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Face value

In a male dominated industry it is hard to keep the chauvinism at bay. This is an account of one woman's experiences of working on site.

Being a woman made very little difference to the normal working day either in the office or on site. Harder to cope with was a feeling of being on the fringe of the gang, lacking a social life on site in the back of beyond. Strangely, the people who seemed the most hostile were in many ways easiest to cope with - one section engineer said that 'women should be f***ed right off this site', but once he realised I would buy my round (and knock back pints with the rest of them) and could do the work, he was fine.

But others didn't even realise that they were seeing women as a different species and their sexism was more insidious. 'I like John because you can always depend on him and Pete because he's a good laugh and you because you're a woman,' said one. Another was surprised that I had wanted to come to his leaving do and made it clear I wasn't welcome. 'It's a lads' night out,' he stressed. It turned out to be a few pints and a curry, hardly likely to make even the most sensitive 'lady' blush.

And then there are the practical issues - a friend had to develop an iron bladder on site, faced with a 40 minute round trip to the ladies. Sneaking into the men's block wasn't much fun either. 'Once the lock broke and I got stuck in the cubicle and had to shout to get someone to break the door down,' she recalls. This gave her plenty of time to read the rather saucy things written there about her and the other women engineers - 'not pleasant reading.' Chain boys on another site amused themselves trying to put her off by rocking the toilet cabin or throwing stones at the door.

Make-up on site had to be avoided because of attracting too many comments, she found. Any lingering traces of perfume had a similar effect - as did anything remotely resembling a tight t-shirt. Derogatory slang terms used by labourers were perhaps inevitable, but even 'friendly' behaviour gets wearing - whether it's an attempted kiss or the old 'don't bend down in front of me darling, I can't concentrate on my work'.

Sometimes the humiliation is public. Comments made over the two way radio went beyond the amusing for another woman on site, who daily had to put up with her construction manager making obscene and pathetic sexual double entendres about her work.

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