Sexual Misconduct in the Trades

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The worlds of entertainment and government have been rocked by a torrent of sexual misconduct stories, but they’re far from the only work environments with longstanding sexual harassment problems. Molly Martin has this Perspective.

Women are speaking out against sexual predators -- even movie moguls and presidents --like never before. Women in the building trades like me applaud them for telling their stories. Every tradeswoman has experienced harassment and can say #Metoo.

In 1980 I was the only female electrician on a big construction site in San Francisco. I would do my job, dressed in boots, hardhat and work clothes just like the men, but looking over my shoulder anticipating violence and hostility. In the port-a -potties amidst the genitalia drawn on the walls I saw my name written underneath expletives.

I spent my working life in a hostile work environment. We had no word for it then. There was no recourse. You could complain to your foreman or your union rep but told the harassment was your fault and if you couldn’t take it, you should leave the job. I loved the work, I loved the paycheck. I kept my mouth shut and my head down.

Some things have not changed since then. Women still make up less than three percent of the construction workforce. We are often alone in a crowd of hundreds of men.


But some things have changed thanks to feminist organizing. Sexual harassment is now against the law and our working lives have improved.

In 1986 the Supreme Court distinguished between and prohibited two kinds of sexual harassment. Quid pro quo harassment occurred when women were made offers in exchange for a sexual favor. But the harassment tradeswomen most frequently endure -- threats, hostility, offensive images, and abusive language – were also outlawed.

Women in male-dominated occupations are on the front lines of feminism defending our sisters, supporting laws to protect women and helping employers and unions accept their responsibility.

I’m glad sexual harassment is now a mainstream issue, but for us it’s nothing new. We’ve been resisting for decades and still, we persist.

With a Perspective, I’m Molly Martin.

Molly Martin is a retired electrician. She lives in San Francisco.