I always thought that gender stereotyping was a thing of the past. I mean come on; the women’s lib and feminist movement has been huge and only grows stronger with each passing decade since what…the late 70’s? Sure, we don’t burn our bras in protest anymore, but we’re living in a day and age where mothers raise their daughters to firmly believe that they can be and do anything in this wide, wild world if they just set their minds to it.
I wasn’t necessarily raised as one of those women; the ones that are encouraged to get out there and grab life by the short and curlies. I can’t recall a time when I was ever told, “Honey, you can do anything that a man can do. Go get ‘em, girl.” As a matter of fact, in my household, there was a distinct gender division in that there were mom chores and dad chores. I haven’t seen my dad wash a dish, touch a vacuum (unless it needed fixing), or do a load of laundry in all my 39 years on this planet. In turn, though, I’ve never seen my mom fix a fence, install an in-ground sprinkler system, fire up the grill, or hop on the riding mower. My parents have always had their gender specific roles firmly in place, and it works for them.
Yet no one ever told me it was entirely a man’s world, either. I grew up blissfully oblivious to any knowledge that there might actually be a distinct difference in the career paths that males and females are expected to follow. People were just that to me; people. I had never truly thought that having breasts made any woman less of a man.
Flashdance paved the way for this line of thinking. Jennifer Beals starred as Alex Owens, a welder in a steel mill by day and an exotic dancer by night. You can’t blur the line dividing what is or at least what was perceived to be two completely gender-based roles in the workplace much more than that, right? Women had come far enough by that time that they could wear a hard hat or a welding mask without anyone giving it a second thought. At least it made sense in my mind that things had become that way.
So at 18, fresh out of high school, I found myself working on an assembly line in a fire alarm factory. To me, it was a job, plain and simple. I helped build and create. I operated heavy machinery. I learned to work a soldering iron until I became so adept at what I was doing that the job required little to no thought on my part. I was clearly doing what probably would have made every member of our once gender divided society elicit a collective gasp 50 years prior. Yes, we had definitely come a long way. Or had we?
After 10 years of factory work, I moved out of state. I eased into the role of what was once expected of a woman; being a stay at home mother and housewife while the man of the house shuffled off to his 9 to 5. These days, though, no one even bats an eyelash at those roles being reversed. A man sitting at home changing diapers and watching soap operas while the lady of the house heads out the door with briefcase in hand isn’t all that unheard of anymore. That line hasn’t just been blurred; it seems to have been erased altogether with the turn of the century.
In many households now, though, the male and female adults both have to work, and with the economy having taken a dump, this soon became the way it had to be in ours.
So, I found myself unable to continue sitting on my fat duff eating potato chips, drinking Mountain Dew, and watching Netflix all day while my husband went out and brought home the bacon. It was time for me to either rejoin the workforce or go hungry.
Fortunately, though, I didn’t have to look far for a job. My husband is a property manager with plenty of work opportunities around the 96 unit complex that he runs for a guy to make money. This guy started painting apartments for him a little over 3 years ago.
So, among the many titles that I already held, such as Mother, Wife, Lover, Homemaker, Bunny (my husband’s pet name for me, don’t judge) Superwoman, and God’s Gift to Mankind (too far you think?), I also now held a new title; Commercial Painter.
I quickly found that I was amazing at this new venture. Maybe it’s the artist and perfectionist in me, or maybe I’m just a natural, but either way, the apartments that I paint look far better than the rest and are rented out at a much quicker rate. Potential renters will even comment on the amazing paint job when they view a finished apartment, and my husband will beam with pride as he explains that it’s his wife’s handiwork that they are seeing.
I leave work every day a complete mess, though. There will be paint in my hair, on the backs of my arms and legs, and all over my clothes. Rather than ruin every t-shirt and pair of shorts or sweatpants that I own with paint splatter, I simply reuse the same 5 or so shirts and pairs of pants until they either get holes in them or are so caked with paint that they’re stiff enough to stand up on their own. Even then, whether or not they get retired to the trash can is debatable. It is, however, safe to say that I’m never a totally gorgeous sight after a long hard day of painting.
Once in a while after work, I’ll need to make a quick run to the store or my husband and I will stop for a bite to eat at a fast food place or even an extremely casual sit down place like Denny’s. I’ll enter these public places amidst the stares, glares, and disgusted looks from other patrons and think to myself, “What? It’s just paint people.” Then I’ll hang my head in shame, and silently wonder if I should maybe think about retiring the work clothes that I’m currently wearing and opt to destroy something else in my closet.
Recently, though, when I was out and about running errands, I came across a couple of guys in paint spattered work clothes walking through one of the stores that I had stopped at. I smiled a knowing smile at them. These were my brothers in battle. My kindred. They, however, had something that I didn’t:
I realized the full impact of that fact when I looked around and saw that no one in the place gave these guys in all of their paint smeared glory a second thought. They were just a couple of men in their work clothes; the same work clothes that I often wear as people stare and glare in my direction everywhere that I go.
Why did it matter that they were men and I wasn’t? Did people automatically assume that these guys could accomplish a task better than I could because what we do for a living is somehow predetermined by society to be “man’s work”?
Then it hit me. Apparently we haven’t come as far in this equal rights day and age as I had assumed. Gender stereotyping is still alive and well. I get “the look” because many people’s one-track minds aren’t completely ready to give in to the idea of a woman doing a man’s job.
So in protest to this injustice, I’m not going to wear makeup. I’m not going to get my hair done. I’m not going get a manicure or a pedicure. I’ll walk around in shorts and a t-shirt. I might not even shave my legs for a while.
In other words, nothing’s going to change.
Still, though, I am WOman.
You won’t hear me roar, but you might see me steal your job.