“Not Really a Chick”

by Amy M. Denissen and Abigail C. Saguy

When asked to describe her first day on a construction site, Loretta, a Black butch lesbian tradeswoman, replied, “If looks could kill, I probably would have died. It was like they couldn’t believe I was showing up. ‘Who is he? What is that? What’s it doing here?’” While describing her gender nonconformity as marginalizing and even dehumanizing, she also said that her male coworkers feel more “free” to use crass language and “scratch their balls” around her because “she’s not really a chick” and that this provided some measure of inclusion, while also shielding her from sexual advances.

Demonstrating the salience of gender as a master status, this sheet metal worker's tool is engraved with a flower, rather than with the tradeswoman's initials as tradesmen customarily do for each other.
Demonstrating the salience of gender as a master status, this sheet metal worker’s tool is engraved with a flower, rather than with the tradeswoman’s initials as tradesmen customarily do for each other.

Loretta’s experience illustrates some of the gender and sexual quandaries that tradeswomen confront in the male-dominated building trades; a set of relatively well-paid occupations that remain gender segregated (less than 2% women workers) long after the 1972 passage of federal regulations to encourage the hiring of women.

Denissen and Saguy draw on 63 in-depth interviews with women working in the construction trades, including 28 lesbian tradeswomen, to shed light on the complex relationship between sexual and gender oppression. They find that tradeswomen respond to gender boundaries and double binds by cleverly engaging in gender maneuvering, in ways that vary based on sexual identity, gender presentation, race, and body size. Ultimately, however, such individual strategies may be insufficient as some men deploy the stigma of lesbianism to discourage solidarity and collective action among tradeswomen, gay and straight.

By Amy M. Denissen and Abigail C. Saguy on their article, “Gendered Homophobia and the Contradictions of Workplace Discrimination for Women in the Building Trades,” published in the June 2014 issue of Gender & Society.  To read the press release, click here.

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