VIEWPOINT: Level playing field?

VIEWPOINT: Level playing field?

An interesting thread developed on Twitter last weekend with regard to ‘gendered’ terminology within plumbing – specifically the use of Master Plumber and the like. This isn’t the place for specifics but if you check out @reddyplumbing and @stopcocks, you’ll get the gist.

It’s not a debate confined to our industry, of course, and it has repercussions for us all – from actresses to male nurses (see what we did there?). The inherent problem doesn’t seem to be entirely with sexism in the sector either; it also lies with those of us who see ourselves as fully evolved members of mankind (very precisely). The belief that all people should be treated equally brings its own issues. Even the most well-intentioned view can leave a negative impression.

<COMMENCE MANSPLAINING> As a bloke who seeks to treat everyone with an even hand, and who recognises that there is good and bad across the entire spectrum of humanity, I see no reason why we need companies made up entirely of female plumbers. Plumbers are plumbers and that’s that… so surely we can lose the ‘female’ tag too. From where I’m sitting (quite possibly an ivory tower) it shouldn’t be necessary to differentiate because we’re way beyond all that 1950s “back in the kitchen” nonsense. It’s a shame that only a tiny percentage of plumbers are female but we can’t force women to join the trade (ironically, we probably could’ve in the 1950s). I’ve made it clear that I’d welcome them with open arms – not like that, we don’t want any lawsuits – so that’s all there is to it, really. <END MANSPLAINING>

In my time working in the trade press in the heating and plumbing industry, my guess would be that around half of the editors have been women. From what I’ve seen, none of them have been treated as though they had a lower level of knowledge, understanding or ability to grasp the subject matter. I’ve never witnessed anyone disrespect or demean them based on gender. So everything’s fine, right? Right?

And this, I think, is where so many of us fall into the trap. We want to believe all is well in the world. We want to believe there is parity. We want someone to reassure us that regardless of whether it’s Master Plumber, Mistress Plumber, Master Plumberess or anything else you care to dream up, the playing field is level. It isn’t.

I don’t know that it isn’t from first-hand experience; I’ve been told it isn’t by those whose daily lives are bounded by obstacles – in this particular case, female plumbers. And I’ll gladly take their word for it because I don’t see any reason why they’d fabricate it and I’m not in a position to judge accurately. What would they have to gain by making it up? I don’t think, for instance, that a firm of women plumbers would invent this scenario just to get a bit of free publicity out of us.

My view is simply this. It’s a sad state of affairs when it’s necessary for events such as the Women Installers Together Conference to exist, but that is the current state of affairs. If there weren’t a need for it, it wouldn’t happen. We have to be supportive without seeking to impose ourselves on the agenda.

None of this is to say that men universally have it easy, but that isn’t this.

Of course, if it turns out there’s a massive conspiracy among women then I’ll look a bit of an idiot. It wouldn’t be the first time.

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