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Practicing while Female

Much has been written lately about female architects, or women in architecture.  Should we just not discuss it and do our jobs?  Should we highlight our accomplishments as architects and have special exhibitions of our work?   Should we attempt to figure out why women leave architecture?  Does being female while practicing architecture even deserve discussion?

It never occurred to me that being female and being an architect would be an issue. I grew up listening to “Free to Be… You and Me” by Marlo Thomas.  I was almost 6 when it came out in 1972 and all I remember is listening to it constantly.  I believed everything on the album, and why not? Throughout my teenage years I was somehow ignorant of the struggles that women still had in the workplace at the time (early 80s)  and could only have believed that the liberation movement was history.  It is entirely possible that a
s a teenager I was completely self absorbed and not very thoughtful about big issues.  I ended up going to a women’s college that confirmed that I could do whatever I wanted to do.   By graduate school I was part of a class that was over 50% female, so I still hadn’t had an inkling that my becoming an architect was going to be a problem for some people.  Sure, my grandmother told me that I should choose a career “more suitable to a woman” but I paid no attention.

Now that I am 50 and have been paying attention for a while I am aware of gender inequality and bias but what I don’t understand is- why?  Why is it inappropriate for a woman to be an architect?  The following is a list of the reasons that I have been able to come up with:

As a woman I won’t be taken seriously by the contractors.  In fact, this rarely happens.  As the architect I am the agent of the owner and so they don’t really have a choice but to consider what I have to say- but beyond that I really have had great and respectful relationships with most of the contractors that I have worked with over the past 20 years.  Sometimes it is the subcontractors that have a problem with me, but rarely.  Once a framer told me to go shopping which was so out of line that I was confused for a few minutes.  A plumber I was interviewing for work at my own house said to me “Lady, you’d be a nightmare to work for” which I took to mean that he didn’t want the job.  Now that I think of it, does that have to do with my gender?  I could be a nightmare for that man as a man or a woman, I suppose, but I can’t imagine him saying “Sir/dude/buddy, you’d be a nightmare to work for”.

As a female architect I won’t be able to lift really heavy items as might a male architect. Architects don’t have to carry formwork or bags of sand or stoves around.  However, it is true that I can’t carry those things.  This may have more to do with me personally and being 50 but the reason is irrelevant since I won’t even attempt to carry the stove.

As a female architect I don’t understand how a building goes together because construction is only interesting to men. I have nothing to say about this other than- it just isn’t true.

I can’t think of any other reasons, but if you can think of additional reasons, please leave them in the comments.  Wait, don’t.

You may have already guessed that I do not believe one’s gender is an impediment to a successful architectural practice.  In the end, clients would be well served to choose an architect with whom they can relate, who will listen to them and interpret their ideas and goals, who is knowledgeable about codes and construction trends, who shares their values in terms of environmental impact, who understands their lifestyle and will help design a suitable space for them.

Here is the real burning question- where are all of the female general contractors?