Truth is, long before finger swipes across a touch screen, I believed that cable technology would set girls free of gender limits. That data was without bias and that even a glass ceiling had upside.
By looking up through it, one might pause and see one’s own image, and take stock of one’s progress… where you’ve been and how much further you might go. And that assessment in a lifetime, if not yours would propel the next woman, if not now then in the next generation.
Women think like that, with interloped arms that both link them together, and allow them to stretch and reach into the future. In some piggyback fashion, one generation steadily improves upon the next. That’s how Boston’s cable training program came into being, female activists who themselves had passed their prime, haggled with city officials and politicians to create opportunities for young women like myself, that we could have a chance at gender equality.
First we became linesmen, as the city needed aerial distribution cables to feed neighborhoods, using lashing machines to pull lengths of cable through easements. If you continued training, you might become an installer and then a technician.
But there were few positions available for women and departments were limited to how many women they could hire. I was in the service department, with only three slots available: one female installer, one female technician and one female engineer.
The manager didn’t hesitate to mince words, literally and figuratively, “It’s out of my hands. There’s no more to be done.” and the worse statement of all, “Don’t make me regret the hire.”
Ironically, being a female in a traditionally male job made passersby think that they could easily do your job! We, women were constantly reminded of just how replaceable we were. Sometimes that was enough motivation for me to dig my steel gaffs into the meat of the city’s telephone poles, climb up, do the work and to keep my job.
But I’ve known glass ceilings. I’ve touched them, and was somehow comforted by their coolness on my fingertips. Back then the cable industry was in its infancy and male co-workers, less qualified than I were quickly promoted and dispatched beyond grade, a reminder of how frail my position with the company was and it had been predetermined just how successful I would be; it tapered off at 35 feet, the exact height of a telephone pole.
Not even New England’s cold winters and snow blizzards could get me to stop climbing poles. Especially during the Spring and summer months, when active equipment would need to be upgraded and whole neighborhoods would be without cable. It was then that people cheered to see a technician’s truck. I’d work and get the cable back on and it was a little heroic at times, or so it seemed.
Fathers would take their daughters by the hand and walk them across the street, where they’d wait for me to climb down from the pole. Or they’d yell up and wave; then ask if I needed water. On quiet days, when things had slowed, I’d hang around after the job was done. Sometimes they’d invite me to speak to small groups at the YMCA or the Boys/Girls Clubs. It was unscripted and impromptu, like hope itself.
I’d let them touch my gaffs and run their round hands across the leather linesmen belt. The big metal D- loop and clasp would clang noisily, and I’d smile and hold it high. Grand posturing, like a boxer before a championship bout.
I too, had grown up in the city. And there I stood in my linesmen boots, living proof that a city gal could climb up from poverty on a telephone pole; it seemed noble. And they seemed to see other possibilities for themselves, if not in this generation well then surely in the next.