“You got girls workin’ out there with ya?” This is a real quote, spoken to a real male coworker by a local in a pickup truck as we did an archaeological survey in a cornfield. I’m as surprised as you are. Girls? Work? Who knew?
I get dirty at work. Really dirty. Sometimes I can’t get all the dirt off of my body. My job is not as exciting as it sounds but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk to you about my body and the constant frustration that it is not the size and shape of a man.
Boots, safety vests, safety glasses, gloves, brush pants, and hard hats are all items I need to do my job. But have you ever looked in a store for such items? As a female here is where you might hit a snag. You may just find yourself in a world of “Men Only.”
I have had particular trouble with these items: gloves, safety vests, and steel toe boots.
So let’s take a trip down the work glove section of your local hardware store. We have men’s leather work gloves, men’s mechanic’s gloves, men’s less-durable-cotton-but-still-too-large-for- your-hands gloves, and there in the corner on the last row you will find your “options” i.e. the gardening gloves. But wow they come in three different floral patterns! And all in pink!
Thanks. Floral it is.
Safety vests. My ongoing torment of bagginess. One project I worked on I was actually asked what size of safety vest I needed instead of just being given one at random. I was optimistic and asked for a small. When it arrived in its eye-gouging orange I put it on. It was akin to wearing a safety “dress” and was clearly designed for a tall slender man. Like all my previous safety vests, it constantly fell off my shoulders. The idea of providing women with “women’s sizes” isn’t even on the radar.
I have never found a woman’s safety vest in a store, ever.
(Caption: A coworker and I in our safety gear and donning fake mustaches, a satirical attempt at being taken as serious as our male coworkers. Shout out to Missy Emery.)
Now, I don’t wear steal toe boots unless I’m told I absolutely must. If you’ve no experience with these babies they are exactly as they sound, hefty boots with a steel plate around your toesies. Not the most comfortable of footwear and if they don’t fit right you are in for some nasty blisters. I found out the hard way.
I was once taken to purchase said items as a project required it of my crew. We went on a field trip to a large outdoor store, an unusual perk for being in the middle of no-where Ohio. While my male counterparts perused four rows of boot choices my female coworker and I looked at our one. Not one row, one boot.
Relying on my employer to provide items that are made for women usually comes up short. In fact the only female item I have ever been supplied with was a pair of pink safety glasses. Women doing physical labor is so odd that the supplies aren’t even available.
Ill-fitting gear makes me look out of place, like a kid playing dress up in her dad’s clothes. It’s things like this that tell me, “Hey what are you doing out in the sun and the dirt with a shovel? You shouldn’t be working with your hands! Now go back to the office and file some papers like a lady.” It’s in our society and in our heads and it’s nagging. Reminding you (as if you need to be reminded) that you are a woman, and you can’t do work that is sweaty and backbreaking. But that’s when you turn around, you look society square in the eyes and you say “THE HELL I CAN’T!” And you do it anyway!
All is not lost. There is a growing resource for women who work hard and need the gear to match and that is online. I am not overly enthusiastic about the large array of pink items or the toolbelt bedazzled with the word “Princess,” and you can’t try anything on, but I’m happy it’s there.
I love my job. I work with great forward-thinking individuals, but the world is not caught up with us yet. Until then I’ll keep asking for those gloves in my size and you can find me in the dirt looking at the world through my rose tinted safety glasses.