(wo)maintenance

The past few months I have been working on a maintenance team at a Summer camp. A lot of my job entails cleaning bathrooms and fixing broken toilets. A lot of my job also entails using dangerous machinery and lifting heavy objects. And often my job entails people assuming that I am incapable of using said machinery or lifting said objects… you know, because I’m a woman.

I have learned numerous new skills this Summer and have become even stronger than I was before. I’ve nearly mastered the art of fire making, lifting and carrying cinder blocks, and driving the zero-point turn mower. I may not be the best at these tasks, but I’d like to think I’m pretty good at my job and certainly adequate at accomplishing difficult/physically demanding tasks independently. But my fellow female teammates and myself have experienced assumptions of our inadequacies consistently throughout the Summer. Out of the 6 members on our team, 5 are female…. And we are damn fierce. I’ve said it before (Well, Beyoncé said it), and I’ll say it again… Who Run The World?!

Each week of the Summer we have a new group come in. Throughout each week, we frequently communicate with counselors and directors to ensure that we are providing everything that the campers need. Sometimes we need to build campfires, sometimes we need to transport and set up sound systems, and sometimes we set up 5-gallon water cooler stations throughout camp on hot days. Nearly every week, it is assumed that we need help accomplishing these tasks because we are women. I once had the responsibility of setting up a campfire for an evening activity. One male counselor attempted to explain fire building to me at least four times before I even began…. As if I hadn’t been making them ALL Summer. It was extremely insulting. Additionally, several times I have delivered a full 5 gallon cooler to an activity area, only for a man to swoop in and move the cooler for me without asking if I’d like assistance. Again, this is extremely insulting. Women have also perpetuated these assumptions. On more than one occasion, as I am in the process of lifting and moving something heavy, another woman will inform me that a man nearby would be happy to help…. no, thank you.

I am tired of people assuming that I am weak or incapable of accomplishing “manly” tasks like fire building. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Maybe those individuals were just trying to be helpful.” Sure, I’m willing to give them a small benefit of the doubt and consider that they were well-intentioned. But there’s also a high chance they were being a little sexist. For them to assume that I am unable to build a fire effectively or lift a full 5 gallon jug by myself is degrading. If they’d like to be helpful, they should ask if I’d like some assistance before jumping right in and taking over my work. If I am asked whether I’d like some help, I am then given a choice. I am given a choice about whether I can accomplish a task independently or if assistance would be genuinely helpful.

Maybe I’m a bit prideful, but I like to do work on my own. I appreciate the satisfaction of knowing that I accomplished something difficult without any help. But shouldn’t I be allowed to take pride in my work? Aren’t men encouraged to take pride in their work? I’m fairly certain that it is uncommon for people to assume that men need help lifting heavy objects or constructing a campfire. Why should I be treated differently? Oh, right. Because I’m a woman.

I am a woman with a brain and a mind fully capable of problem solving. I am a woman with a strong body and I am aware of my physical limitations. If I am in need of help or guidance, I will ask.

So please, do not assume that people need help based on social constructions of male and female capabilities. Do not say, “Let me help you.” Do not say, “I’ll take care of that for you.” Do not ask, “Where would you like me to put that for you?”. DO say, “Would you like some assistance?” and then take their answer seriously. If their reply is, “No thank you,” then your assistance is not needed. If their reply is, “Yes, please,” then proceed to ask how you might be helpful.
In order for women to feel empowered, they need to be empowered. Instead of assuming that we are inadequate, know that we are more than capable.

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