A few days ago, my partner Henry and I met a small business owner who occupied a warehouse close to our new office. The three of us were chatting about the brewing business and although I was fully engaged in the conversation, I noticed that he was not making any eye contact with me, but rather focusing his attention on Henry. After about five minutes or so of chatting, this man looked directly at Henry and said “Have you always been a brewer?”
Henry laughed and quickly explained to our new friend “No! I’ve never brewed beer – she is the brewer”.
This is not the first time this has happened. Every single person we meet assumes that Henry brews the beer because he’s the guy of our dynamic duo. The classic reaction of people when we set them straight is to laugh nervously, make a jittery comment along the lines of “Oh! Really? Seriously? Do you actually drink beer too?” and then overdo the eye contact in my direction as if to make up for the previous lack of acknowledgement… and always without a doubt a few choice hot tips on brewing follow, such as keeping your fermenter in a dark cupboard and they know because they’ve “…brewed my own beer once using a can of extract syrup in the bathtub”. (Some of you may remember the Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Year 2014!).
verb (t) Colloquial (humorous) (of a man) to explain (something) to a woman, in a way that is patronising because it assumes that a woman will be ignorant of the subject matter.
[MAN + (EX)PLAIN with s inserted to create a pronunciation link with explain]
I’m not your typical cliché female, that’s for sure. I don’t particularly feel the need to get married or the urge to have a crowd of babies, I rarely wear makeup, I’m a qualified chemical engineer, I brew and consume beer, I have a full sleeve sized tattoo of a dragon on my left arm and I ride a motorbike… however it’s not so uncommon these days to see women breaking away from the old traditional roles.
It was International Women’s Day earlier this month and this day always reminds me to stop and reflect on the women I know in my life. My conclusion this year is how lucky I am and always have been to be surrounded by intelligent, strong, independent women who are all basically smashing it in their respective fields and doing amazing things for the local and wider world communities. Yet somehow almost all of these beautiful friends of mine have a story to tell about being harassed or mistreated either in the workplace, at home or in public. So in honour of International Women’s Day, I’m going to share one of my many stories about being harassed in the workplace because of my gender…
As a chemical engineer specialising in process engineering, it’s common to be one of very few women, if not the only woman in the office. This was the case at one of my first engineering jobs. The rumour had spread throughout the entire woman-poor town that a new red head was working in one of the plants and sure enough, all sorts of men were making excuses to turn up at my office and ogle like I was a circus freak show. I can’t blame them because I looked pretty damn good in my 3 sizes too big fluorescent orange high vis work shirt and matching yellow hard hat but that’s not the point of the story. One guy even expressed his delighted surprise that I wasn't "Fat like a cow because Annabel is a cow's name". Yes, I'm serious. A few months later once the “new girl” excitement faded, I came to work and my office door was open as the cleaners had been in early. I sat down and found a cartoon drawing of a bald man with a member larger than his body sticking grotesquely out of his pants with the words “I may be bald, but at least I’ve got a BIG d**k”. I felt my cheeks burning – out of anger and the embarrassment of thinking I had earned respect in the workplace. I was a good engineer and I respected all of my co-worker whether they were boiler makers, metallurgists or operators. Putting my spy skills to good use, I quickly deduced that this was not left by the cleaning lady and was most probably left by someone on the shift team working the night before that happened to be led by a particularly sleazy bald man with a bad sense of humour. My boss apologised that this had happened and said he “look into it…” The Human Resources Department gave me this gem of advice: “You have to make a decision; you can either play along and everyone will like you, or you can make a fuss and be the office bitch”. After the second and third male appendages appeared on my desk, I took matter into my own hands and confronted the culprit in question. He denied it, however coincidentally the groin mail stopped arriving along with the usual sleazy remarks and jokes.
This story usually draws a laugh out of people when I tell this story, albeit a shocked and sympathetic one and I do put a humorous spin on it, but realistically it’s just not good behaviour in the workplace, right? But it is one of many stories that I can share to highlight just how this ridiculous type of behaviour is still occurring these days and it’s accepted as part of the culture in so many workplaces and in male dominated industries. So, I’d like to extend a big thank you to all those phallic artists and mansplainers who gave me the material for writing this blog and thank you even more so to the amazing men and women I know who offer support and respect. Fortunately, in the brewing industry I’ve met mostly awesome legends so far and look forward to meeting many more!
Happy belated International Women’s Day!