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DianeCrossing the line

Throughout her life Diane has worked as a receptionist, hotel desk clerk, waitress, bartender, hotel maid, short-order cook, temporary worker, forklift operator, courier, salesperson, truck driver, drywaller, carpenter's helper, alarm systems installer, and she ran her own business selling and installing telephone systems. She has also done volunteer work with provincial and national women's organizations and in women's shelters. At age 52, Diane now works as a computer programmer in Winnipeg where she just bought her own house.

Diane says:

When I got into my 40s I looked back on my life and noticed that the only time that I had a roof over my head, food in my mouth, and clothes on my back, I had a man to provide those things. I didn't have a man in my life at that time. I didn't want another one so I had to think for myself. I had to find out what I could do so I would have the things I wanted. I started to get the idea that the only person who's going to take care of me is me.

In between the men there was always the times when I'd have to wear second-hand clothes and I'd have to live in crappy places or I'd have to live with things that I didn't like just to survive. I'd have to change jobs and stuff like that. In the first twenty years of work, I had an attitude of, "Oh yeah well, I don't like this job, I'll just go on to the next one," because I didn't need to worry about where the money was coming from. I usually had a boyfriend and then I was married and he took care of everything so I could do whatever I darn well pleased. My last man was the last in a long line of meal tickets.

I had tried to get jobs where I'd be getting more money and the only jobs that I could get was working in a warehouse. Then you would get like $7/hour instead of $5/hour as a waitress. But I was still in the female jobs/male jobs, you know there was 2 categories. As I started working in warehouses and working beside men in warehouses I started looking at what they were doing and what I was doing and thinking well "Just a second here." I started recognizing something about myself and the people I worked with - they were all men and I was doing their job. I also started finding out they were actually getting 8,9, and 10 dollars and hour and I was still only getting 7. When I started crossing the line into men's job's, that's when I started discovering just how much women were discriminated against, just how hard it is.

I was a drywaller for about 7 years and during that time I worked on a lot of major projects. On major projects they hire anybody, I mean anybody. I wouldn't get hired on the smaller ones. Once I was working with 500 men. I came on site and the general contractor says to me, "I'm sorry we sent the pink biffy [toilet] back." For me to go use the bathroom facilities it was just like any of the guys but this guy made a point of coming over to me and apologizing because he'd had a secretary on site and had ordered a pink toilet for her, the same thing as the men, but pink. When she left the site he had sent it away and he was very sorry about that.

The mental aspect of it, they don't take into account. I don't know if that's discrimination or just a pain in the ass. The constant surprise. Everybody saying, "Oh my God you're a drywaller!" I know it was not much but it is kind of discrimination. When I was working on the women's prison, groups of people would come through touring. I'd be up on my rolling platform tying wires, hanging ceiling tile, and I'd hear this rustle, rustle. I'd look down at all these little hard hats and the tour guide would say: "And this is our resident woman." I'd do this little dance. People don't realize that you're singled out.

At lunch, nobody would sit with me or they'd make fun of me or they'd steal my tools. I think they did that to each other anyway but they gang up on you and they can be really nasty. I was discriminated at school. I proved the discrimination to the heads of the school. And what they did to fix it was they segregated me. They put me in a room by myself and taught me what I needed to know by myself and didn't do anything to those boys at all.

I do know that the more education I got, the better job I got, the more confidence I had. That directly related to the education. The more confidence I had, the less I noticed the discrimination, the less I paid attention to it, the less I even worried about it. So that I wasn't afraid. I could go and just apply for any job I darn well pleased, as long as I had the education.

That the government provided some of the education was the only way I did it. The only way. I have heard of women who have gotten student loans, have children and lose their house because they end up having to go on welfare. Or they manage to still get the job they want but end up paying forever. Fortunately I didn't have to do that.

I think that the only way I made it up to 2000 financially, is that I was supported by the Canadian government or men - not necessarily in that order. What kind of statement does that say about 30 years of a Woman's life?

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