In case you missed it, this week I posted (what I thought were) some fairly innocuous tweets about my struggles at work. These seemed to attract (in my opinion) a fairly unreasonable amount of attention from haters. A long battle ensued. Here are my reflections following the event…
It had been a long day, punctuated by being asked yet again to explain my reasoning by a man outside of my field of expertise. Actually, for your information, the question is never (and I do mean never. Not sometimes. Every. Single. Time.) phrased ‘can you help me understand why you have done ___?’ It is ‘do we really need ___ (foundations here, this beam, a post there, blah blah)?’ To which my (internalised) response is: ‘Actually, no. I just make this stuff up to give myself something to do. Of course we don’t need any structure in this building, silly me.’ Or ‘Don’t agree with what I’ve specified? I have a simple solution: design it yourself.’ Or simply ‘Fuck off.’
[Thankfully I have a boss who will listen to my rants and then help me formulate a polite reply!]
It might seem like semantics but, to me, it implies that because my design is not exactly as they (Mr Male Architect/ Mr Male Builder/ Mr Male Lay-Client) expected that I must have done something wrong. There is no acceptance that I have different training to them and might know something they don’t.
I’ll admit: this, in itself, isn’t sexist. It could be due to any number of things: my age, my clothes, my physical looks; maybe I just come across as totally incompetent. Who knows? But I do know, having been in the industry just over 10 years now, one factor is definitely my gender. I know from experience that my male colleagues don’t get the same level of doubt in their abilities. I know that less experienced male colleagues will get looked to in meetings to corroborate my suggestions. I know that my designs have been disregarded entirely in favour of the suggestions from male builders which go against all good practice guidance.
Yes, I agree, these are only my opinions/experiences. I do not make inferences about every man from these. But to be honest, I expect the worst. Maybe my work bubble just involves a lot of douchbags and is not representative of the construction industry as a whole, I doubt this but agree, it is a possibility.
Now you have the background. I’ll admit I am angry about the state of my profession, but most of all I am TIRED of dealing with this kind of treatment. Every. Single. Day.
Which was exactly what I said. A few comments about what is on my mind a lot lately.
And from that I was accused of many things. Being ‘het up’, ‘hysterical’, ‘attention seeking’ and ‘cowardly’.
But honestly, the comment that got the most under my skin was the assertion that I was, essentially, just trying to make everyone see how great I am.
The reason this comment got to me is that I have spent most of my life trying to hide my abilities. I was bullied and ostracised for being clever in school. At home one of my sisters got jealous (in a bitter, passive-aggressive way) if I showed any aptitude at anything she liked to do. So I hid.
And I am still hiding.
I don’t engage in conversations about school because, other than being crap socially, it was a doddle. If anyone brings up university I focus on the facts that I spent most of the time depressed and/or in meltdown. I don’t play my instruments in public, at least not the ones I am actually skilled at. I don’t let anyone see me draw, or show them the results. Most people don’t know I love music or drawing at all. What I have also done to cover my abilities is to take up a load of activities, crafts, instruments (mostly self-taught) which I am OK at but will never master. These are especially chosen to be most socially acceptable and to encourage conversation with the maximum number of my peers.
So don’t you, stranger, tell me that I am trying to show off.
Let me tell you it straight: When I think about it, I am proud of what I have achieved in my career so far. I am proud to be an engineer. I am proud to be one of a very small minority of engineers who specialise in ultra-low energy buildings. And I love my job.
However, I am crushingly aware that I ‘should’ be chartered by now. I took a career break for a couple of years so am a bit behind the rest of my fellow graduates, but that doesn’t stop me feeling like I’ve fallen behind and (illogically) blaming it on my (lack of) intelligence/talent.
I am also aware that my career choice is not for everyone. And that is absolutely fine with me. I don’t have the skills to work with people so I could not be a carer, nurse, doctor, sales person, or HR manager. I’m no good with children so I could not be a teacher, nursery nurse, or a stay at home parent. I am totally in awe of all of these people. In saying that, I’ll probably still sound patronising to some. I’ve undoubtedly phrased it wrong and for that I am sorry. The point I am trying to make it that I don’t see my profession as better than any other way people spend their days. It is just what I happen to do.
So if I choose to share something about my work, it is probably to raise awareness, or to see if other people (in any job or none) have had similar experiences. If it comes across otherwise, ask me for an explanation.
You are allowed to disagree with my conclusions from my experiences. You are allowed to share if my writings have upset you in any way. You are allowed to call me up on the words I use and direct me to less offensive/ableist/sexist/whatever-ist ones. You are welcome to share your experiences (similar or totally unrelated) and how you responded differently to me.
But you are not allowed to shout at me (physically or electronically). You are not allowed to tell me that my experiences didn’t happen in the way I described (you weren’t there). You are not allowed to tell me that my feelings aren’t valid or correct (they are my feelings, whether you like or agree with them won’t change them). You are not allowed to tell me that my being autistic isn’t relevant to a particular discussion (if I say it is, it is. If you don’t understand how, go research autism or ask). You are not allowed to make sweeping generalisations about my character from my comments (you do not know my whole character). I cannot respect the opinions of people who start their arguments by insulting me, nor do I respond to being ‘yelled’ at (this actually makes me physically shutdown).
[In case there are wannabe trolls out there on WordPress too, I reserve the right to moderate any comments which are personally insulting or are from people who think that by shouting their ill-informed opinions loudly they will convert me to their cause.]