Strong Women of Oil and Gas -what we wished our male coworkers knew.

This past weekend, I took to the stage with an amazing group of women.  For the past several weeks I have been teaching them some tough choreography for a dance performance in support of a worthy local charity (now you know my secret; oil and gas professional/writer by day, dance teacher by night).

If there’s one thing teaching dance has taught me, it’s that women are incredibly, amazingly, awe inspiringly strong. My dance “family” has seen everything from cancer, to divorce, death of a loved of one, engagements, pregnancies, medical emergencies…..you name it. And each time, women rally around each other and either cheer each other on or offer a kind word or supportive hug.

When I trade my dance shoes for a white hardhat and my studio for an oil and gas field, the fact that I am able to experience something that most women will never see or understand leaves me with a feeling of awe. When I first joined the industry in 2006, I have to admit that I’d never thought about where the gas came from when I flicked on the fireplace in my living room in Kelowna. When I go back to visit my family and friends, I really can’t blame them for not understanding what my job is like; how many women go from a ballet bar to steel toed boots, right? While my two worlds couldn’t be any more different, I am extremely grateful for both as I’ve learned so much from each.

Every day that I am on a lease, I am impressed by the hardworking men who endure brutal hours, inclement weather and wet socks (something I despise). These guys deserve a serious round of applause for everything they sacrifice for their families and our economy.

The picture that accompanies this post was taken for a dance production in which the theme was, “Strength of a Woman”. Being on the stage this weekend and preparing to head back to the field soon reminded me of the amazing women who reside in my two different worlds. We recognize single moms, young women getting university educations, women who are doctors and lawyers and stay at home moms, but I have yet to see a “Hell Ya” for the women of oil and gas and the incredible obstacles they have to overcome.

Our girlfriends at home don’t appreciate what our work days are like but the men we work with should. Yet, I am not sure to what extent they understand what a foreign world it is for us or the kind of strength it takes for a woman to step into this predominately man’s world – especially a woman competing for business in this often brutal industry – and not just survive but thrive?

Let me tell you from just one such woman that it’s damn hard. Women are appreciated for our softer, gentler natures, our attention to detail and our unending patience.

There’s nothing soft and gentle about the oil and gas industry. Is it any wonder that the “tough business bitch” has started to emerge? You know the type; the ruthless business woman who claws her way to the top and destroys anyone who stands in her path.  Somehow, this has become the poster child of what a strong woman should be. It is not a stereotype that I prescribe to. Being a “tough bitch” is more about hiding insecurities than it is about being a strong woman. As far as I am concerned, kindness and empathy are strengths, not weaknesses.

The other stereotype is the woman who puts on a low cut top and uses her big, beautiful breasts to gain entry into the Old Boys Club. She has the intelligence of sawdust and talking to her is like having a conversation with your toast in the morning.  However, I like to think that times are changing and this stereotype is fading.  I know I am treated with far more respect than I was ten years ago and I credit that to a younger generation of men taking over lead roles.

To me, the only thing worse than the days where we were treated like a Playboy bunny on the lease were the days when we had to play dumb. I bet there is more than one woman reading this article who has dummied down her intelligence to fit in. I know there have been a few times in my career where I have realized that I was working with someone who expected women in the field to be simple minded or incapable and it was not an easy thing to accept.

It’s refreshing to work with a consultant who is the complete antithesis of those types and it never seems to crosses his mind that we are less intelligent than anyone else on the lease.  One of my favorite experiences with just such a consultant was on a drilling rig early in my career. He was pouring over thick books he had brought back from his recent wellsite supervision course. A nearby rig had recently burned to the ground after taking a kick. I was asking a few questions so he called me over to show me something in one of his text books.  Not knowing him that well, I hesitantly pointed out that he didn’t have to memorize or bookmark the formula; he could figure out how much barite he had to put down the hole to suppress a kick by solving for units.  He joked to everyone after that that I was going to be his replacement when he went on days off.  Needless to say, I thought he was pretty cool and wished that I could have cloned him.

Being treated like we are totally incapable is almost as bad as being treated like we are dumb. I am willing to bet there are women like me who have had trouble buying a super duty, long box, crew cab truck because the salesman felt it was too much truck for “a little lady”. How about buying tires? How many of you have had men question your ability to read the numbers on the side of the tires? Or that you can jump a vehicle, tow someone out of the ditch, or that you know how to check your brake fluid level?

Gentlemen, this article isn’t about slagging men or whining about our circumstances.  We aren’t trying to be your equals in every sense (Lord knows I’ll never be able to get the lid off the pickle jar by myself).  I know enough to know that diesel trucks don’t have spark plugs but if you start talking about engines in great detail, my eyes are going to glaze over and I’m going to start daydreaming about shoes.  At the same time, there are some women who know as much or more about engines than men. We appreciate it when you help us out or teach us things (let’s be honest, it wasn’t my mother who taught me that my car might be out of coolant if it’s blowing cold air) but I promise you that breast size is not inversely proportional to intelligence. The point is, please don’t assume that we are all completely incapable.

We are impressed by what you guys do every day and hope that if you know a strong, intelligent woman working in the oil and gas industry who isn’t using cleavage to get work and isn’t a bitch, you give her a high five today because you are lucky enough to be associated with a very remarkable woman who deserves a little credit.12039425_10153490750486858_1140305957195140899_n

The Strong Woman Myth

When I heard the familiar ding of a text message, I picked up my phone and glanced at it nonchalantly as I continued to stir the ground beef in the frying pan for the lasagna I was making for dinner. It was my friend Jeremy. He had gone through a really bad breakup last fall and I had spent a lot of time talking to him and helping him through it. I hadn’t heard from him for a while and I assumed that things were better in his world now and that he had found his emotional sea legs.

Jeremy: Hey! How are you?

Me: I’m awesome. How are things in your world?

Jeremy: Well, the other day a girl laughed at the size of my penis.

Me: WTF?? That’s horrible! I am so sorry. Some women are so vicious that I’m ashamed to share the same gender with them. I assume you are seeing a new girl and this isn’t the old GF?

Jeremy: Yeah, I WAS seeing a new girl lol.

Me: Good riddance to that one!

A few more minutes of small talk ensued and then……

Jeremy: Hey, I need your opinion on something.

Me: Sure

The minute I pressed the ‘send’ button, little alarm bells started going off in my head. What exactly had I just agreed to give my opinion on?!

Jeremy: I really need to know……

Oh boy, here it comes. I removed the ground beef from the burner because I was no longer paying attention to it and with my luck, I’d burn my house down.

Me: Wait. Are you asking me to tell you if I think your penis is small or average or huge?

Jeremy: lol yes. I trust you.

HOLY CRAP! My mind went completely blank as I started to panic. I stared at the screen and wondered what to do when three words caught my attention, “I trust you”. This sweet gentle man certainly had no reason to trust a woman. In the time I had known him, his interactions with women had repeatedly shown him that women were not to be trusted. Putting his trust in me was a leap of faith and I couldn’t throw his courage back in his face. I gave myself a pull-yourself-together-Jennifer mental shake and messaged him back.

Me: I am a medical professional. You could ask me to look at your hemharroid and I wouldn’t bat an eye. But this is a bit different. Are you sure you want to go there?

Jeremy: Yes. As a friend, I trust you to tell me the truth.

Me: I can do it as a friend if that is what you really want. But at the end of the day, this is more about you recognizing your value as a person and being confident about who you are, inside and out. When you really love yourself, you will find a woman who loves everything about you and penis size won’t matter to her.

Jeremy: I can agree with that but I really just need to know.

Me: Ok

Jeremy: So should I just send a picture now?

Me: Sure

My palms started to sweat so I put my phone down on the kitchen counter. It’s just a penis Jennifer, I reminded myself. Think of it like a picture in a textbook except there won’t be any pathology to note (hopefully). But this wasn’t just any penis, this is your friend’s penis, I argued with myself. AND the worst part is, you’re a terrible liar! What if it’s one of those one inch penises that women whisper about? What are you going to do then Ms Medical Professional, huh?

I seriously hate that other voice in my head. She’s such a pain in the ass, I thought peevishly to myself. My mental battle was interrupted by the ding of my phone. I glanced down at the offending electronic device as if it was to blame for my predicament.

Time to pull up my big girl panties. I picked up my phone and slid my finger across the screen to view the message.

And there it was.

My first unsolicited cock shot.

Ok, time for an objective opinion. I pushed my hair out of my eyes and looked at the penis on my screen. It was not a porn star penis but it wasn’t a micro penis either. This was not a penis that women were going to talk about over drinks because it didn’t fall at either end of the measuring tape. If a woman loved this man, she could love this penis.

THANK YOU JOSEPH, MARY AND SWEET BABY JESUS!

Me: You have nothing to worry about my friend.

Jeremy: Really?

Me: Yes, absolutely. You do not have a teeny tiny. Now, you and your penis need to go find a good woman who will love you both unconditionally!

I chatted with Jeremy for a bit longer and then I went back to making lasagna and hopefully he went back to his day feeling happier and more confident.

As I layered the noodles in the bottom of the pan, my mind was busy thinking about what had just happened. How could a woman who has taken the time to get to know a man and, deciding that she liked him enough to move their relationship to the next level, then cruelly and heartlessly mock him?

Is it just me or are women becoming increasingly more cruel and vicious?

Before you bring out your pitchforks and tie me to a burning stake for calling women cruel and vicious, let me say that as I woman, I feel that I am within my right to call out my own gender on their shitty behavior.

And in a lot of ways, it has become quite shitty.

Here we had a good man who stepped up to the plate and raised his son from infancy when the mom took off. He opened up his heart and family to a woman and when he was at his most vulnerable, she mocked the very source of his manhood; the size of his penis.

I constantly hear women complaining that there are no good men left anymore. Maybe that’s because women are ruining them?

I cannot say for certain that my friend will not be permanently damaged by this woman. Her cruel and hurtful mocking will definitely have a deleterious effect on him but to what extent I do not know for certain and she may well have ruined him for the next lady lucky enough to meet him.

When are we going to start realizing that hurting someone’s self esteem is like sneezing on them when you have a cold; it spreads. When someone’s self esteem has been damaged, they will often hurt other people in an effort to protect themselves by not allowing anyone to see their vulnerable places.

Worse yet, if you do not love yourself –which is what low self esteem is all about – and you cannot be vulnerable to another person, you cannot truly love someone.

So there you have it: Cruelty prevents love and that’s why it spreads like a virus when it touches people.

Historically, women have often been the victims of abuse and control due to our diminished size and strength in comparison to a man. However, when we won the right to vote, we did not win the right to turn the tables of abuse and become the abusers. The empowerment of women was not intended to turn us into cold, cruel, heartless bitches. Being a feminist does not mean that we have to be man haters.

I often seen memes proclaiming the female poster to be a strong woman who doesn’t care if people think she’s a bitch. Ladies, it’s time to give our heads a shake. How we have gotten this so wrong?

Being a strong, independent woman does NOT mean you have to be a bitch. While the ruthless business woman who claws her way to the top and destroys anyone who stands in her path has somehow become the poster child for what a strong women should be, she is actually the complete antithesis.

Strong women are intelligent, empathetic, informed, capable, they have resolve and gumption and above all, they are kind. That’s right, kind.

Kindness is a strength, not a weakness.

So if you are a good women who understand this and are living the life of a truly strong woman, I applaud you. However, if you happen to be one of those self proclaimed, tough-as-nails, man eating bitches, who is taking down good men like the plague, it’s time for you to check yourself at the door. There are far better ways of proving you are a strong woman than destroying someone.

And remember…….karma is watching