A Woman in a Man's World
A non-fiction piece written by Jasmine Boothe, 2016. In appreciation of Women's History Month
“Come on down” Lois Ross told me. And come on down I did. This was as much as I could do. Defeated by the blows of male superiority, all I could do as a woman was be what they appointed us women to do. I cried, I confessed and I broke. Emotional creatures. I knew this is what they thought and saw of me, so I tried not to play the part. I was strong enough, raising a child all by myself. But still, even my strength wavered. Seeing how well I endured being a single mother, I guess they assumed I could handle solitary obligations at the station. Left to myself with no guidance or assurance, I never knew if I was doing anything right or even doing anything at all.
“Stationary Engineer” was the title attached to my name Yvonne Maitin. But they didn’t see that. They didn’t see “Engineer”, they didn’t see Ms. Maitin, and they didn’t even see Yvonne. All they saw was “STATIONARY”. The first word of my title wasn’t meant for literal use. I knew what the term “stationary” was meant to mean. Stationary, as in an engineer who upheld the boiler systems, steam turbines and all other machinery in the Port Authority terminal. That was my intended position, not this standing around business. Given no orders, explanations or demonstrations, it becomes close to impossible to successfully get any work done. Set up for failure, there is no fair tradeoff for women.
Going to work each day felt like reporting to my jail cell. It was no ordinary sentence either; I was placed under solitary confinement. Left alone to my thoughts, the only job assigned to me was misery. I wondered what I did to deserve this punishment. I wondered how long I must endure it. I asked when my plea would be heard. I don’t know why I wondered such things. Shouldn’t I just be satisfied that I have a job? Women. Always asking for mercy...
1970. These past few years have taken so much out of me that I hoped, no I believed, that this year would be different. Anything I do is devalued because it is the work of a woman and not of a man. Penalized because of my failure to change sex. It’s not like I choose to be a woman. It’s not like I can stop being one either. All I can do is do the best that I can do. But even that is not enough. To be a man is of the highest degree in any workforce, but to be a woman... is to merely be a woman.
His hands placed before mine. When a man fixes a machine, it stays fixed. When a woman tries, it is never a done job. To who does this unqualified woman then call on to get the job done? A man. So why bother to teach them something we men will have to end up doing anyway? Why exert energy into teaching us women something that wasn’t meant for us to do? I guess this justifies the way I am being treated, the way I should be treated, they would add. I am a woman and everyone else here are men. It was the only undisputable fact in entering an all- male apprenticeship.
To what greater cause am I serving in this dark boiler room? When I speak, my voice reverberates off the walls. I feel so isolated down here that sometimes I speak aloud just to hear a voice, even if it is my own. It hurts when your voice is not heard, but it feels even worse when your complete existence is disregarded.
What Lois assured me of was that it wasn’t just me. Unfortunately, it was the reality for me and all other women trying to integrate into male dominated work forces. The working women of the 1970’s. Finally being allowed into Port Authority work force, you would think our greeting would be better than this! Those belittling power hungry narcissistic men pretending that they wanted us here. I don’t think they ever wanted us here. I ask myself aloud, whom am I working for? All I do know is that as of tonight, I along with all else who make up the United Tradeswomen, will be fulfilling a far greater purpose for this all to change.
Why did I bother going somewhere I knew I wasn’t wanted? Maybe I wanted to see just how far I could go. I guess they were just as curious as me. I assumed the men at the Port stood by this initiative for female employees. I saw them as the progressive thinkers we so desperately needed. Was I wrong! Charged with unfair labor practices, they figured hiring female employees would do the trick. Those bastards would do anything to save their asses. But still my mind wonders: If they did have a say in this initiative, what exactly would be said?
My problems aren’t real to the men I call coworkers. If I went to the head chief with this problem, he would laugh. “Your problem is that you are lonely? I’m sorry this office doesn’t take your FEELINGS into consideration. Gentlemen, this lady here is lonely, lets gather around and consul HER.” What did being lonely have to do with completing my job? To them, it meant nothing. But to me, and the thousands of other women placed into male dominated industries, it meant everything.
You would think with the millions of people working above and below Port Authority that conversation would be inevitable. Like any door, you must turn the knob for it to open. But what happens when the knob doesn’t turn left or right, when it just refuses to turn altogether? Trying so hard to turn the knob that refuses to budge, you stand on the outside wondering just how nice it would be to be on the inside. That is what it was like going into the Port Authority Terminal. What I sought was a job not for a woman, but a job as a woman. What they were offering was a position I actually wanted, a position I knew I would be good at. But they didn’t care what I was there for. All they knew was that I was there, a woman among a sea of men. I didn’t belong there. When I first started working here I thought my employment signified a far greater triumph for women in the workforce. What a naïve optimistic fool I had been. Or maybe I always knew what I was getting into, but I didn’t know the way I know now.
Now as I turn the door handle of the United Tradeswoman, I know for certain this door was meant for me to walk through. Tonight we will discuss any further efforts we can take as a unit. One, united. I am indulged in the essence of women, working women. We have determination and we have will, neither things that can be taken away from us by men. Standing shoulder to shoulder with these hardworking faces, I felt a pride that I never expected to feel. Hearing their voices stern and graceful, we are no longer oppressed. She speaks. Seeing their bodies rise in support of her endeavors, She stands. Believing our words will make a difference for all working women, She does.
I now understand. I am the struggle and the struggle is me.