Thursday, May 24, 2007

The female of the species

Last night, I Handed My Plumbing Folder In. All my assignments have been appropriately assessed, all my methods have been adequately stated, and all my achievements have been acceptably recorded. This one is my favourite.

So, I said to B the assessor, when will I be Qualified*? Well, he said, the IV (Internal Verifier) needs to approve your work, and then you'll get your certificate. That'll take a couple of months, though it might be a bit longer for you, because I've chosen your folder to send off to the EV (External Verifier).

Oh, I said. Is my folder special? (I have been pretty much top of the class in the theory stuff, but when it comes to the practical stuff I am precise-but-slow: average, really, if on the desirable side of average).

Well Jo, he said, not wanting to be sexist or anything, but you are a female.

Go on, I said.

Well, he went on, we've only had about 10 females get through the course. And you and S, you're about the only ones who've finished it on time and with no problems. You've done really well! Your folder is fantastic!

I squinted up at the light and thought back over the last two years. I decided to take this comment on my (unremarkable if you disregard my sex) performance in the sense in which it was intended. At one level I have found his combination of surprise and amusement quite hard to handle, but at another he has come along and used his (not inconsiderable) brute force pretty much on request whenever more brute force than I can muster has been required, and at yet another I believe his perceptions of women have genuinely, if slowly, shifted. You have to hold onto that.

I beamed at him. Thanks B, I said. Are you proud of yourself? he said. Oh yes, I replied. And I am. But one thing, I carried on, stop calling us females. We are women. If you're talking about human beings, female is an adjective. Lose the word.

I've been wanting to say that since September 2005. But I did at least say it. Some battles you can only fight when you know you've half won them: my pipework speaks for itself, and my knowledge of the Water Regulations is unmatched.

I don't know if any of this will make a difference to those women who come after me, but I like to think that Plumbing S and I softened the place up a bit. The whole atmosphere has a macho reek which will take some challenging, but to be honest that's far more down to the students than the teachers. B is one of a couple of them who didn't quite come to terms with our presence, but J the stores manager never seemed to have the tiniest issue with it, D the theory teacher toned down his jokes and never made us feel less than legitimate in the classroom (and also I think liked having people who always remembered their coloured pencils and did their homework), and BJ the leadwork teacher was old school courteous, called us ladies, and took extra time to make sure our welding was as neat as we wanted it.

For our part I think we handled ourselves well -- we laughed a lot but never giggled, we asked for help when we needed it but never expected special treatment, and we supported each other brilliantly. I was the one who remembered all the facts, made most of the decisions, and planned assignments meticulously, while S, in pink trousers and with pink flowery tools, got stuck in without a second thought. Between us we had it nailed, and we finished the course within a few hours of each other (her folder is in the photo because it's not quite ready to hand in yet).

Genderwise, I was heavily outnumbered at both school and university, but never at anything like this level. It had its dodgy moments, but on the whole it was a blast - there's nothing I like more than breaking moulds. Especially if you can do it without scoring cheap points.


*Though I am not a properly Qualified plumber till I get my NVQ, and that's a different kettle of fish (and a different folder) altogether.

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Anonymous Peter said...

As no-one on here seems yet to have appreciated the moment, I shall break the ice -- albeit expressing the bleeding obvious: fine achievement; neat post. From schoolteaching days I admit that it was usually the females of the species who remembered their kit, took notes, had legible handwriting, and understandably struggled to decipher mine. (Keyboards: godsend to boys.)

7:49 am  
Blogger Jo said...

Thanks Peter! I remember your handwriting...

Also (doing two replies in one) Unplugged was recorded in 1993 I think, and his voice was still beautiful then. I saw him live in about 1996 and it brought tears to my eyes. So worth exploring, probably. And I'm sure, like Dylan, his appeal will endure pretty much forever.

11:26 pm  

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