Home woman in the workplace Education Child Birth The Evil Temptress Writing in the Father’s House by Patricia Smart
The Women Who Build With Wood and Words by Catherine Lacharité Mueller
roller-coaster of women’s rights has seemed less wild in recent decades than
in the ride’s beginnings. After a steep drop to a near total absence of
liberty of expression and confinement to the domestic sphere, the historical
rise to gender equality beginning in the early 20th century has
been just as dramatic. The ascension has had some shaky rails, loose bolts,
and a few heart-stopping drops, but a summit is being reached. Countless works
have been done on the history of Western women in the workplace and women’s
progression into the higher echelons of the public sphere; the present goal is
not to repeat or summarizes these works, but to expose a contemporary issue
that has come from years of strong women pursuing the unorthodox and
culminating in their gradual, often painstaking, yet successful incursion into
the tough, virile world of construction.
female authors have exposed truths of the struggles of women forced into
labour (any labour) to make ends meet and feed their children. From factual
testimony to a secure place in the realm of fiction, these women have shared
their pains and told their sorrows. But what of the women who have willingly
chosen an education that led to male-identified physical labour? What of the
women who love their job but must reposition their femininity and demand men
to accept the changes they are bringing to the field? Their trials are
different— their hardships come from sexist discrimination, from the
misconception that manual labour is not for women, and even from their own
many minority writing voices, testimony broaches the subject and in the form
of non-fiction, the realities of contemporary women in construction are being
voiced. At first glance, literature and construction work seem worlds apart,
and a person who does one must have trouble accomplishing the other. This may
be a hasty conclusion: experienced construction workers such as Susan
Eisenberg and Kate Braid have masterfully bridged the gap with their
autobiographies, compiled testimonies, and their masterful poetry on women in
The few women
who began working in a male environment did not have an easy integration
experience. Wanting to be part of the historical movement of women towards
non-traditional careers, Susan Eisenberg began her apprenticeship as an
electrician in 1978. In her book We’ll
Call You If We Need You: Experiences of Women Working Construction she
describes her first day on the job:
my very first day in union construction I was sent to a bank in downtown
Boston where a journeyman needed a hand pulling wire. Arriving early with my
new tools and pouch, I knocked on the glass door in the high-rise lobby and
explained to the guard that I was a new apprentice working for the electrical
contractor. He refused to let me in. So I sat down on the tile floor, my
backpack and toolpouch beside me, and waited for the man whose name I had
written down alongside the address and directions on a piece of paper: Dan.
The guard explained to Dan later that he'd figured I was a terrorist planning
to bomb the bank. In 1978, that seemed more likely than that I might actually
be an apprentice electrician.”
Although this sounds almost funny,
the frustration of not being taken seriously must have been overwhelming.
Similar to early women writers like the Brontë sisters, who were accused of
plagiarism, the mere thought of women accomplishing anything un-traditional
was simply un-thinkable. In this same work, Eisenberg tells the stories and
experiences of thirty different women in various construction jobs. She then
focuses on why the number of women in construction has remained so small and
what needs to be done to increase these same numbers.
Testimony is a
rather straightforward form of non-fiction that requires a knack for writing
and structure more than creativity. But Eisenberg is also a poet and her
collection entitled Pioneering: Poems
from the Construction Site is a statement to her diversity of talents.
“Hanging In, Solo” is
a poem on being the only woman on a job site and the accompanying troubles:
sun-in-a-week days womanhood
weighs me down in colorless arctic fatigues
hands me an empty survival kit
and binds my head in an iron hardhat
three sizes too small.
I burrow myself
mole-like into my work, but
my tampax leaks
my diamond-tip bit burns out after one hole
my offsets are backwards
all of my measurements are wrong.
speaker goes on to describe how the men laugh at her for every mistake, and
that fortunately not all days are as dire as these ones. Some are actually too
good to be true while others are just right and this is where she feels in the
right place. (To view complete poem, http://www.womenworking.org/poem.htm)
Kate Braid worked many different jobs before finding her niche in
construction, a field in which she worked for fifteen years. For lack of
having another woman on the crew to talk to, she began talking to her journal
and especially focused on trying to understand the masculine culture of
construction. “Eventually as the working days grew longer and her lines
shorter, she realized she was writing poetry. This led to her first
Rough Ground (1991), which won the Pat Lowther Award for best book of
poetry by a Canadian woman” (Braid Biography). In this collection of poems,
“These Hips” describes the alternative uses women have of their
gender-specific body parts:
Some hips are made
children, built like stools
square and easy, right
for the passage of birth.
Others are built like
A child’s head might never pass
but load me up with two-by-fours
and watch me
When the men carry
sacks of concrete
they hold them high, like boys.
I bear mine low, like a girl
on small, strong hips
built for the birth
this first book, Braid worked four more years in construction and went on to
become a prolific poet and writer, publishing as many as three non-fiction
books, six collections of poetry, and an article on poetry in less than twenty
years. She has also been teaching creative writing in British-Columbian
universities since 1995 (Braid Biography). In her most recent book of poetry, Turning
Left to the Ladies (2009), Braid continues her study of gender differences
on a construction crew. “Spy” tells of a diminished gap between the sexes
until irrefutable biology makes its stand:
I parachute into man’s
hoist my beer in the bar as if native.
Cool, I talk shop, stand
as they stand,
not quite sure
of the cocky swing of hips,
lift of the glass in a loud bass,
This is the world of the
It’s only a small slip into a minor key
when I turn left to go to the Ladies.
Eisenberg and Kate Braid are only two examples of strong women who attempted a
non-traditional career in a man’s world.
They dealt with adversity and constantly had to prove themselves worthy
of their occupation. Their desire to share not only their own but also others’
experiences as women in construction has given the literary world something
new into which to sink its teeth. The more women are encouraged and empowered
to pursue non-traditional jobs, the more we will hear about their experiences.
There will be more voices to be heard, and the women who can build both texts
and houses will grow in number. Hopefully, the time will come when having
women in construction will be just as normal as having women CEOs, politicians,
engineers, bus drivers, writers...
in Construction: Web Sources to Consider
Association of Women in Construction: http://www.cawic.ca/
I am a Woman, See me Work: Women in
Male-Dominated Careers: http://iamwomanseemework.wordpress.com/
Association of Women in Construction: http://www.nawic.org/nawic/History_of_NAWIC.asp?SnID=1654414074
apprenticeship: Testimonials to encourage and inspire: http://www.oregonapprenticeship.org/?page_id=44
Perceptions of gender roles and attitudes
toward work among male and female operatives in the Scottish construction
Women in Construction 30 Years and Still
in Construction: Breaking the Glass Ceiling: http://www.yourhome.ca/homes/newsfeatures/industrynews/article/925381--women-in-construction-breaking-the-glass-ceiling
Kate. Kate Braid: Poet, Writer, Teacher.
Genesis Theme Framework. 2011. Web. 18 Nov. 2011.
Susan. “Hanging In, Solo.” Pioneering:
Poems from the Construction Site. New York: Cornell UP, 1998. 42-43. Print.
Eisenberg, Susan. We’ll Call You If We Need You: Experiences of Women Working Construction. New York: Cornell UP, 1998. Print.
the years, there was controversy about the act of giving birth. In literature,
many authors represented it as a way for women to have a voice. It was not
always seen as an enriching experience and often it was more about the cultural
differences than the actual act of giving birth.
Biblical times, childbirth has been a preoccupation for the women. They were
taught to celebrate their bodies by giving birth. It was considered a great
honour and one of God’s commandments. However, during the Renaissance,
barber-surgeons were beginning to monopolize the way women were giving birth. In
1522, Dr. Wertt of Hamburg was burned alive because he was
dressed up as a woman in order to attend a class on childbirth. Man midwives
were not considered as highly renowned as the barber surgeons. Only men were
allowed to medical school and women were even forbidden to practice midwifery.
At that time, women were accused of being witches and many of them were tortured
and even killed. Then, in Colonial times, the bishops were taking control over
the midwifery. For them, giving birth implied that labour pain was a normal way
to punish women who had committed sins (Birthologie).
within the history of childbirth further accentuates with the apparition of
medical school. Until the 1700s, childbirth was mainly a female matter. It was
more a social convention than a medical intervention. Most women were giving
birth surrounded by midwives and relatives. However, in the first decades of the
1900s, midwives were, bit by bit, put aside to be replaced by male physicians (Dye
98). It was a shift from nonprofessional to professional aide but also a
transition between births controlled by women to ones dominated by men (Dye
100). At the beginning of the 1920s, the government was more licensing laws
which helped to build the medical system.
1980, more than 98% of births occurred in hospitals. In 1982, the Midwives
Alliance of North America was founded giving, the opportunity to provide
reassurance to mothers (Birthologie). Since birth was not defined as a
pathological process with damages until the 1920s, it was allowing women to
experience birth at home. In early America, midwifery was a way for women to
bond (Dye 92). Nevertheless, since the nineteenth century, a new consciousness
was raised. Women were no longer willing to endure the pain while they were able
to have access to painless intervention.
the end, giving birth is a natural experience which was not always seen as a
peaceful adventure. Voices from the public, religious, scientific or social
spheres interfere with childbirth. For a long time, the decisions about
childbirth have been in the hands of others. It is time to have a voice about
this rite of passage.
Birthologie. “History of Childbirth.” Birthologie.com.
Web. 22 Nov. 2011.
Dye, Nancy Schrom. “History of Childbirth in America.”
Signs 6.1 (1980): 97-108. Web.
2011. < http://www.jstor.org/stable/3173968 >
The Evil Temptress by Anja Sesler
Women have been put down, controlled, and used by men under a patriarchal
system in many places and in many historical eras. Humans are flawed with
emotions they mostly do not control, and are often faced with situations they do
not have control over. It is clear to me that at some point, some men decided
they could at least control women and the power of procreating through them,
since women were generally physically weaker than them. Of course, brute force
was not the main asset for men to implement patriarchy. Some men were smarter
than that and started creating reasons why women should be inferior to men,
using religion as a medium for propaganda. This way, even women would have to
agree that they were indeed inferior and would eventually have to comply to what
religion dictated through the great stories of the Bible. These arguments do not
imply that all men conspired in this made up story that is the Bible, but simply
that some men were too proud and needed more control over what they could
manipulate around them to eventually gain more power. This reasoning would
somewhat explain the extremely horrible quotations on women found in the Bible.
If women would have written the bible, would they really have portrayed
themselves this way?
Christianity's arguments to diminish women start with Eve, a character
that was created to men's advantage, the supposed first woman to have existed.
Eve, in accordance to the Bible, is the first evil to be put in Man's way. We
all know the story: God made Adam in his image. Adam was lonely. Hence, God
created Eve with one of Adam's ribs. Eve was therefore only a copy of the
original model without a real soul, her only purpose to entertain Adam,
apparently. What a great image to set for young girls growing up in a Catholic
family; your sole purpose is to entertain men! The only logical
explanation for this kind of message to be sent out to the population is that
some men, who were always longing for more power, wrote these lines in order to
diminish the female role in society and people believed it. "No wickedness
comes anywhere near the wickedness of a woman... Sin began with a woman and
thanks to her we all must die" (Ecclesiasticus 25:19,24). This quote refers
to Eve, the first temptress, the one who brought mankind down simply by enjoying
what mother earth was offering: an apple. Even if that could logically be
explained as a horrible act, must all women then be condemned for the
“atrocities” of one? If we look back in human history there are plenty of
men who committed atrocious crimes on humanity. Are they only exceptions? Adolf
Hitler, Attila the Hun, and Josef
Stalin are only a few names and still, it is not implied that men are mainly
evil. The Bible tells us that God is forgiving, yet he never seems to have
forgiven Eve or any woman after that for that matter.
The Bible does not stop blaming women for sins and everything that is
evil. Christianity creates clear guidelines on how a woman is to behave in full
submission to man: "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.
I don't permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be
silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived;
it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner" (I Timothy 2:11-14).
This quote explicitly forbids women to have any kind of power, should it be
towards acquiring knowledge, freedom of speech, or freedom of decision. This
passage also emphasizes the silencing of women through patriarchal power.
It is clear here that the men who thought this out wanted to emphasize
the fact that women should not have the right to speak so they would not be able
to gather knowledge, express knowledge or share it with other women. The less
women knew, the easier it was for men to make women believe all they had made
up. Knowledge is the stairway to power, therefore men had to make sure it was
out of reach to women if they wanted to keep the power.
Moreover, God's punishments are clearly unfair and seem to put forth a
misogynistic point of view. According to the Bible, women are simply objects
created in full submission to man, with the sole purpose of procreation in order
to create new generations of men. The patriarchal lineage, fathers and sons, has
a value, opposed to mothers and daughters who have no value whatsoever since the
Bible states that daughters are of
no importance: "The birth of a daughter is a loss" (Ecclesiasticus
22:3). There is no value placed in the female gender except for child bearing.
Even this feminine role is portrayed
in the Bible more as a punishment than a blessing: “I will make your pains in
childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis
3:16). Here, the men who wrote the Bible cleverly use Eve's temptation as an
excuse to explain women's atrocious pain of birthing as if it was a logical
consequence for her “evil” actions. Furthermore, women are simply objects
since they are described as their husband's property. Yet, even while women are
objects, they should muster some desire for their husband who can do as he
pleases with her. What happens if a woman is infertile? Why would God sometimes
create women that cannot bear children if their only purpose in life was to bear
children? Are they simply a curse? An honest divine mistake? An irony of
The bible is filled with
extraordinary stories that reduce women to the lowest of creatures. One story
even mentions a father who is willing to give his two daughters to be raped to
avoid harm being done to a man who is a complete stranger! What a horrible
message to send out to humanity! Where are the family values? All of it goes
back to the evil Eve, the first sinner, the one who was deceived and who brought
Adam and all the human race down with her. Hence, the Bible clearly obliterates
any type of self-esteem a woman can ever have if she chooses to believe it or if
she is forced to.
perceived threat to Colonialism and Masculinity in Wide
Sargasso Sea by Freddie Jean
her novel Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys presents a complex tableau of
feminist topics intertwined with colonial and racial issues. Though the novel
centres around the life and misfortunes of Antoinette, through multiple
character narrations Rhys exposes some of the fears nurtured by nineteenth
century England about woman empowerment and slave emancipation.
This essay will take particular interest in Rochester, the dislocated
Englishman, who's struggles and ultimate response is an act of resistance
against the perceived decline of his male dominance and colonialist authority.
To fully comprehend the nature of Rochester's struggle, it must be
established that in his mind, Nature (the Caribbeans) and his wife Antoinette,
possess similar dangerous and attractive traits. Wide Sargasso Sea is an
almost tactile novel. The story is told with vivid vocabulary that makes heat,
scents and colours, predominant features. Rochester uses analogous vocabulary to
convey feelings about the island and Antoinette. When talking about Antoinette
he says, “She wore a tricorne hat which became her. At least it
shadowed her eyes which are too large and can be disconcerting. She never blinks
at all it seems to me. Long, sad, dark alien eyes” (37).
This description intimates
both fear and attraction. Later when speaking about the location of their home
in Coulibri, Rochester describes the same ambivalence.
“It was a beautiful place —
wild, untouched, above all untouched, with an alien, disturbing, secret
loveliness” (52). These two samples of the intertwined nature of Antoinette
and the island serve to explain his profound mistrust of both. Rochester is out
of place — out of comfort on the island as
well as in the presence of his new wife. He
must overcome this weakness and assume the dominant position that he believes to
be his righteous place.
Rochester is an Englishman bred in the knowledge of his social standing
as a man and as a member of the colonizing nation. He must, above all, keep up
appearances and play the part that is his. From the moment he arrives in Spanish
Town everything he does and says is marked with keen awareness of his unnatural
position. He is playing the role that has been ascribed to him. Recalling his
first meeting with Antoinette he admits, “Every movement I made was an effort
of will and sometimes I wondered that no one noticed this. I would listen to my
own voice and marvel at it, calm, correct but toneless, surely. But I must have
given a faultless performance” (44). The need to uphold an image of
collectedness in the face of his ever loosening grasp is present throughout the
novel and partly explains the cruelty of his final behaviour.
Rochester's position is one that demands power and respect, but the
subordinates he encounters and indeed nature itself appear to have more
disregard than esteem towards him.
In Coulibri, the land that Antoinette instinctively understands, Rochester
realizes that roles are subverted, his British standing commands no fear, power
must be negotiated with Christophine, a black creole. “She looked at me
steadily, not with approval, I thought. We
stared at each other for quite a minute. I looked away first and she smiled to
herself, gave Antoinette a little push forward and disappeared into the shadows
at the back of the house. The other servants had gone”(41).
In this passage it is interesting to note Christophine's authority over
Antoinette, and also the fact that the other servants took leave with no
consideration for the new master. One can argue that they did not care to see
the face-off, because they already
knew the outcome. Time and again Rochester is dismissed, or made less than what
he ought to be, a treatment more often reserved to women or subordinates. In
this land, the servants have no particular reverence for Rochester as a man or
as a colonizer.
Commanding no respect from his entourage, and in a diminished position,
Rochester's new life is haunting and degrading. On a couple of occasions he
mentions money, the real cause for his dislocation and latent shame. Sadly and
scornfully, he admits that he is the one that was given into marriage and not
the other way around. “Her pleading expression annoys me. I have not bought
her, she has bought me or so she thinks. I looked down at the coarse mane of the
horse... dear Father” (39).
The final blow to Rochester's colonial pride and masculinity is the
letter received from Antoinette's half brother, a mulatto. In it, he is informed
that the lineage in which he has married is flawed. There is craziness in the
family and his wife is not what she appears to be. The correspondence also
insinuates that Antoinette, like her mother, might have been more than friends
with a black men. This, to an Englishman raised in the upright patriarchal
nineteenth century England, is too much to bear. The threat is manifold
including: shame caused by a union with a women of unsavoury reputation, the
perspective of a bloodline tainted with mental illness, the mere thought of
close association with Negroes. Rochester's ambiguous love and fear relationship
with Antoinette and her island ends on the day he receives the first letter.
From that moment his resolution is to do harm, he deeply loathes
Antoinette and the nature that surrounds her.
“I sat listening to the river [...] At last I stood up, the sun was hot
now. I walked stiffly nor could I force myself to think. Then I passed an orchid
with long sprays of golden-brown flowers. One of them touched my cheek and I
remembered picking some for her one day, 'they are like you' I told her. Now I
stopped, broke a spray off and trampled it into the mud” (60).
Up to that moment, Rochester's attitude was one of compliance, in a
woman's world where a black servant was feared for her magic, he did not
interfere. In response to his offence he chose a course of action loaded with
masculine and colonial pride. Sleeping with his servant Amélie, the sensual
black creole, served to establish his dominance over colony and wife. He
exercised sexual dominance over Antoinette by showing that as a man, he
could and would do the very things he loathed of her. In this way he
reassuming the posture he once had through boasting in the inequalities of a
patriarchal system. As a colonizer, it was also a symbolic act perpetuating the
tradition of slave owners using their properties for sexual relief as well as
domestic labour. In the end, Rochester treats Antoinette and her island with
similar contempt. After receiving his fortune from his Caribbeans wife, both
island and wife are forgotten, put away and left away, never to look back again,
but not freed.
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. London: Penguin, 2001. Print.
Writing in the Father’s House By Marie-Pier Gauvin