Abi and I walked into a local family owned plumbing store in town. Compared to Naughton’s and Home Depot this store is tiny, instead of roaming through the aisles to find plumbing parts, you walk up to the counter and ask Bruce for what you need. He brings it right to you. There is free cold water to make sure plumbers are staying hydrated.
Abi and I walked into Bonnets, Stems, and Accessories to find a Price Pfister shower valve, we were excited to walk in, knowing the service would be so friendly and the store would more likely have the part we needed that is harder to find at other stores.
A man walked into this same plumbing store and was not expecting to see two females in this plumbing small store. Once again unlike Naughton’s or Home Depot we were in close proximity he didn’t see us walking down the aisle where he could, just quietly wonder what we were trying to find at Home Depot, keeping his comments to himself.
A man walked into this small store and before the door even closed Abi and I hear this man ask “are y’all female plumbers.. I didn’t know there were female plumbers?” We had just told Bruce what we needed and he had turned to look at his stock, but as soon as he heard this man’s comment he turned back around and let this man know, actually there are quite a bit of female plumbers. In fact Bruce’s mom has been in construction since the 80’s here and has had to have “bigger balls” than all the men in this field. Bruce told him that men learned quickly to be “more afraid of her than an 80 pound bulldog,” she meant business and knew what she was doing.
This man of course was shocked to hear that women were in this field, but he figured out it did make sense that women could do plumbing now, after all technology and tools have really developed to make it easy enough now for women to do plumbing. This has been the most direct comment from a man I’ve heard in my six months in this male dominated field of home repair and construction, questioning the ability of females to do the same work he does, just as well as he can.
Many people seem shocked to see that women are in this field. Some comments men make are more subtle when they are curious about women in this field. We have many questions about whether or not we are the crew that will do the work, or if we are just the assessors. We are often asked if we need help loading lumber onto our rack when we have five boards left after already loading our first twenty boards on our own. These comments don’t always sound like they are questioning our ability to do these things on our own, but also when I’m paired with male staff, I don’t receive these same questions. I am just left to wonder what assumptions or expectations are being made by men about me in this field.
Despite these comments in only six months I’ve started to gain confidence in my abilities, I’ve installed a handful of furnaces and water heaters, I have helped build the longest ramp that CHRPA has built, I’ve installed many kitchen and lav faucets and re-plumbed leaking water lines. I’ve learned how to use the many tools that do in fact make the job easier; I’ve learned how to use pipe wrenches, snakes, a rehau and wirsbo, and how to solder. These make it easy to make connections in water lines, and be able to do work faster.
I love working in a field that hasn’t traditionally been male dominated. I love getting to use power tools that make me feel empowered. I love working with other women in the field. I love wearing my pink work boots that make me feel like I can express my gender and the pride I have in being a woman. I love when female clients we work for are comforted by the fact that women are coming into their homes to help them. I love that female clients think we’re badass and rooting us on when we’re working.
The smallest moments with female clients are truly special, they remind me of the many other times in my life I have felt surrounded by sisterhood. The community I have found with women in my life has been incredibly healing and powerful in not allowing me to feel alone. The comments and feeling uncomfortable with some of the men I interact with in this field still at times is something I continue to struggle with, but finding community with women within my work brings me joy, and the desire to continue to use my strengths and abilities as a women.