It was another day on the worksite, and it was one simple word - babe.
The babe in question? Me. As soon as the words crossed his lips and hit my ears, my blood began to boil. This despite the ice and snow crunching beneath my feet.
“Whatever, babe,” were the words shot in my direction from the mouth of a fuming colleague- let’s call him Jim. Jim was one of the team of primarily male tradesmen and contractors I worked shoulder to shoulder with day in and day out on this Northern BC worksite.
Really, the gender of my co-workers, or this coworker shouldn’t have mattered. We were all here, working together to turn elaborate engineering plans into real life structures. My role as an Engineer was to ensure that the project was built as designed by my company.
Now let’s be clear- the part played by an engineer on any work site is one that is often disliked by contracted trades people. We tend to have little or no practical experience yet it’s our job to oversee construction and to speak up when we see corners being cut or safety protocols being broken. I knew what I was getting into. You develop a thick skin.
So why did that word -babe- cut through this skin despite the well seasoned professional indifference I had developed? Because babe is a specific insult that extends beyond a difference of opinion about how work should be done.
Although it can be a term of endearment, spoken from the mouth of a disgruntled colleague the word babe takes on an entirely unfriendly tone. Babe in this context shoots the other person down, paints them like a child, inexperienced, and not worthy of listening to. Babe might be used to remark on the attractiveness of another - an unwelcomed, subtle form of harassment.
And none of this is okay in a workplace. I surely was younger than Jim, but I had earned my training, my degrees, and my right to equality on that site. And although our birth certificates marked different genders, as colleagues our gender was nothing of importance.
So here I stood, head to head with this man Jim. The issue at hand? Jim was fed up with me reminding him to wear his hard hat. I was fed up with reminding him of the site rules calling for the standard personal protective equipment. But this little battle was about a lot more than safety gear and we both knew it.
The rest of the crew watched their ring leader. I stood alone, sole woman and sole engineer unwilling to back down.
“No,” I said, measuring my breath. “You don’t get to call me that, not here, not ever. Call me by my name.”
Confused, Jim shot a shocked look in my direction, then turned away, hard hat on.