The summer after high school graduation, I landed a job working as a slusher operator at the local paper mill. This job was a very big deal, not only because it was a high paying job for a college student, but because I was selected as one of the first five women allowed to work on the mill production floor. Until then women were only allowed to work in the offices and as lab support. A few years before, your Aunt Jacie worked in the lab making minimum wage, ($3.25 per hour), where I started at $8.50 an hour as a student laborer.
I arrived an hour early on the first day and waited for the shift supervisor to arrive on some steps, lunch bucket and steel toe boots in hand. When he arrived, he introduced himself, gave me a tour of the plant, showed me how to clock in and took me to the small space that had been converted into the women’s locker room and bathroom. After putting my stuff away in my locker, my supervisor showed me where I would be working. In hindsight, I should have known something was up because he was smiling way too much during my induction.
As we walked up to the slusher I was assigned to, I could see Playboy centerfolds hung up over all of the equipment and the guys on the crew looking at me with big grins on their faces. I am sure they were expecting me to get upset, have a hissy fit, or perhaps cry. But all I said was, “Nice pictures” and moved the centerfold that was hanging over the controls of my slusher to another location. They all looked a bit dumbfounded.
The supervisor assigned one of the crew to train me on operating the slusher and the rest of the evening went off without a hitch. Everyone kept watching me, but they were polite and helped me learn my job. The pinups remained up at the end of the shift.
After work that night, I picked up my girlfriend and we proceeded to purchase every Playgirl magazine we could find within a 20 mile radius. For your parents who were around in 1981, this was the infamous Playgirl edition with the very naked Burt Reynolds as the centerfold. We pulled out all of the centerfolds and I put them in my lunch bucket with a roll of tape for the next day. Two could play at this game!
The next shift, I walked to my assigned equipment and proceeded to hang a copy of Burt next to every Playboy centerfold as the guys on the crew watched me. They were smiling and so was I. The shift went smoothly and some of the guys actually started conversations with me.
On my third shift, I came in to find someone one had taken a black marker and drawn a swim suit on all of my “Burts”, and the crew was standing there laughing so hard I think they were crying. Clever boys. With a smile on my face, I picked up a black marker and drew bikinis on all of the centerfolds. During my lunch break that night the guys bought me a soda and started calling me, “Kid”.
By my fourth shift, all of the pictures were removed and we were all good.
I have worked and played in male dominated fields all of my life, and while much of the blatant harassment is now generally understood to be unacceptable, inequality still exists for all minorities. Know who you are and what you are worth, accept nothing less. By applying persistent pressure with a pinch of humor, you will see change occur in a manner that builds new more equal relationships.