Traveling always has its ups and its downs as you learn the ins and outs of a new culture, and one of the ongoing struggles here is getting used to the way that women are perceived and treated. At home, there’s a certain amount of people assuming that I’m incapable of doing certain things because I’m a woman. I’ve gotten used to it somewhat, but I also kind of shield myself from it by choosing to spend time with people who don’t. None of my guy friends would ever even think that I couldn’t do something because I’m a woman. If they thought like that, we wouldn’t be friends. In that way, I’m very spoiled, and it makes it a struggle sometimes to step into cultures that have a different view of women and their capabilities.
From the beginning, I kind of baffle people here. When they ask what I studied in school and I answer “engineering”, they’re clearly taken aback. That’s been the case in all of the countries I’ve spent time in this year. The possibility of a female engineer isn’t even on most people’s radar.
In general, there are certain situations that bring out people’s assumptions about women better than others. Playing sports and doing any sort of physical labor/home improvement-type work are two times when you’ll DEFINITELY see if people have unbalanced views about your capabilities. I haven’t played any organized sports since I got here, but even just going for runs in the morning and working out at the park draw some confused looks. There are local women who exercise, but it’s still not something that people expect to see.
Work-wise, I’ve had some frustrations both at my archaeology job and at our community service days. At the archaeology dig, as soon as I so much as touch a shovel, there’s someone there telling me to let them do it instead. One time, I went to move a rock that weighed less than 10 pounds, and they told me to leave it for someone else. Those are the times when I pretend that I don’t understand what they’re saying and just keep doing what I’m doing.
Much of what I do at that job is carry buckets of dirt. If I’m going to take those buckets, walk all the way over to the dirt pile, and dump them out, I don’t want to be carrying half-full buckets. Fill ‘em up! I try to tell them to put more dirt in mine, and one time, right as I was saying “add a little more”, the guy filling my bucket was saying “that’s a little too much”. I started having them fill three buckets for me so that I could dump the third into the other two. Then, someone told me I was going to tire myself out. -_-
At community service, I have more of an issue with people “mansplaining” (verb for when a man condescendingly explains something to a woman that she already knows) things to me. I have had painting mansplained to me at least twice. The first time, I was the only girl working in a room with four guys. Guess who was the ONLY person in the room to get an extra tutorial on painting? Yes, me. Did my wall look any different from the others? No, it didn’t. Did my wall look the worst out of everyone’s? Definitely not. Later, when we were painting the bottom half of the wall, someone saw me painting over a dried paint drip and thought that it was fresh. He came over to tell me that if the paint drips, I should wipe it up. I showed him that it was already dried, and instead of thinking that maybe it had nothing to do with me, he said that I needed to wipe it up right away so that it didn’t dry like that. I had someone explain to him (since my Armenian certainly isn’t good enough yet) that it was already there when I started, and instead of apologizing or even acknowledging that explanation, he just looked annoyed and he walked away.
All this means is that I need to do everything perfectly. That’s the only way to make people believe that you’re capable because as soon as you have one slip up, it means you can’t do it because you’re a woman. For example, if I was shoveling dirt and accidentally caught my shovel on the edge of the hole when I was throwing it out, it would be because I’m getting tired or I’m not strong enough to do the job. If I was a man and the same thing happened, it would be chalked up to me just judging the distance wrong and making a small mistake. There’s no room for errors when you’re trying to prove yourself.
I was excited last week at community service because I felt like I was finally being taken seriously by the masters. I was specifically assigned the job of painting the top line in a couple of the stairwells (basically taking the place of using painters’ tape because we ran out of that weeks ago), and I was doing a darn good job if I may say so myself. They had chalked out the lines, and I was just freehand following along with a paintbrush. When I was probably 95% finished, some dude comes along with a paintbrush and one of those wide plastering spatulas and starts elbowing me out of the way saying, “wait, wait” and “let me”. I tried to ignore him and keep working, but when that didn’t work, I just walked away and let him finish the job. I’m not trying to fight with anyone.
When one of the masters spotted me leaving the stairwell, his face lit up and he led me to ANOTHER stairwell to do the same job. HE obviously thought my work in the previous one was fine. When I went back to check out the last 5% of my first stairwell, it was horrible. Like, the point of the job was to paint a clean line at the top of the bottom half of the wall. On that last part, there were almost continuous paint smudges above the line. All I could do was shake my head and hope no one thought that part was mine.
I obviously can’t prove that these same things wouldn’t have happened if I was a man, but I can say that none of the guys have had similar experiences. The only way I can keep from going crazy is by believing that anytime I prove an assumption wrong, maybe I’m playing a small part in erasing them for good. Hopefully.