When will Women's Studies begin to influence vocational training programs as they have university and college courses? While there have been feminist methods and content evident in some courses, especially bridging programs, there is no sign of Women's Studies in program training women for non-traditional work.
Women entering the "men's domain" need all the help they can get. They do not experience the workplace in the same way men do: they rarely attain positions of power, although they may attain some informal power; there are few role models, so they come to their training with a lower climate of expectations than men. Although women are expected to work for a living the less privileged are not expected to have "career aspirations."
Aside from the health and safety problems which affect most workers, women often have to face sexual harassment at work with all its symptoms: insomnia, anxiety, weight loss, headaches and allergies.
Women may believe the mythology that there is equality in the workplace, thinking that if they work "twice as well as men" they will get equal treatment, further training and promotion, not just the "half as good" which the late Mayor Charlotte Whitton of Ottawa mentioned in less optimistic times. Then when women don't get ahead, they blame themselves.
Women are often excluded from the informal information and support system which men enjoy in a male-dominated workplace. They are also the prime care takers of children and have to rush directly from work to school, day care or home while the men enjoy a decompression period between their two worlds by having a beer or participating in union activity.
Women have been raised to be concerned about relationships. They are the tension managers in the family; often this mediating ability is not very useful at work where assertiveness is needed. It is usually an assertive male voice doing the big sell on TV; the small high voice pressing its way through nervously tightened teeth belongs to Miss Teen Canada, the role model of Machinist Jaren McLeod too many young women. Neither are they used to the hazing men give each other on the job, and they may be wounded by "failing" this incomprehensible test of acceptability and start a job on the wrong foot.
Consciousness Raising Still Needed
While feminist educators might justifiably wonder if they want their female students to become part of the men's world rather than to appropriate and change it, we owe it to our students to explain their options and the possible ramifications. Women who try to "play the game" as men play it are often excluded or passed over; those who try to challenge and compete with men less overtly can also be badly damaged. Feminist education, above all, is based on the bedrock of the empowerment of individual and group through consciousness raising, that old '60s idea that is still meaningful. When we design training or educational programs to rush women into the workplace, we must create a feminist subtext in teaching materials, workshops, and courses.
While students often scream "boredom" at the very mention of history, I have yet to see women who are not fascinated by how women in the past have tackled their issues. An historical understanding is essential to relieving feelings of individual failure and to promote understanding of the problems faced by all women working for wages in our society.
Material from primary historical texts by women on women and work are increasingly available to teachers, as well as slide shows, videos and movies. This material can be instrumental in validating women in both traditional and nontraditional work. As in the Black Liberation Movement, when people are separated from their history they lack the roots necessary for the cultivation of individual and collective empowerment.