Working Women, Working Bodies

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Everyone is on site at by 8:30AM. To me this is excruciatingly early to be seen in the world, but for most people in construction it’s late. Our crew consists of me, an 82-year old Italian, three retired engineers, and my boss, the only other woman. In the world of construction crews we are far from normal. We are not young white men smoking cigarettes on our lunch break. We’re what the cat dragged in and despite ourselves we get a lot done. In face, we build houses.

Today I came into work not knowing what was going on. I’ve gotten used to this. Turns out the warehouse truck was coming with a huge delivery that we unloaded. Fridges, cabinets, light fixtures, and toilets. You name it, that truck had it. Although this finishing stuff is exciting, I miss the large loads of lumber that fueled our summer framing projects. Once we’d run all the items out from the truck, over the snowbank, and into our living room, it was time to get started on the real work.

My boss set me on cabinets with one of our most famous, quiet, and genius volunteers. He’s volunteered for something like twenty years, and built multiple houses on his own and donated them to Habitat. We set to installing the kitchen cabinets. Using the house plans we penciled in a giant map on the wall of where all the cabinets would go. This involved measuring the proper dimensions for each cabinet and making sure all our lines were level. No one wants a counter where all your blueberries roll onto the floor in the summer! Next we screwed the cabinets together on the floor in the proper order. They have special cabinet screws which are gold and look prettier than normal screws because they’re the rare type of house hard wear we actually see. Fixing the cabinets to the wall involved a lot of standing and holding them up and really still while they got screwed in.

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a women on a construction site. At Habitat, there are a lot of us, at least half the people working in the field are women. We wear Carhardts, 5lb work boots, and tool belts. At work, I feel pressure to dress, look, and act more stereotypically masculine than I would like. Mansplaining happens every day. I remember my old boss telling me that she left construction because of the sexism implicit in the work. I am in love with the home we are making, and because I am invested in my work, I have to ask myself and my co-workers, why do cultural conceptions of how we should be influence how we can be?

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