My Love Letter to the Dudes
Written by : Alex Opiel
I was crouched down in Home Depot picking out my first ever tool belt. It was two weeks into my new job as a "construction chick", whatever that meant, and I was fresh out of a career flip, coming straight from the depths of a pharmaceutical microbiology lab. Did I know what I was doing? No. Did I just need a tool belt? Yes. As I grabbed the prettiest brown leather tool belt I could find, an older man came up behind me in Aisle 10 and asked me what I was doing. "Buying a tool belt?", I said. "Christ! Can't we men just have anything anymore?? You better be buying that for your man or something."
In that moment I was so annoyed, somewhat humiliated, dumbfounded, and ready to both run for office and buy every tool I could get my hands on. He's not going to stop me! But could he tell I wasn't a "legitimate" construction girl? That I was buying my very first tool belt? Do I not look the part? Do I even have tools for this belt? Is this how construction guys are? What the hell kind of career flip did I just do...
Over a year and 500+ Home Depot runs later, the experience has changed, but not all that much. It's not uncommon for someone to ask me why "my contractor" sent me to pick up wood for him or to blatantly ignore me as I am trying helplessly to get something heavy onto my cart. I've had guys tell me that I must not know what I'm talking about when I ask for a certain product (that we are currently using on site), say "good girl" when I am able to lift something with them, unwaveringly stand in the middle of the aisle as I'm trying to roll a 200 lb cart through after saying "excuse me!" 40 times, or say "you know those are expensive screws, right?" when I accidentally drop a box and they go all over the floor. Yes I know! I've bought them once a week for a year!
Hello World, it's me!
In the hardware store it can be very frustrating to watch women, particularly middle aged women (...something to look forward to), get ignored or talked down to in this Man Paradise. It's just a store, but if you're a woman, it's an intimidating place no matter how you slice it and it's easy to feel like you don't belong or are doing something wrong. It's designed by, run for, and filled with MEN. Tough construction men who don't want a woman there in their space. And we know it.
It's also indicative of construction on a large scale. If this is just the construction STORE, imagine the construction SITES and the COMPANIES.
Beyond the 'ol Ron Swanson meme (see below), what saves the day and gives me both hope and clarity in my career flip decision are the "Good Dudes". Both in Home Depot and beyond. Not only are they important, they are necessary and vital for women's empowerment and employment in construction, and really in any male-dominated field or society at large. Luckily at Little Wheel, we have so many of the Good Dudes!!!
A lot of times, women are made to feel dumb if they're not an expert, or at least smarter than the guys, so we choose to just stick with what we're good at (ie. not construction). It's very difficult to have to pretend to be great at something just to get a normal level of respect. But that's womanhood in a nutshell, sometimes - especially when you're in a male-dominated field. It's exhausting! I think about this often and know that it would be nearly impossible to make it as a woman in a construction company that wasn't built up and bolstered by Good Dudes -- which is probably why there aren't many of us in this field.
Thankfully, the guys at Little Wheel are the Good Dudes. My first day on the job, Mo asked me to tell him if I ever felt he was "mansplaining" anything to me. Gee, I'd never had a man ask me that! I didn't even know that guys were aware that mansplaining existed!
I know that no man should be celebrated for not being a misogynist, but the guys at Little Wheel are women empowerers, even if they don't know it. I celebrate them because they embrace women who are learning, they take the time to slow down and show us "simple" tasks, answer stupid questions, to explain things to us, let us take the lead when possible, and never make us feel like "we should know this".
The women are what separate Little Wheel from other construction companies, but the guys are the reason that the women can even exist in the construction world. Without them, both to learn from and be accepted by, I suppose Little Wheel wouldn't be what it is. To the guys, it may seem like teaching someone the right way to caulk, to put in a hardwood floor, or use an auger (aka big drilly thingy) is not that huge of a deal, but to women, it means a lot. Not only does it mean that from now on we don't have to rely on a guy to fix things (score!), it means that they are helping to revolutionize an industry. And it doesn't go unnoticed or unappreciated.
Shout out to Top 10 dudes ever! Michael, Jeff, Mo, Ian, Nick, Z, Steve, Rob, Anthony, and Nate! <3
Alex and the rest of the lady crew at Little Wheel.