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“I Climbed Poles, I Ran Cable, I Ran a Jackhammer:” Faith Robinson Describes Harassment On the Job

The women’s movement of the 1970’s had a far-reaching impact that was felt in every recess of American society. Working class women began to enter non-traditional jobs in trades and craft unions, and lesbians found a larger community in which to express their sexuality. In both cases, women faced resistance and sometimes violence as they charted new gender territory. Faith Robinson, one of those brave enough to break the gender barrier in the predominantly male telephone technician field, was also a lesbian – she faced a particularly difficult challenge. Robinson remembered one incident in 1979 in which anti-gay talk escalated to violence on the job site.

Listen to Audio:

ROBINSON: I was a line technician. I climbed poles, I ran cable, I ran a jackhammer, I drove a large truck. I drove a digger with a big augur on the back, a drill that drills holes for poles.

The incident occurred January 30. We were cracking some cement so we could dig a hole for a new pole and we were using sledge hammers and I didn’t hold my sledge hammer properly. And I tried to hit the cement and wasn’t cracking it and the men started laughing at me. And they started then using their sledge hammers and hitting the cement and each crack as they hit the cement they would call out a name, and they’d call before each name they would say, “And for your dyke friend Sheila. And for you dyke friend Martha. And for your dyke friend Julie.” And they hit the pavement. After they finished slamming this and breaking the cement up by yelling the names of women and calling them all my dyke friends, they said I couldn’t handle the job. I needed, I needed, I didn’t have a dick. And so I said I didn’t need a dick, they were the biggest dicks here, and that’s when they took the sledge hammer and swung it in my face. They missed but they still swung it at my head and the thing is that what happens with hammers, sometimes the hammerheads break. Whether it be a sledge hammer or a claw hammer or a tack hammer, the hammerhead can come off. They swung it at my head and then got more angry and pushed the augur at me. And that augur only had a makeshift pin holding it together. I couldn’t stand it anymore and this was only a month and a half.

I should have been able to go to management and say stop this. But when I did they said, “No they don’t mean anything.” They didn’t do anything. And actually it made them wake up. They started thinking about training, they started a training program. And the hazing and harassment, they started stopping that. They started talking about this. It’s important to be open and out at the job, because then we’re not afraid of exposure.

Source: Interviewed by Miriam Frank 4/30/95
Courtesy of Miriam Frank