If I were to make a list of the things I have learned through temping, it would probably consist of all the different filing systems I have learned, how many phone lines I can manage, blah blah blah. I do not think I would list what I learned to do today, which is to assemble and transport 52 mannequins.
Today I worked at a mid-fashion clothing company that I have never heard of before, and for privacy's sake won't list here, but let's just say it's akin to those California-infused preppy clothing stores you see in the mall like PacSun, Aeropostale and such. I was told that I would be performing manual labor of some sort, so I dressed accordingly in jeans, and showed up at the corporate office at eight o'clock this morning.
My supervisor and both my co-workers were male, and here is where the feminism thing comes in. I noticed that I did not seem especially welcome at this position, which was unloading large boxes from a truck. My co-workers talked to each other but not to me, and my supervisor was polite but gave instructions as to exactly what we were doing while I wasn't, technically, there. This got me a little bit on edge, because I figured that they didn't want me around because they assumed, as a woman, I wouldn't be able to lift said boxes. This hurt my pride especially because I am pretty strong, even though I am short. Ever since I was nine or ten (and keep in mind at that age I more resembled a fifteen or sixteen year-old) my dad went to me when he needed help with lifting heavy objects or working on fix-it type stuff, because my brothers were too young. I won't pretend to be able to compete with, like, professional construction workers, but I can definitely hold my own with a couple of doughy office workers.
This turned out to be true.
After we unloaded the boxes I noticed that one of my co-worker's attitudes had changed. He smiled at me and acted friendly. Success! I had proved my worth, video-game style. But the other one still wouldn't even look me in the eye, which gave me a medium-sized chip on my shoulder. His attitude made me feel like I had something to prove, so as we started on out next task, I determined that I was going to be the BEST DAMN MANNEQUIN ASSEMBLER OF ALL TIME.
Here's the thing about being a working woman, at least in my experience. Most of the time, in more cerebral environments like school, blue collar offices and (more often than not) church, I feel like the general M.O. is pretty merit-based and doesn't have that much to do with gender. In my classes in college, for example, I usually felt like I was judged based on my abilities alone. But if I'm in an environment where it still feels like a male-dominated arena (i.e. factory work, manual labor, etc) I immediately assume that everybody there assumes I can't do whatever it is we're supposed to do simply because I am a woman. I start out with something to prove, which is maybe silly because probably a lot of the time no one is thinking anything bad about me in the first place. It's totally dumb.
Anyway, so we started taking the mannequins out of the box, putting them together and wheeling them over to the elevator to eventually be taken upstairs. I should mention that this was an amusingly awkward job because the mannequins were all male. It was impossible to put them together or move them around without grabbing embarrassing parts of their anatomy. The height adjustment valve was very poorly placed and required me to stand in what appeared to be a rather compromising position, with my hand in an embarrassing place. These mannequins were also packing like James Bond on a mission. Don't think I'm just a pervert or a ten year-old boy in a twenty-six year-old woman's body, because every single person who walked into the lobby where we were assembling the mannequins snickered like crazy. This was an Austin Powers level of obvious, entrendre-wise.
Anyway, so the second co-worker and I were able to joke around for a few minutes, then he went upstairs and left me with this other guy who obviously really didn't like me. I hadn't said anything to him at all, so I was left to assume that he had a problem with me because I was a woman. As we pulled out the headless torsos, which by the way smelled like hemp, I thought about the state of feminism in our country, and how in so many ways, we have so far to go.
Finally--FINALLY--this guy turned to me and asked me what "I like to do." I'm terrible at answering that question, by the way. I think I need to take up knitting again so I have an easy answer.
"Oh," I said. "I like, um, swimming, and ... sci-fi."
His pasty face lit up. "Really? Me too!"
And then we were friends and talked about nerdy things for the rest of the afternoon.
MORAL: Sometimes someone appears mean and scary but it turns out they are more afraid of you then you are of them (like bears, and not like that little girl from The Ring). For example, maybe you think someone doesn't like you because he doesn't like working with women, but it turns out he is actually just afraid of all women, except ones who are equally excited about Tron Legacy.