Monday, April 18, 2011

On Women and Dangerous Jobs: Mining

I'm sure you have heard the argument "explaining" the gender gap in wages as simply a consequence of women refusing to work in the dangerous jobs which pay the really big money (like, err, bankstering?). This is a common argument among a certain kind of Men's Rights Activists.

I have mentioned earlier why women don't, in fact, "refuse" those types of jobs, in order to just stay at home eating bon-bons. But mentioning it is not sufficient. Hence this post on one of those dangerous jobs: Mining.

The impetus for it came from this article on Mexican women in mining:
Cony Solis, 26, an industrial engineer, is the only female administrator at the Penasquito mine in Zacatecas, a state in north-central Mexico with a long mining tradition. Many other women work down in the mines.
"Our presence has been growing in this industry," she says.
Solis says that 10 percent of the 3,000 employees in this deposit, where an enormous desert guards some 13 million ounces of gold, silver and zinc, are women. She calls her work a "labor conquest" because it took so long for women to be accepted into this traditionally male industry. She is a second-generation "mining woman," as her mother operates a giant truck at the mine.
The major reason the industry opened up to women is the male labor shortage in Mexico that has resulted from many men continuing to migrate to the United States in search of better wages and employment opportunities.


Women's traditional exclusion from the industry in Mexico was supported by a widespread superstition that said the land refused to deliver its treasures to women, and if any woman dared to enter the mine, it would become jealous and close, causing cave-ins and hiding its wealth.


The mining women say they receive equal pay with their male counterparts. Moreno makes $760 a month and Solis' mother earns $840 a month as operators of the trucks. An administrator and a professional, Solis makes $1,175 a month.
But Solis says that some supervisors are still confronting negative reactions from some men. Various industry insiders say that hundreds of years of sexist tradition will not be forgotten in a few years.
I recommend reading the whole article. Its message is positive and it has lodes (heh) of information. I picked the bits for my quote which address the women-don't-want-to-work-in-dangerous-jobs argument, because I want to point out that women, in fact, have both worked in those jobs and now work in those jobs, and, most importantly, they have been explicitly excluded from working in them.

On that exclusion: It was not only traditional in terms of culture but it also consisted of legal exclusion of women. For example, in Great Britain The Coalminers Regulation Act of 1842 made it illegal for women to work underground in mines where they had pulled wagons along tunnels. They could still work as surface workers, as pit-workers and to load and unload the wagons. In France, women and children were prohibited from working underground in 1874.

These examples suggest that women did work underground, for why else explicitly rule that out? The laws were not meant to hurt women, by the way. Their role was seen as a "protective" one, but it had the consequence of keeping women out of most mining. Nobody thought that one day Those Sites would use this to explain how women's lower earnings are their own fault!

This picture of Wigan pit-brow girls in trousers was taken in the 1860s, during a period when there was much concern about the bad moral effect mine-work had on women (they wore trousers!). From Fabric of Society, by Jane Tozer and Sarah Levitt.