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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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Girls in Carpentry: Their Struggles and the Solution

Fleur K.
Four Construction students propping up the first wall of a shed for class.

Reprinted with permission from West Brunswick High School’s The West Wind.

When you hear the Home Depot sound bite on TikTok, you can almost guarantee you’re going to see a video of a guy, usually a dad, doing “dad things:” building something, chopping something down, or just staring at their grass with arms crossed. In fact, I spent a full minute scrolling through videos with the sound and found only one video that featured a woman doing any of these activities.

Women in STEM has been a growing community since the 1970s, but in workplaces like carpentry and construction, women remain the minority. In our own school, carpentry teacher Shawn Rouleau hopes to encourage more female students to join his program by making a more welcoming environment for girls to take charge and feel comfortable in his classroom.

“I like it, but it feels like all the people undermine me,” said junior carpentry student Kaleela Taylor. “The teacher makes it easier to be in the class.”

Despite girls’ growing interest in carpentry and stereotypically masculine classes, girls are still commonly underrepresented, lacking a secure support system of other girls in the class. It’s especially difficult to join because many girls lack a role model in this male-dominated career path–someone who makes them feel seen and as if they belong in the class just as much as the boys.

“I have grown up surrounded by boys constantly so I don’t have much of a problem with it,” said sophomore carpentry student Avery Babson. “But having more girls in the class might make me feel less pressured to be perfect and try to do ten times better than the boys just to prove that I’m worth being in the class.”

Stereotypes from male students and their own internalized biases also prevent many girls from joining the class. In combination, this can lead to feelings of isolation and inadequacy, pushing female students to overwork themselves, drop the class, or just shut down.

“It makes me feel dumb,” said Babson. “I’m the only girl in my class, and everyone automatically treats me like I don’t know anything when I know more than most high school guys, my dad is a carpenter. They treat me like I’m more delicate even though I’m stronger than a lot of them.”

Society has a very clear bias on who gets taught what skills, so often girls are left out of the more hands on and physical activities, leading to a lack of experience in classes like carpentry and further ostracizes  female students in the classroom by emphasizing the preconceived notion of men’s superiority in the more physically demanding aspects in one’s career. But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t join.

Currently, students can earn their fourth math credit from the course as well as the opportunity to develop valuable skills in woodworking and construction. Carpentry provides young girls with opportunities for personal and professional growth, developing practical and problem-solving skills that they will be using for the rest of their life. Possibly even more important, carpentry can boost self-esteem, empowerment and independence by challenging traditional expectations and breaking into career paths that were originally inaccessible to them.

In order for girls in WBHS to feel at home in carpentry we have to take the first step and make a community. If there are no girls in carpentry, it’s less likely that other girls will want to join because they know that they won’t feel welcomed. Men have had their own spaces in and invaded our own for centuries now, it’s time that we barge into their spaces too, drill in hand.

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