Common misconceptions about builders (and tradesmen)

I’ve written about being whistled and jeered at by white van men – but my man-haranguing is by no means strictly related to tradesmen in white vans. It could also be applied to suited men in the city, casually-dressed men in the media, doctors or dentists – I just happen to come across more tradesmen, as I work from home, than male city workers or medical professionals.

Yet the others seem to receive comparatively less criticism for their harassment of women. And so, now that I’ve eased my conscience by declaring that some tradesmen wolf-whistle but so do all men of that calibre (and by calibre – I mean mindset; independent of their profession) – I’d like to overturn some common misconceptions about builders and tradesmen.

Firstly, the belief that as tradespeople haven’t necessarily been to university, or studied higher education, they are less intelligent – is wholly flawed. The prerequisites for plumbing a house, building a loft extension, wiring up a lighting system are the ability to think logically and practically, to work out difficult sums and angles, to decipher where any problems may be stemming from and to rectify them.

I went upstairs in my flat this morning to inspect the building work that my husband, brother and friend (all builders) are doing and, in a day, they’d removed half the roof, rebuilt a solid timber structure and were beginning to rebuild the exterior:

We marvel at architecture around the world – the work of wise architects – but forget that without builders, there would be no construction. Who do you think built the Taj Mahal? Certainly not the architect who designed it. It was built by hundreds of builders, some of whom – so the story goes – had their hands amputated post-construction to ensure they couldn’t attempt to build anything emulating the Taj Mahal ever again. There is an art to construction, as there is an art to design.

Another fallacy is that builders drink fifteen cups of tea a day, only read The Sun (or look at the pictures – particularly page 3) and eat a full English every day. I can only speak for the builders I know – but my brother and his crew of workers don’t drink tea at all, I don’t see The Sun – or any other red top tabloids – on any of the sites and they often take boiled veg and steamed fish to work in a Tupperware because they are, believe it or not, health-conscious. Same with my husband.

You might think that having male builders working on your house will mean the toilet seat perpetually lifted and skid marks lurking in the loo. And you’d be right. But it would also happen if your dad was in your house, or your sister’s boyfriend, or your nephew. It’s not builders: it’s men.

Yesterday morning on Woman’s Hour there was a discussion about equal pay and the fact that there aren’t enough female electricians in employment. But it also transpired that there are very few women applying to train as electricians. That is probably because trades: plumbing, decorating, electrical, carpentry etc – are aimed at men. It remains a male-dominated world because women are not invited to join. The mere fact that ‘tradespeople’ – as a term – doesn’t exist on Microsoft Word is indicative of a wider belief: that only men can have a trade (‘tradesmen’ doesn’t trigger the red squiggly ‘spell-check’ line).

Perhaps if the trades were more accessible for women – if there were equal numbers of painter men and women, builder men and women, electrician men and women – the tradesman stereotype would be stamped out for good. Unless those women started wolf-whistling at men, flicking through The Sun, downing cup after cup of PG Tips… and then we could blame the trade rather than accepting the simple fact that it is the man, not the profession, that decides whether or not women deserve respect.

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