I Learned a Lot About Being a Woman by Working at a Hardware Store

Gillian Sisley

I would have learned these lessons sooner or later.

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Photo by Sikai Gu on Unsplash

Let’s go back in time 10 years or so, I’m a high school student working for a hardware store chain so that I can pay my phone bill and buy a Dairy Queen Blizzard now and again.

Beyond the fact that having worked this part-time job would eventually play a significant role in meeting my fiancé (I loathe this reality), and beyond the fact that I actually still hang out with several of my work friends from back in the day… it was a sh*t job.

As most first-jobs are for just about everyone out there.

But what a younger, more naive version of myself couldn’t foresee, was just how much growing up I would be forced to do.

And I’m not talking about making sure my till balances at the end of a shift, or the importance of wearing steel-toed boots, either.

I’m talking real, adult, woman growing up. At 17, I wasn’t prepared.

And at 27, I look back and shake my head in disbelief and sadness.

I learned that because I was a girl, my credibility was shot.

Yes, I was a cashier. But they would station me at the Contractor’s Desk for a reason — I knew my sh*t, at least somewhat more compared to the other cashiers I would work with. And what I didn’t know, I was happy to learn.

However, I received anything but respect from contractors who would come into the store.

Yes, I know the difference between spruce and pressure-treated wood (beyond the fact that PT wood is dyed green, which will soon be the colour of your tenderness if you don’t stop looking at my t*ts).

Yes, I know the difference between a screw and a nail (no, no matter how many times you make uncomfortable advances I will not nail you).

Yes, I do have muscles so I can, in fact, help you lift that lumber into your car (but if you make one more joke about me “touching your wood” I’m popping over to Tool Rental for a nail gun and hunting you down).

While I didn’t build houses or renovate kitchens for a living, that wasn’t my job as a cashier at this workplace. My job was to ring through your order, and tell you which aisle you could find what you were looking for. Which I knew, trust me, I worked there every weekend for 2 years.

My job wasn’t to prove to you that I knew as much about contracting as you, a contractor, did. Because I obviously didn’t.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve respect in the job I am actually hired to do.

I also have the right to do my job without 40-year-old men making passes at me, an underaged teen.

I learned that even the most well-intentioned men can still grossly miss the mark.

There were several girls, my “work friends”, with whom I would talk to on my shifts. We would talk about school and life but mostly, we would talk about relationships. And sex.

It was a real shock to them when I admitted that, not only was I still a virgin at 17, but I was saving myself for marriage (no shame, I’ve always been very comfortable with my choice).

And word got around the store.

I had middle-aged men (old enough to be my grandfather, at times), who were always lovely and kind, now coming up to me and congratulating me on saving myself for marriage.

"Too many young girls are loose and getting pregnant these days , and good for you for saving yourself for your husband."

But I wasn’t saving myself for my husband. I was saving myself as a commitment and promise to myself.

"Well, even so, your husband will be really glad you waited!"

It’s none of his business if I wait or not. I haven’t even met him yet. Plus, I highly doubt he’ll have made the same commitment as me (spoiler alert: my fiancé isn’t a virgin), and that’s completely okay. This kind of choice is a personal one, and no one else should have a say in it.

Somehow, all of a sudden there was this general perception around the store that it was everyone else’s business and right to discuss the matters of my virginity and celibacy.

It made me sick to my stomach.

I learned that I wasn’t a human being anymore, I was a conquest.

Like, I said, word got around.

The younger guys in other departments found out. And some of them were really skeezy.

I became, not only a game to them, but a challenge.

Let’s see who can be the first to get the virgin girl to give it up.

My first boyfriend (and attempted rapist), would show me years later how dangerous that challenge could look behind closed doors.

I had men reaching from behind to grab my thighs or wrap their arms around my waist, like it was no big deal. And when I got mad, shoving them off, they held their hands up in surrender like, “Woah! Where’s this reaction coming from!? Don’t be so over-emotional!”

A guy from Tool Rental started off by saying he made the best pancakes in the world.

Cool, I like pancakes.

"I’ll make you some sometime."

Um, okay?

"But here’s the catch… you have to spend the night to get pancakes the morning after."

I declined the invite. Years later he would message me on Facebook with shirtless pictures of himself pretending he sent them “by accident”.

One of the guys in Building Materials tried to proposition a friend and I for a threesome. He was 26 and we were 17.

Several other guys suggested I should get some practice in, just so that I know what I’m doing on my wedding night. They were kind enough to volunteer themselves to show me the ropes.

It was a relief when that store eventually closed down and I could leave. Because what I didn’t know at 17 was that being sexually harassed and feeling uncomfortable in my workplace every shift was an extremely valid reason to put in my resignation.

Final word.

Every person, man or woman or non-binary, has the right to feel safe and respected in their place of work.

I wish I had known that at 17, and felt comfortable enough to approach management with my sexual harassment reports and my resignation letter in hand.

I will never fully understand why others have this misplaced sense of entitlement over their right to discuss and comment on how I operate and safeguard my own body.

It’s absolutely no one else’s business. Period.

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