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Women in construction trade

As promised, I am going to comment this document : "Omitted from History: Women in the Building Trades" by Linda Clarke and Chris Wall. I found it in the Department of Architecture of the University of Cambridge. This document explains how the construction industry manages the apprenticeship and how this industry segregated apprenticeship as an almost exclusively white male preserve. There have been periods since the fourteenth century when "the women have had a not insignificant presence in the building trades" and the document compares those periods. The two main streams for this comparison are feudalism and capitalism.

Under the feudalism period, companies had specialties linked to their materials. Materials would develop the expertise of the companies, the way they provision their shops and the way they transform those materials into a building. To transform the materials, they have developed a system of apprenticeship of seven years after what the apprentice would become a master.

During the 14th century, construction was most exclusively linked to the construction of castles and churches. Apprentices would learn to build with houses, and develop enough skills to work on larger projects. Those larger projects are connected with two worlds, that of religion and that of the army.

On the second page of the document, the period of apprenticeship corresponds with the development of the sexuality from lad to man and the necessity for the establishment to control the period of time when maturity is better acquired with learning skills. Man are separated from women and they are forbidden to marry until they become master.

The guild system was not a segregated system with an apprenticeship for men and an apprenticeship for women, offering adequate opportunity for each gender to acquire craftsmanship. It was segregated in the sense that construction crafts were exclusively for men. Some women would be allowed to become mistresses who took over as widows from their husbands, but that would mean that their husbands were already masters. The widows would take the leadership of the company from their husband, but they would not perform as knowledgeable craftswomen.

Nonetheless were the women deprived from apprenticeship, but they would spend their lives as submissive assistant whose wage was controlled to stay under the value of men. Women would not have any right to personal property and as a consequence, they would not have any legal status in front of the law. They were dependent of their husbands and at some period of times, they "were restrained from being too involved in their husbands’ trade."

Outside of the control of town corporations, women "might often be found doing heavy work, such as carrying sand and lime, gravel and mortar or using a ‘great crane of iron’ " but they were "laid down in the Statutes for ‘women laborers". Women in medieval times were treated just like women are treated nowadays in many emerging countries of the world where they carry water, tea leaves, coffee beans... They are laborer and they are not allowed to access knowledge.

In 1563/1563, the Statute of Artificers carried many reforms "through setting a framework for wage assessment and for the parish apprenticeship system". This system "was not gender specific but referred to apprentices as ‘persons’ and to ‘boys and girls’, ‘masters and mistresses’". (...) "Under the parish apprenticeship system boys were bound until they were 24 and girls until they were 21 or 
were married." As we see, apprenticeship was still a way of control on the development of sexuality from teenage to adult, but under the Statute of Artificers, "34% of parish apprentices were girls, who were apprenticed in 51 occupations including as bricklayers, carpenters, joiners and shipwrights"."They normally completed and practiced their trade and were especially numerous in the eighteenth century. George, for instance, discovered the 1741 indentures of a female parish 
apprentice ‘to be taught the art and mystery of carpenter" - "Unlike the earlier period, after the Statute took full effect - in London, country and provincial towns and in the parish guilds – girls were to be found bound to men in the building trades throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including amongst the London carpenters in the eighteenth century."

After the Great Fire of London in 1666, wage labor became dominant. Labor was no more affected to a task but to the time on duty. During the feudalism period, the division of labor was established between the master as the person in charge of the task, then the journeyman, apprentice and below the statute of apprentice was the laborer and the servant. This organization changed with capitalism to foreman and skilled to craft worker, skilled, semi-skilled, apprentice and laborer. The evolution of labor excluded women to seclude them into "more heavily female trade such glovers, dressmakers and ribbon makers. "At the same time the range of occupations open to women declined dramatically, along with the number of female apprentices. Only five out of 75 trades in Middlesex between 1803 and 1822, for example, were mixed, the remainder being totally segregated. "Increased gender segregation went together with the development of capitalist production, rendering problematic traditional ways of reconciling work with familial control and responsibilities such as breastfeeding."

In the 19th century, the absence of statutory restrictions confined apprenticeship to men and thus acted as the key means of exclusion and control against women. "The early trade union view was that women should not enjoy the status of artisan and that in effect ‘skill’ was an essentially masculine quality or ‘property". "Many women were left in a precarious position, constituting the majority of paupers from 1834; by the 1890s nearly 80% of able-bodied paupers on outdoor relief were women."

The decline has continued with the 21th century. "Higher proportions of women are evident in painting and decorating at 0.8%, but for bricklayers, plasterers, scaffolders, plumbers and civil engineering no more than 0.1% were found to be female in a survey of 2001".

This report takes only British facts into consideration, but most the American system has inherited from it, so the continue will be based on those facts.

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My first reaction when reading this report was a relief to be able to prove my statement in response to the Reddit comments (r/firefighters, r/forestry, r/woodworking) and at the same time, an extreme anger because I was addressing my posts to firefighters, forest owners/managers/experts and woodworkers. Globally, I was addressing several actors of the construction industry and many of them reacted like a gang of monkeys, aggressively and with subjectivity. I was not very surprised with the way men had reacted, this is pretty common in woodworking, but I was shocked with the woman firefighter, first as a woman, second a firefighter. This is the picture I have posted on Reddit:


Hundreds of houses burnt and full residential areas gone into ashes. Hundreds of people dead, wounded, traumatized and as much depression with children and adults. One very simple question: "how did it happen?" and answers such "Yah, people die and shit. It's what we deal with every day. You are preaching to the wrong audience." I was "preaching" with the "wrong audience". Later on, I made a research to understand what just had happened. I found this article:
"For those who ignore the internet’s number one rule — “never read the comments” — you know that this is the sort of statement that precedes an orgy of insults and abuse. When rationality does make an appearance — often in the form of an insightful, sensible comment or a link with proof to the contrary — the chorus not-so-politely reminds them where to stick it."

Then I remembered rule number 9, "tell tearjerkers". I guess I found the right document for it, "segregation", "exclusion", "poverty". Doesn't it sound true? The following video will show you that the state of women is not so far with that of slavery -- I must tell you in advance, the video is extremely boring, but if you stick to the story without falling asleep, you might get those few words:

Introduction of the following video:
"The role of debt in sort of dislodging labor from the social nexus in which it has been placed it seemed from marriage systems but then seen from the perspective of wage labor itself which has a very interesting history and in many times a place is probably most seems to emerge above all from within the institution of slavery and then finally to look at a case where wage labor actually didn't emerge from institutions of slavery in Northern Europe and particularly England and in that case to look at the role of debt and redefining English agricultural industrial commercial workers not as creditors but essentially as debtors to those they worked for." This is comparable to the relation between the West and the emerging countries.



This imminent anthropologist from Birmingham compares marriage to slavery and most importantly, he explains the difference between bride-wealth and dowry. Globally, dowry is subsequent of wealthier families from the woman while bride-wealth applies at the bottom of the society when the family of the bride is poor or when she is taken as a sex-slave. He calls it the "commodization of the poors" and I tend to believe that the most apparent aspect of this commodization of the poors has become, with internet, a reactive orgy of insults and abuse. I though at first that the comments on Reddit were reacting at me, at my research and the discussion I was opening on Reddit, but the reality is way more disturbing. It is global.

It is difficult to dissociate violence from a lack of education and this lack of education is related to sexuality. Somebody who is intellectually involved in a constructive manner will not lose his/her time on toxic relationship while the "commodization of the poors" tend to manage the society with an hypersexuality that brings drama and disorder.





The youth is trapped in the society like Ace Ventura in a rhino. At some point, there is just a little "trou du cul".




More seriously, the norm for women has become the statute of laborer and if we see in 2019, women in trades essentially represented by men, this does NOT mean any progress at all. Social progress would mean to access equal training, apprenticeship, mastering and skills. We see clearly from the document that the norm changes when the politics are involved but we see also that the genders involve different kinds of politics.

On the Reddit platform, Whiskeysourpussycat accused me of racism when I mentioned immigration. This is the exact content of my post :
The recent fires in California are questioning the good sense. How did it happen? 
The choking reality is that I am not even surprise. I arrived in LA in 2015, expecting to find the most advanced state in the US on green construction and I found instead a desolation. I work as a female carpenter and a designer. I am graduated in architecture and passed my graduation with an ethnographic study about South East Asian carpentry. In 2006, I started to focus exclusively on European carpentry, I passed concourses and was quite successful what paid patents and a prototype on high thermal efficiency, what I call the Fire Resistant Houses. I have been "on the field" if I may say as an ethnographer in an emerging country (Indonesia), as a researcher, as a humanitarian consultant and auditor, as an architect and as a wood construction company. I did not arrive in green construction from the magazines and political groups. I have always been on the field working with forest owners, forest managers, sawmills, cities, organizations, schools, and people of different colors but what I found in LA was similar to a humanitarian crisis:
  • the construction sector is hold almost exclusively by immigrants who arrive in the US with low qualifications and ethics;
  • there is an extreme sensitivity about communitarism and immigration what make any progress difficult;
  • only few architects work on the housing sectors what leave the opportunity to low qualified contractors to design what ever they want;
  • the cities control the permits on the structure, the electricity and the plumbing, but there is no control over the fire resistance of a house or a small building;
  • fires happen and tourists feel more concerned than the local population.
I could extend the list, but what I mean here is that "green construction" offer large opportunities for a better fire resistance of the buildings and one shall not be separated from the other. The term "green construction" shall be associated with the idea of a "fire resistant building" because the thermal insulation and the conception of the structure offer better standards. But "green construction" nowadays, only affects large buildings while most of the workforce on housing sectors do not have any basic training and there are not trained because nobody ask for better standards. Nobody ask for better standards because almost anybody do what ever they want, starting with shop managers. If you go in a Home Depot in LA, you will not find any mineral wool, any oak, any kits to design a DIY Fire Resistant House.
I am not sure that a product today could arrive on the market alone because it takes many different kinds of people to create one product, a large amount of money, some R&D and some determination from a higher level to decide the orchestration of one product, but isn't it the role of a government to give the lead with grants, programs, incentive and communication? Don't you think that the fire departments in each state and cities shall ask for better standards? Don't you think that firefighters shall train the population and lead the planning departments to better controls? Don't you think that architects shall also be part of the verification process like a lawyer in a court house? Don't you think that architects shall be trained for better housing and engaged into communication with the public?
I still cannot believe what I saw in California and I don't know about you, but I personally don't want to get used of it.

Traditionally, we have seen that the construction industry takes in charge apprenticeship. After the 19th century, the Unions have segregated women and without a political impulse, women in the 21th century would not access apprenticeship and mastership. The statute of "laborer" is equally applied to define the women of the construction industry and the immigrants. This is the same statutory tradition that segregates immigrants to a very low level of qualifications and wages.

An immigrant in California can be granted a driving license, but once driving away from DMV, there is absolutely no training to conform the level of the laborer with the security standard of construction. There are not even any security standards to regulate the way the construction are made, neither to impose some kind of resistance to fires, neither to comply the materials in the stores with the risks on each area. Contractors, once they have paid their fees and taxes, are not obliged to any kind of result in a case such residential fires and we see clearly on the pictures that residential fires result in dramatic chaos.

Behind the "R" word of racism, there is a reality : "segregation", "exclusion" and "poverty".


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About E.B

Eima BLANK is a designer and a rewarded entrepreneur who started a career as an ethnographer in 1992, was graduated in architecture in 1995 and is now experiencing her passions as a carpenter and a craft woman. She has directed wood construction projects from 2010 to 2015. She is the author of several books and studies about wood construction and the economy of forestry. She has also won several concourses for her innovations on wood and fabric construction. Her drawings entered an army museum for her sarcastic humor, she has a model house in another museum and she is a member of the ADAGP and the ARS for the management of her artist and designer rights. She is also an occasional cartoonist, what she carries on her smile.
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