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One entire section of Susan Eisenberg’s“Move the Decimal Point” blog poignantly remembers the names and stories of the many women who have died on the jobs they held in construction and related trades.
Eisenberg, a prominent Boston writer, poet, teacher and artist who was herself a tradeswoman, authored a breakthrough book of moving profiles relates the discouraging and dangerous encounters too many women have had struggling with threatened and threatening men for equality of position, pay and pride, and yes, power, in those traditionally male bastions of carpentry, electricity, plumbing, welding, labor, etc. – that is, all the many crafts that make up the construction trades.
The book, We’ll Call You If We Need You, published in 1999, is the natural outgrowth of Eisenberg’s own dilemmas as she grew from apprentice in 1978 to journeyman electrician and navigated the same rough waters as the women she writes about – and in some cases has had to mourn. A book of emotional poetry later reflected on the tales. Since then, she’s taken the stories on the road in a multimedia exhibit – “On Equal Terms” – a more visual assemblage representing those experiences.
As she and others joining us will tell you, all is still not tongue-in-groove joins of tradesmen and the women wanting to do the same work and, when given a chance, often more skilled and competent at their craft. In many cases, the men just cannot buy what they see as an intrusion into their realm.
What are the experiences of women in the trades today? Are the opportunities more prolific? Safer? More equal? Who’s working to overcome the barriers that still block many women from successfully entering the trades and working the wood and the wire, the beams and the pipes? Is this whole business a little like the deeply entrenched social issues that keep us divided, only plagued with even more gatekeeping of the union standard?
TTT’s ANDY DRISCOLL and MICHELLE ALIMORADI talk with author/artist Eisenberg as well as other tradeswomen past and present, one of whom is an independent contractor and a PhD candidate in Housing, no less.
Tradeswoman Pioneer, Multidisciplinary Artist and Policy Consultant; Director, “On Equal Terms Project” – Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center; Poet & Author, We’ll Call You If We Need You; Blogger: Move the Decimal Point.
Owner, Heidi Construction; PhD Candidate in Housing Studies-University of Minnesota
Apprentice, Laborers Local 132, St. Paul
MN Department of Labor & Industry Apprenticeship Program