New play explores the experiences of black women in construction work

Portland State University Assistant professor Roberta Hunte’s dissertation is the basis for My Walk Has Never Been Average, a play that reveals the stories of black women in construction. Hunte’s unique research includes the profiles of 15 black, female construction workers. One of them is Donna Hammonds, who shared her challenges working in the male-dominated field:

“She recounts one incident where she believed she was welding at 20 amps, but someone snuck around and amped her tool up to 150. ‘Sparks were flying. Fire everywhere. I thought my hair was on fire,’ says Hammond, who also recalls an electrician who avoided the appearance of working with her by making her “walk 10, maybe five paces behind him.” Men were not the only one who felt uncomfortable – even threatened – by her presence in the field. ‘It was taboo. When I got into the trades, my mom was embarrassed that I was going to be a construction worker,’ Hammond says.”

Culturally, construction work has been gendered masculine. Unlike fields like entrepreneurship, the sciences, and corporate leadership, construction has not been one of the spaces that we’ve pushed women to enter. However, stories like Donna’s illustrate that sexism is not just a problem faced by women in business skirts. Women in blue-collar work are navigating hostile, male-dominated workplaces to feed their families and define themselves as well.

The lack of nuanced discussions of the experiences of actual working-class women is not lost on Hunte.

‘“We rarely talk about working class women and work. Pundits talk about work in the media, but rarely do we hear grassroots folks talking about what it means to have a job, to find meaning in work, and what is required of some of us to walk our path.’ Hunte observes. ‘Sixty percent of black families are female headed. Women in our families are the breadwinners. Our breadwinners need to have good waged jobs,’ she continues.”

The play, adapted for the stage by Bonnie Ratner, sold out in 48 hours. For those of you in Portland, there will be a second performance of My Walk Has Never Been Average on June 7th!

Avatar Image Sesali is a writer who thinks black women should be valued at home, at work, and everywhere else.

Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

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