Today April shares on what it is like to be a female tradie …
When you ask a woman “What do you do for a living” what do you expect to hear? Teacher, online retailer, graphic designer, doctor. In this century and thanks to so many pioneering women, we can choose any career in the universe. But still people never expect me to answer with “I am a concreter.”
Early in the morning, we pull up to the job in the ute. My father gets out and stretches. I begin to dig in the back of the ute for my gumboots and shovel, swearing as I find them underneath every single tool we own. Very frustrating.
We’re not the only ones on site this morning. I smile and say “hi” to the unfamiliar faces as I get my tools lined up and ready for use. They’re not friendly, they give me strange looks. The boss on site, a bloke I’ve known for years, gives me shit, treating me like any of the guys.
The workers look more confused.
Tradies stereotypically are meant to be male; young and old, fit fellas and beer bellied blokes. But always MEN.
I could almost read their minds. What was this girl doing on site and wearing gumboots and a smile? Not here. No, this place wasn’t for a girly girl with pigtails. She should be at home or working in an office. Like the rest of the women they knew.
I have to roll my eyes when I see the confusion on their faces.
To me, this is a normal day and a normal job. Heck, this is normal for my family as my mother is also a concreter.
To the blokes, the clients, and the public who find out about the female tradies, we’re circus freaks.
The truck shows up and concrete drops out as it’s bowl spins, and lands at my feet. I leap into action, my muscles tightening and releasing as I shovel. I’m efficient (should be after so much practice), can see the height level I have to be at, know I have to be quick and consistent (concrete waits for no-one, to dry).
“She’s a worker, look at her shovel,” one of the blokes’ comment in surprise. All around there is a chuckle.
Dad snorts. “She only shovels like that to make her boobs bigger.”
“It worked for your man boobs,” I volley back.
None of the guys know what to say to that, they don’t know that this is normal for us. The boss is pissing himself laughing, he knows what to expect when our family of three comes to site and get into the rhythm of the job.
This is the zone, where the energy peaks and I work hard.
At the end, I reek of sweat, my hair has begun to escape my pigtails, and from all of the water I’ve been consuming, I need a bathroom. But there isn’t one on site. No house for me to ask the client if I could borrow. No portable loo (not that I EVER want to step inside another one ever again, yuck). And no hiding place to go squat.
So I hold it until we can drive home.
Lady tradies do exist and we have some of the most uncomfortable working conditions. Blokes don’t need a toilet on site, they turn their backs and do it standing up so the boss doesn’t hire a portable loo for the day. Many assume we don’t know what we’re doing or we’re there to fill some quota, a certain number of women must be employed for the business to look good.
But we enjoy doing the physical stuff, challenging our bodies. And our minds; having to think of the smarter way to do the heavy lifting because we’re not muscled up and can haul it. We have to be smart and use machinery or do a team lift. Thus not throwing out our backs or dropping it on our toes… like some idiots.
And it is amazing doing something that is useful. A house will be built on the concrete we’ve poured; a family will live in it. How can I not feel proud of the end product? I did that. This girl did that job.
Do you work in a non-traditional role for women? Are you ever confronted with shock and confusion from others? Let us know by leaving a comment!
April Klasen is the author of Pure Pop Asia, a blogger for total world domination, re-skilled artist, and heavy drinker. But concreting will always be at the heart of her family (every conversation at dinner goes back to the job). To find out more go to www.aprilklasenauthor.com. I Heart Pop Asia will be released later this year.