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Dismantling the myth that 'women don't want to do the dirty jobs that men do'

A guide to shutting that argument down.

Retirement gender pay gap

WHENEVER THE SUBJECT of pay disparity comes up, there’s always one smug person who chimes in with a remark like “Ha! Women only care about equality when it suits them! Why don’t they try collecting bins if they want the same pay as men!”

They believe that pointing out that the fact very few women work in industries like mining or rubbish disposal is a completely airtight and valid argument that will shut down feminism forever. Well it’s not.

createcard (2) You can bin this argument

Just because you haven’t educated yourself on examples of women striving for equality in every single type of workplace doesn’t mean that it’s not happening.

That’s because the exposure most of us have to feminism comes from largely middle class voices – when’s the last time you heard a bin collector or a cleaner speak on the news, on the radio or in printed press about their experiences?

This means that the media mainly focuses on a different set of issues (which are no less important e.g. sexual violence, domestic violence, bodily autonomy – issues that still affect both middle class women and working class women).

Spain: International Women's Day 2017 in Barcelona Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

The point of feminism is to work towards equality.

This means equality for everyone, regardless of gender. In an equal society, there’s no jobs that are perceived to be only for men. There are no jobs that are perceived to be only for women.

Equality means that men can comfortably aspire to be nurses and primary school teachers while women can aspire to be miners and bin collectors and neither will be judged for doing so, or treated like they’re too feminine or too masculine for doing a certain type of work.

People have a misconception that women only want to work in cushy, luxurious, safe and comfortable jobs.

First of all, doesn’t everyone? Who would turn their nose up at a safe and comfortable job? But second of all, we know that the majority of people won’t get an opportunity in life to do that kind of work.

When it comes down to it, women are more than willing to do work that is extremely dirty.

Parisian Dustmen Strike - Paris Source: Apaydin Alain

What are the main concerns regarding hygiene when working in sanitation or bin collection? Being exposed to excrement, urine, vomit, contaminated needles, used condoms, used sanitary products. Just dealing with disgusting waste in general. Women wouldn’t do that, right?

New Year 2017 celebrations Source: IIM-

Wrong. Across the United States, the gender ratio in nursing is 9.5 female nurses to every male nurse. In some states, like Iowa, it can be as high as 16.5 female nurses to every male nurse at a hospital or clinic.

Waste disposal Source: DPA

What are the main responsibilities of a nurse? Coming into extremely close contact with the excrement and urine of patients on a daily basis, giving patients injections and disposing of used syringes and being exposed to infectious diseases and human blood pretty regularly too.

Health workers pay Source: PA Wire/PA Images

On top of all that, nurses are attacked, spat on, abused and often subjected to racism, but they accept that as a part of their job.

Now that’s not to take away from the work that bin collectors do, because it’s necessary and equally as valuable as the work that nurses do to keep us safe and healthy.

The work of nurses is evidence that women already do work in conditions that many people think they are too picky to work in.

London Hosptial clean-up Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Plenty of people who are nurses do it out of passion (they’re certainly not doing it for the pay anyway).

They were lucky enough to have the opportunity to go to college and get a degree in nursing and learn best to use their talents to care for people.

For a lot of cleaners their work isn’t out of passion, but rather, economic necessity.

A study by The Guardian revealed that the gender ratio in cleaning work was at least three females to every single man.

Much like nurses, cleaners come into contact with a great deal of hazardous materials, be it syringes, used tampons, used condoms in hotels etc. They’re just as at risk of exposure to these materials as any bin collector.

The Queen Mother's bedroom Source: PA Archive/PA Images

A lot of these materials wouldn’t even pass a bin collector, had it not been for a cleaner (who is probably female) bagging them up.

The same risks of the job are encountered by women every day. While these jobs definitely don’t appeal to everyone, the hours that bin collectors get are certainly better for socialising than nursing and cleaning. There are fewer openings for jobs collecting bins and when there are, they can often be filled by nepotism.

The barriers preventing women from mining are a little bit different.

industrial4a Source: British National Archives

During the industrial revolution the 1842 Mines and Collieries Act was brought in as a response to a tragedy that occurred while Britain still thrived off of child labour.

A stream overflowed into the ventilation drift of a mine after a thunderstorm and subsequently drowned twenty-six children that had been inside.

After an inquiry, all women and boys under the age of ten were no longer allowed to be employed underground.

industrial4b Source: British National Archives

Of course nobody should have been made to work in a potentially dangerous mine ever again at this stage, but hey capitalist exploitation doesn’t take a day off.

Interestingly, one of the main reasons why the Mines and Collieries Act was passed was because its supporters deliberately “appealed to Victorian prudery, focussing on girls and women wearing trousers and working bare breasted in the presence of boys and men which ‘made girls unsuitable for marriage and unfit to be mothers’. Such an affront to Victorian morality ensured the bill was passed.”

industrial4c Source: British National Archives

The work was deemed unsuitable for women who were expected to stay at home and raise children, while eleven year old boys were accepted as more physically capable of this extremely backbreaking and dangerous labour than grown women were, simply because women were treated as unbearably delicate.

Nobody should have been doing the mining work in these conditions in the first place, but it highlights the exclusion of women on the assumption that they are weak.

After this, a lot of countries only allowed women to work in mines in the late 1980s.

There are plenty of female voices in mining, who prove that despite the reputation that mining has for being rough, remote and dangerous, it’s not incompatible with their lives simply because they are women.

Open cast mine excavator on the move Source: DPA/PA Images

Like all industries (see: music), women and young girls can’t aspire to work in jobs that they are underrepresented in.

Amanda Van Dyke, Chairman of Women in Mining UK says that publicity has to be the main driving force to get women to work in mining. She adds”I have never heard a little girl say I want to be a miner when I grow up.”

That is because young women are rarely encouraged to pursue any physically demanding job, or told that there are endless roles in mining that could appeal to them. If you don’t see female miners, you don’t even know that it’s possible to become one.

During WWII, women proved that they were just as capable of doing any job that men had previously held.

They worked in demanding jobs like logging and running factories and did just as well as the people that they replaced.

However, when the men returned from war, the women were booted from their jobs and sent home to pretend that they had never just realised the potential of women.

we_can_do_it Source: Archives

It’s time to stop pretending that women are too delicate to collect rubbish or work in mines because of their Victorian sensibilities. The imbalance of gender in workplaces and pay disparity is a result of sexism, not women lacking any capability or physical strength.

Women make up only 6.4% of CEOs, and let’s be real, that’s the cushiest job of all and it requires no physical strength whatsoever. Women do work as hard as men and always have.

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About the author:

Kelly Earley

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