Check it out, The Thinking Housewife can be snarky!
LAST MONTH, in an interview with the ever-incisive Katie Couric, Gloria Steinem noted, while offering a philosophical overview of contemporary society and world history, that there are relatively few women plumbers. This insight struck me like a lightening bolt. It showed that Ms. Steinem continues to be a penetrating thinker. Now, I have never met a single woman who wanted to become a plumber, let alone a woman who wanted to become a plumber but was prevented from fulfilling her dreams, but Ms. Steinem is probably very plugged in to the feminine plumbing subculture. Almost everything that is humanly possible exists in this world and I don’t doubt there are one or two frustrated women who have unclogged drains since early childhoo
d and have longed, to no avail, to commit themselves to the lonely, back-breaking labor of the plumber’s life.
I am here to tell you that it is not just plumbing that remains a closed field to women.
Look at this New York Post photo of the crew that just completed a new subway tunnel in New York City. Does something seem amiss? You are right. There are no women in this picture. Where was Ms. Steinem when this photo was taken? Her presence was needed. Ladies, oppression is real. It is real and ongoing. From the bowels of the earth, men are ruling the world.
She mocks us. She mocks feminists, she mocks Steinem, she mocks women in trades. That’s ok, we mock her back, just as snarkily.
The thing is, I kind of want to thank her for bringing this up. I did a quick search for “women plumbers” and was fascinated by my findings.
For instance, the New York Times has a free PDF of an article from 1913: 86 WOMEN PLUMBERS.; Four Female Bricklayers ;- Other Strange English Census Records.
LONDON, Dec. 20. — Has any one ever seen a woman plumber? There are not many persons who could reply in the affirmative, but, according to the report of the census of England and Wales relating to occupations and industries, there are eighty-six women who ply the calling of plumber. Of these seventy-seven are widows.
There were also women working as paperhangers, white washers, a coachman, clergy/priests/ministers (woah!), coalheavers, carmen and wagoners, blacksmiths, shipwrights, carpenters, masons–A total of 825 women reported that they were working as skilled laborers, despite gender barriers. Womens Suffrage was not granted in full in England until 1928.
An only child, the attractive Washington-Lee High School graduate, indicated an early desire to follow in her dad’s footsteps. She scorned dolls for monkey wrenches when she was six years old and by the time she was 12 was a regular plumber’s helper on jobs with her dad. (Miss Becomes a Master)
Clearly, she was drawn to plumbing from an early age. Like a good number of the women I found, her father was a plumbe
r, so she had home-grown support. Men like her father deserve special praise–he helped to make Lillian’s achievements possible, at a time when it was almost unthinkable. Note that Lillian went on to marry and have children. She died of leukemia in 2000.
As I explored, I learned that many working women are also the sole breadwinners in their families. Like the 77 of 86 British lady plumbers in 1913, a large portion of working women are widowed, or otherwise unsupported by a partner. The Chicago Women In Trades website states,
Women are in the labor force simply to earn some extra spending money.FACT: The majority of women work because of economic need. In fact, 62% of working women earn half or more of their family’s income. Forty-five percent of women in the labor force are the sole supporters of their households: single (25%), divorced, widowed, or separated (20%). The urgent need for women to have access to high-wage jobs is demonstrated by the fact that nearly 38% of all female-headed households with related children under 18 years old are living in poverty.
Skilled trade jobs pay well, helping these women to support themselves and their families with a single income. The CWIT makes it clear that, no, it is not enough for these women to work in women-dominated fields.
The pay for jobs in which women are traditionally employed is about the same as the pay for jobs in which men are traditionally employed.
FACT: In 2002, the median weekly earnings for traditional female occupations such as child care workers and food preparation workers ranged between $251 and $309. The mediam [sic] weekly wage for male-dominated occupations such as precision production, craft and repair occupations was $645.
Hmm, be a secretary, or an electrician for twice the money… If I had lost my husband and had to raise two kids while paying off a mortgage, I would be leaning toward the latter.
But TTH isn’t so much saying that women don’t become plumbers, or that they can’t. She may not be happy that it happens, but she acknowledges that it does. No, she’s mocking the uphill battle women face when they enter these fields. “Now, I have never met a single woman who wanted to become a plumber,” she says. I haven’t, either. And I don’t really like the idea, myself. I would consider becoming an electrician, though. I am drawn to technology, so wiring is a much better fit for me.
TTH mocks the complaints of an ‘Old Boys Club’, but its impact is absolutely being felt. Not one woman featured in my research would say that she heartily recommended women go into skilled trades. These quotes come from an article in Reeves Journal (Women in the Plumbing Industry, PDF):
Today Glass is semi-retired, leaving the day-to-day duties to her two sons and her brother-in-law. After 40 years in the business, does she recommend the industry to other women? Not without hands-on training and a strong man to back her up. “Being a woman on a job site is not for the faint of heart,” Glass said. “Let’s face it—some things cannot be politically correct—and a job site is one of them. Dispatching and customer service and accounting are generally women’s jobs in this industry. I still believe it’s a man’s world and that doesn’t diminish me in the least.”
Though Scommodau admits plumbing has given her the life she wants to have, she cautioned women considering the field, “They have to know they’re in for a fight.”
Despite her success, the city inspector doesn’t exactly recommend the job. “I wouldn’t encourage women to go into this kind of work unless they were aware of the experience of being isolated and tested,” Belvill said, adding the building boom has expanded opportunities for women and minorities. “I noticed more women getting into the trades…but I don’t see many stick around for the long haul.”
Perhaps because her mother was at the helm, Lewis said she was mostly spared the estrangement women commonly feel in such a male-dominated industry. “That’s not to say that the ‘old boys’ club’ mentality does not exist. I have actually experienced it up close and personal but have not let it have an effect on where I was or what I was doing. I have always considered that behavior the problem of those displaying it.”
The women in this document are successful, and they are happy with what they are doing. But even those who aren’t plumbers themselves, but are clerical or administrative works, still find it difficult. Their message is that it is possible to work hard and succeed. But it’s a lot of really hard work.
One of TTH’s commenters would like to remind you that women just aren’t cut out for that sort of hard work.
Speaking of Gloria Steinem and the demand for female firemen, long ago in a TV program on this issue the interviewer pointed out to Steinem that women do not have the strength to carry a victim out of a fire over their shoulder, and Steinem replied (I kid you not), “Well, they can drag them instead.”
It was absolute proof that the feminists do not care about reality, do not care about the consequences of their policies. They want sex equality, regardless of the results.
Point to him, that was a really stupid thing for Steinem to say. Dragging a victim out of a fire is beyond asinine. I can respect her without agreeing with everything she says.
But the fact remains that women are, and have been, firefighters for a long time. Molly Williams, a slave, worked at Oceanus Engine Company #11 in New York City in 1818.
Her work was noted particularly during the blizzard of 1818. Male firefighters were scarce, but Williams took her place with the men on the dragropes and pulled the pumper to the fire through the deep snow.
What’s a pumper? Nowadays we call them fire trucks, but in 1818, they looked like this:
The men used to drag those, they didn’t even use horses until the 1850s and ’60s. And Molly Williams dove right in with the best of them.
In fact, who put out fires before it became a career? Whoever was nearby, that’s who–and that included women.
Who farmed acres of land, in brutal conditions, doing back-breaking labor as slaves, or because not working meant you didn’t survive?
Everyone did. Women included. The most grueling tasks were given first to the men (because, yes, the average man is stronger than the average women–but those are averages) but in the end, everyone was busting their humps. It doesn’t matter what your gender is when the heat is on, things need to be done. And women did them.
Only aristocratic ladies sat in the house sipping tea while Rome burned and every woman with sense was grabbing a bucket. And it is the height of laziness to suggest that because women are comparatively weaker, we should not even try. Gosh, too bad, we’ll just have to hang back and watch, we’re too weak to be much help. You know us girls, always getting in the way and breaking nails.
The world isn’t going to say, “Oh, what, you have ovaries? My mistake, I’ll schedule the burst pipe for when your brother comes to town.”
Unless my brother is a certified plumber, bring it on. I have Google, a tool kit, access to a hardware store, and the yellow pages (just in case I have to call this guy). Oh, and a brain. Sure, I won’t like having to do it, but my not being naturally inclined to tinkering under the sink doesn’t mean I get a free pass.