Women’s work

By Maureen Foley 03/22/2007

p> Today is the day to remember the women in Ventura County who are defying gender stereotypes and working in traditionally male-dominated fields. Take this moment to appreciate female firefighters, police officers, farm workers, construction workers (including painters, electricians and plumbers), politicians, military troops and every other female descendant of the World War II-era feminist worker Rosie the Riveter. Since March is Women’s History Month, now is the time to appreciate the women who are working hard to keep the county safe and running smoothly or fighting overseas.

In some ways, it is easy to take these women for granted. After all, it’s not that unusual to see a female police officer drive by in a cruiser or to see a female firefighter out jogging with a group of her male co-workers. Women have flooded every workplace, but that doesn’t mean that their work is any easier. Women are still paid less, on the dollar, for the work that they do. At the same time, they do more of the home-based work in their families, tackling cooking and cleaning after punching out from their day jobs.

For many women in male fields, there are difficulties above and beyond the typical work challenges. Working amongst mostly men, some women must tolerate sexism or the much more subtle institutionalized gender biases. They may be overlooked for promotions. As well, sexual harassment can be more common in work environments where male employees outnumber female employees.

Beyond these problems, working women, from all fields, must somehow balance the desire to start a family with their career aspirations. Although the American workplace has in some ways expanded to include women, maternity and childcare benefits are by no means adequate. And in fields where men dominate or in jobs that involve manual labor or potential bodily harm, it is difficult to work pregnancy or early motherhood into the job. (How many firefighters can take a break from an emergency call to breastfeed?)

Ventura County’s female troops who are deployed in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan may face the most challenges. For some women in combat, the work environment is especially toxic. According to “The Women’s War,” an article by Sara Corbett in last week’s New York Times Magazine, there are 160,000 female troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. (That is more female troops deployed than in any other United States war.) Corbett’s article investigates the many cases of sexual harassment and, in some instances, rape, that women soldiers at war now must endure in addition to the tremendous daily stress of combat duty. Corbett points out that these incidents of harassment and rape are especially difficult for the women to recover from because they involve fellow soldiers or their commanding officers.

Here in Ventura County, most women in non-traditional fields will never have to live through the kind of dramatic work-related stress that Corbett details in her article. But there is no denying that local women on the fringe of the employment gender divide don’t necessarily have it easy. So today, look for one woman who is working outside her prescribed gender mold and take the time to thank her. After all, she could be the one who someday saves your life, protects your house, harvests your dinner, or fights your country’s war.

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