Being a Woman Who Builds
I was inspired listening to one of my favorite podcasts today - Young House Love - to write about what it's like being a woman who builds things. YHL's Sherri was discussing a recent interaction with a "Bob" she had, where the contractor in question was bidding a project at her house and was dismissive of her input and thoughts, in a pat-on-the-head "Now now little lady" kind of way. That made me think of all the times I've had to double and triple legitimize myself among men in the world of construction. And it also brought to mind some positive interactions on the gender front. There's not going to be a whole lot of pictures in this post, but here's a recent one of my house for fun:
I'll start by saying that I have progressive parents. I was always very interested in what my dad was doing with his tools and projects, and I'm sure I was a general nuisance to him trying to get our basement remodeled when I was a kid. But he let me help, and that was probably what sparked my lifelong love of power tools and building. It never occurred to me until I was older that maybe not every young girl learns how to drill and nail things together with her dad on the weekends.
When I bought Heartland House, I really wanted to expand my knowledge of construction techniques and learn how to do more difficult projects than anything I had tackled yet. I would drag Dan to the hardware store on the weekends to purchase materials and browse around. I wouldn't hesitate to ask the guy in the plumbing department or the electrical department my questions, but it got frustrating when he would listen to my question, and then turn and address his answer to my husband. Eventually, Dan would interrupt the guy and tell him to talk to me directly, because he knew nothing about the subject at hand and I was the more informed of the two of us. Happily, the guys at the hardware store learned that I was the one who needed the information, and I even got on first name basis with some of them.
Last year in Salt Lake City, I wanted to join a maker space. It's like a co-op for builders, where space and tools are shared. I found one called Rootform that seemed perfect. I paid my monthly dues, and moved my tools there and started working. On the very first day I was working on a project there, one of the other members was absolutely stunned when I used a tape measure to measure a piece of wood, and a speed square to draw a line. Then when I used a mitre saw to cut that same piece of wood, he said, "And she uses power tools? HAWT!" What I did was nothing extraordinary or difficult. I was immediately uncomfortable with the dynamic in the space, which continued along those lines until I relinquished my membership. I wasn't able to establish a rapport with the other men in that space that didn't have an underlying sexual tone (a predatory one, from my perspective. I felt watched and uncomfortable every time I went there). And it wasn't worth it to me to continue trying to change that dynamic.
I've often encountered very large ego issues with men in the construction trade. I call these men "Bob" because it seems like 90% of the time their name is Bob....or maybe it was just one in particular that was horrible and his name was Bob. Anyway. There are generally two reactions that I get when a man comes to understand that I might know as much as he does about construction. One possible reaction is to engage in nice conversation about various subjects, have a good time, and go on our way. Everyone wins, I get to meet a new person, we both walk away feeling good. The other possible reaction is that I am somehow perceived as being a threat to this person because of my knowledge. Then there begins a verbal sparring that I think of as "prove to the woman that I am manly by verbally strutting my manliness". These people are Bobs. They are threatened by me, for some reason, and instead of engaging in pleasant conversation about a topic we both enjoy, Bob will do his best to undermine me in conversation, thus proving to himself that there's no possible way I can know as much as he does about construction and in the process making himself look like an ass. This happens more often than you would think.
On the positive side, I have found that the tiny house world is much more open and accessible to women than other construction industries. I'm not sure what it is about tiny houses specifically (maybe the cute factor?) but many, many women of all different backgrounds and skill levels have built their own tiny houses. Three that come to mind that are very inspiring for me are Ella Jenkins, of Little Yellow Door; Macy Miller of Mini Motives; and BA Norrgard of A Bed Over My Head. Each of these women have a compelling story and reason that they went tiny, and each time I teach a tiny house workshop I meet more and more women coming to the idea of building their own space. It's empowering to be surrounded by other women in a field that is typically dominated by men!
I would love to continue this conversation about how women are tackling their dreams and getting involved in construction. If you have a story along this line, please share it in the comments!