Not so long ago, it was unheard of for women to be found under the hood of a car. Tool belt strapped to their hips, grease stains on their faces. That was – at one time – thought of as “man’s work”. Now that women have progressed beyond the limitations set by society, they can be found doing all sorts of jobs, one of which is auto mechanics.
CNN’s report on Burkina Faso’s “Lady Mechanics” shows how that progression has spread around the world. And here in the United States, “grease girls” lead the charge in changing the way we think about who should be under the hood of a car.
Women auto mechanics!
Women mechanics can be found at your local Jiffy Lube, as managers at the neighborhood Auto Zone and even at the raceway.
Since 1999 – 12,000 of the 837,000 automobile service and repair technicians were women, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. “The industry changed when they started adding special features to vehicles such as alarms, computers, on board diagnostics, and also when they started making the hybrids and electric cars,” says Wanda Arnold Barnett of Wake Forest, North Carolina.
Barnett has been an auto mechanic for 17 years. Though she’s experienced some sexism in the industry – she says that she has also often received help from family members in learning the trade. Barnett doesn’t know many female mechanics in her area, but has found camaraderie with fellow female mechanics on social media sites. They’ve even formed a group called Female Mechanics on Facebook.
“Men try to test you by asking ‘are you sure you know what you’re doing’ or ‘do you need help with that darling’… but in my case they are amazed that I know more than they do,” said Barnett. Most men have this preconceived notion that a car is a man thing – whether fixing it or driving it – they prefer to stick with this idea. Men love their cars and they have often develop some kind of a special relationship with their vehicle.
Being a mechanic isn’t something that is specialized only for men. Think back to the days of World War 1 when many women had to leave their homes to build the boats and planes that our soldiers would use to defend our country.
One issue that might stump some women looking to get into the industry is the lack of encouragement to join training programs. But there aren’t many hurdles for those women who feel like being an auto mechanic is their calling.
“My advice is you can do it if you seriously have a passion for it,” says Barnett. “It is a difficult and dirty job, but very fun and rewarding, and don’t let men intimidate you because they will try.”
Mechanical work doesn’t end at automobiles. Another way to get into the industry is through military service. A modern day, Rosie the Riveter, Rena Smith – originally from East L.A. – has been in the business of aviation repair for 22 years.
Smith has lived in Florida, Colorado, and Montana performing aviation repair. “When the shop was busy, it was busy. I have done major completions, annuals, 100/300 hrs inspections, sheet metal repair, fuel cell replacement, you name it I did it,” said Smith.
From March to December of 2009, Smith worked in Iraq on both civilian and military helicopters. She’s now in Dubai. “I like to hear I’m not the only one out there, overcoming the gender barrier[s], dealing with people (men and women) that can’t see past their pre-conceived stereo-types, and breaking down obstacles to do what we want and love to do,” said Smith.