- Women in Building Construction, and: Women in Firefighting, and: Women in Highway Construction, and: Women in Machining, and: Women in Non-Traditional Careers: An Introduction, and: Women in Policing, and: Women in Welding, and: Work Talk: Women in Non-Traditional Careers in Their Own Words
More than four decades after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 with its Title VII provision for "equal employment opportunity," debates still swirl over the most fundamental questions concerning women and work. Even at Harvard, the pride of the elite Eastern establishment, the president has his doubts as to whether women are wired to do science and math. A liberal union town like New York City can claim only 29 female firefighters out of a force of 11,500.
Undeniably, women have made great gains since 1964. In the 1960s, only 3 percent of new lawyers were female. By 1984, women made up 36 percent of new attorneys. In the 1970s, the ranks of female doctors doubled. Still, significant areas of employment remain male preserves where women have made few inroads. Consider these figures for the workforce in 2000: only 1.7 % of carpenters, 2.7 % of electricians, 3.0 % of firefighters, 9.9 % of engineers, 18.7 % of dentists, and 23.7 % of architects were female.
Her Own Words, a series of eleven videos, provides an excellent source of information on women working in nontraditional occupations, those in which women make up less than twenty-five percent of the workforce. One of the reasons why the barriers are still so high for women in occupations such as welding, machinery, firefighting, construction, and even engineering is ignorance about the opportunities offered in these lucrative, skilled fields. Guidance and employment counselors, parents and peers perpetuate the gender-based stereotyping that occurs at the critical stage when young women are choosing a career path. The videos provide a potent source of images and information to counteract that ignorance.
Each fifteen minute video combines photography—powerful still images of the women at work—with narration by women speaking calmly and confidently, in their own words, about the work that they do. "Work Talk" and "Women in Nontraditional Careers" provide excellent overviews. Only the latter uses the voice of two "experts" to speak about employment options for women. The concept throughout is that the women who do the work are the experts.
"You spend much of your life at work—more time than you do with your family. If you don't find something you like, you're going to be miserable. [End Page 90] Keep looking until you find it." This advice, offered in Work Talk is one of the key themes. The message is that women don't have to continue to accept the traditional roles assigned to them.
A strong subliminal message is communicated by the sheer variety of women in the videos: women of all races, short women, tall women, heavy women, women in their first careers and women after career changes. Mothers, women with four children, women with no children, and pregnant women are all represented. Former secretaries, clerk-typists, day care workers and waitresses—all speak confidently about the work they do and why they like it. The series underscores the excitement and growth potential of a career choices and changes.
The importance—and lack of—role models is another theme. "I was 25 years old when I realized I could do this," says a firefighter who joined the force after she met a volunteer firefighter on her softball team. "I wish I'd started earlier, but I didn't know anybody like me growing up. Everybody had 'proper' jobs for women at the time," she says. The opportunity to meet potential role models is just one of...