of the most liberal enclaves in the United States, of the 99 field positions, only a handful are held by women. And when I suggested that they make more connections with Woman in Trades organizations, to attract more female electricians, mechanics, welders and engineers, it went in one ear and out the other. That’s probably because the administration of SDOT is overwhelmingly white and male. I still work with people who use the term “cat fight” and don’t believe women should be bridgetenders.

Women’s rights are under threat all the time. We have to constantly fight to have birth control covered by insurance. No one has to fight to get Viagra covered. And there’s little or no support for affordable child care in this country. There’s constant political pushback against us making our own decisions about our health. Keep us barefoot and pregnant and out of every man’s way. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

And if we are in such an enlightened country, how is it possible that sex trafficking, child marriage, and domestic slavery still exists here?

So when a woman says, “I don’t consider myself a feminist,” what I hear is that they are comfortable enough in their situations to not have to stick their necks out. They have no desire to address the many outrages that they’re in denial about. They have theirs, and to hell with everybody else.

It would be nice if feminism were not necessary. If only wishing could make it so. But now, more than ever, we need to show a united front. Even if you don’t feel like it. If we don’t step up, why should we expect anyone else to?

feminism

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Working a Tropical Storm

We’ve had our fair share of natural disasters this year. But when you pair that with an increasing disregard for workers, you get a toxic combination. People are getting fired for having to mandatorily evacuate and therefore being unable to show up for work. People have been forced to work in extremely unsafe situations, leaving their families at times when they’re needed most. When human life stops being the most important factor, we have reached a new low.

What follows is a letter I was forced to write back in 2008, when I was a bridgetender in Jacksonville, Florida, and the Florida Department of Transportation put my life at risk. As per usual with them, I never got any response, and there seemed to be no consequences. I hope they are treating bridgetenders more fairly now, as these disasters increase in frequency. But I doubt it.

Dear Mr. XXXXXXXX:

Hurricane season is once again upon us. As a bridgetender who had to work at Ortega River Bridge in the early morning hours of Friday, August 22nd during the very worst of Tropical Storm Fay, I feel compelled to give you some insight as to what that was like.

I had to drive to work in 50 mph winds, detouring around downed trees and power lines, and then walked up the bridge to the tenderhouse, getting drenched in the process, and nearly being blown into the street on more than one occasion, only to find out that the coast guard had closed the bridge to boat traffic. I was informed that FDOT was aware of this, but since your wind meter did not match the speeds registered by the one in the tenderhouse, you decided we had to work.

Every weather channel said that the winds were going to be at least 50 mph. Clearly the Coast Guard believed this and took boater safety very seriously. Apparently, we were only there to monitor the radio, but the only transmissions I heard all night were the many Coast Guard announcements that informed boaters of the bridge closings, because no boater in his right mind was out in that weather. No cars were out either, except for the bridgetender who was compelled to relieve me at the end of the shift.

During the entire length of my shift, surrounded by electrical equipment, I was forced to mop water down the hatch and bail as it literally poured in the doors, windows, and through the air conditioner. At one point the heavy traffic cones and life ring blew into the street and I had to wrestle them indoors. Not only should the traffic gates be secured in such weather, but also the traffic cones, life rings and convex mirror should be stowed indoors to avoid becoming projectiles. Apparently that was left up to me during the height of the storm.

When my bladder could no longer hold out, I was forced to venture outdoors and across the street to the bathroom in a downpour, and once again I was nearly blown off my feet. Had I been hurt, no one would have known for hours. Not once did anyone call to check on me.

In the meantime, the power was continually going off and on, which caused the generator to kick in as I watched transformers exploding on the horizon. I found out the next day that water spouts were spinning up on the river. The wind shook the building and the waves crested over the fenders.

When it was time to go home, I once again had to walk down the bridge, and the wind was blowing so hard that the rain was physically painful. Once again I was drenched as no rain coat in the world can stand up to those conditions, and by the time I detoured around even more downed trees and power lines to get home, my lips were blue from the cold and I had to stave off hypothermia by taking an extended hot bath. Thank God my electricity was not out or I would probably have been hospitalized.

The worst part about the whole experience, sir, was that I spent the entire shift afraid, and my family was afraid for me. And the whole time I kept thinking, “I haven’t had a raise in 5 years, and I have $5,000 in medical debt because of substandard health insurance. Must I risk my life, too?”

I can’t speak for other bridgetenders. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to climb the ladder at the Main Street Bridge under these conditions. I’m sure my life would have been flashing before my eyes.

I hope you will take this letter into consideration when making decisions in future storms. I hope I never have to have another experience like that as long as I live.

                                      Sincerely…

Tropical Storm Fay
Tropical Storm Fay. Would you have expected your employees to work in this?

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Screwing Up Once

So my phone rang at 7:03 am. I woke up, took one look at the clock, shouted, “Oh, SHIT!!!!” (causing my sleepy dog to give me the hairy eyeball) and answered the phone. I knew it was my supervisor. Before he could say much of anything, I apologized profusely and said I’d be right there. My alarm hadn’t gone off. I had set it for PM instead of AM.

It happens to the best of us. But you have to understand: Bridgetenders cannot, simply cannot, be late. Ever. First of all, if you don’t show up on time, it means the person you are relieving can’t leave. That tends to cause discontent amongst the troops.

But even more importantly, since we are regulated by the Coastguard, abandonment of a bridge can constitute a $10,000 fine and/or 10 years in prison. You just don’t get to impede maritime passage like that. It’s a big no-no. Granted, I’ve never seen this regulation actually enforced, but it is a possibility. It’s why I’ve only been late to work 3 times in 15 years.

Let’s do the math, here. 15 years times 50 weeks a year (allowing for vacations) times 5 days a week equals 3750 days of work. Number of days late: 3. That’s a 0.08% error rate.

You know what that says to me? Congratulations, Barb, you are human. Alert the press.

But instead I got written up. Here, it’s called a “coaching and counseling” and we’re told it does not become a part of our permanent records. They just hold it for 6 months or a year. (The fact that I can’t remember the length shows you how much I care.) I guess they want to see if you are a chronically late person.

Upon receiving my copy, I asked if there was any documentation of the 99.92% of the time that I actually show up 20 minutes early. I was told no. “Well, that’s fair,” I said.

What a destructive policy. All this does is make your staff feel unappreciated. It is a blow to morale. It makes one want to do the bare minimum for an organization that clearly does not care about its employees. Bad business.

This is not the first time I’ve observed companies come down like a ton of bricks on a good employee who screwed up just once. It makes absolutely no sense. It’s the equivalent to setting fire to your own hair. (“Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time…”)

Here’s what I don’t get. I screw up once and get written up. Trump screws up several times a day for 6 months running, and he’s allowed to destroy our governmental infrastructure and our standing in the international community, all while robbing the taxpayers while he golfs, and there are no consequences.

WHEN DO WE SAY WHEN??

smiling_objects___alarm_clock_by_mondspeer-d8j1gx4.png

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