Life isn't all about men.


"Oh, I much prefer hanging with guys. They're just so much simpler and there is isn't as much drama"

"Yeh, most of my friends are guys. I prefer it that way. Chicks are just so harsh to each other"

...and so on, and so forth.

Women hating on other women is an interesting phenomena, and more common than one would think.

In all honesty, I shared these very same sentiments for a long time.  My actions reflected it: I did mechanical engineering and ended up in the oil and gas field, areas where women cannot be said to be the majority.  The decisions were not made consciously because I knew there would be less women, but I dare say it somehow tapped my subconscious.

However, as I have become more interested in the concepts of (formal?) feminism, equity of opportunity and diversity (particularly in the workplace) I found that this attitude was something that I consciously had to stop.  It was destructive, petty and I couldn't figure out why I was doing it!

On reflection, it may have something to do with the relationship between women and the male gaze.  

This occurred to me early on in my oil and gas stint when I heard about a new lady joining the crew, doubling the female population.  My instantaneous mental reaction was 'Oh, I wonder what she looks like / what the guys will think of her'.

Then... I mentally frowned (which is like a normal frown but no one knows you are doing it).

Why on earth did I care what she looked like or what the guys thought of that? Why was I making it some sort of competition? 

It occurred to me that some of my thinking had become about (embarrassingly) competing for male attention.  For someone who prides themselves on being an 'independent women' a la Bey, Queen Latifa, Aiysha (RA) and the like, it was a little bit of a shock.  

In some ways, the hijab helps remove the dependence on the male gaze. In some ways it says (and this is something I have appreciated as I have aged), "well I don't want to be subject to your gaze, and I am not going to let you have the power to make a judgement on my worthiness.  I am removing what you find desirable from your view.'  But what I have been learning is that a simple veil and code of dress wasn't enough, it is also about changing the mindset.

Male friends have been confused at this choice:

"But why would you want to hide your beauty if you have it? Why wouldn't you want to share it with the world?"

Perhaps because it isn't all about you?


I am now working at a location where there is a large camp and plenty of female staff.  It's awesome to have other women around, even if they are mostly in the admin and catering roles.  I made a couple of acquaintances yesterday, who inquired about my role and expressed their delight when I shared that I was working on the rigs in a technical job.

"You go girl! Show them how it's done!"

"Oooooo!" the Philippino lady in the kitchen also remarked. "So good to see girls get out there!"

That's the sisterhood that I'm talking about.

Perhaps 'sisterhood' is too nerdy a term, or one that has negative connotations around, but we should be in a place where we back each other up rather than compete for some level of acknowledgement from the men around us.  Unfortunately it isn't so easy, or at least it is easier said than done. In a world still mostly run by men (sorry Beyonce), acknowledgement and preference by the patriarchy adds an awful lot of social capital to one's account, and usually opens up more doors to achieving.  Females who do in some way tap into that without compromising their integrity (perhaps by being a woman in a male dominated field...).  Still working on ways around that one...

Whatever it may be, at the end of the day we should consciously choose to shift our attitudes in each and every interaction. Let's support each other and not pretend life is a zero sum game where only one woman may win.

Let's create our own worth and be proud in that.

Daily Life: What it's like to work on an all-male oil rig

This piece originally appeared on Fairfax's Daily Life.


My first posting on the oil and gas rigs happened shortly after graduating from mechanical engineering.  My mother was quite proud; my father on the other hand took a while to come around.  He couldn't understand why his Muslim daughter wouldn't accept a solid, stable job offer in the city.

“What are you doing out here?” my friends would ask, “Is it just for the money?”, “What is it like working with blokes all the time?” or, more often than not: “Are you insane?”

I remember walking into a meeting in the early days as one of the guys was taking a sip of his instant coffee.  "Tastes like date rape", he said.

I froze, looking at my fellow rig worker.  I wasn’t quite sure what to say.  If I overreacted he would badge me as being ‘over sensitive’ and avoid me for the rest of the job, but my inner feminist nonetheless cringed at the idea of letting such language slide. Sensing my unease, he finally said, "I guess we can’t say that sort of thing anymore now that you are here."

Working on oil and gas rigs isn't the first career path that typically comes to mind for many women. By and large, it's seen as a rough, tough, blokey world that is does not welcome female employees.   Notwithstanding this, I was attracted to the adventure, the practical aspect of the operation and the challenge of working in such an unusual environment.  It seemed like the ideal first job for an engineering experience junkie like me.

Given the fact that I have met around six women working in the field in the entire time I have been employed, one can say there is truth in the 'boys club' perception. But working in this masculine, testosterone-drenched environment has also been an interesting exercise in backyard sociology.

Here are some of the things I’ve learnt in the time I spent at the oil rigs:

Firstly, there is a significant generational difference in the male workers' attitudes towards women.

An older colleague once said, "Girly, when I started drinking, women weren't even allowed in bars." Men of his age share an antiquated view of women, but they are products of their time.

Then there are those who feel the need to be protective. “My mother, my father, my grandparents, my aunties...they'd not just roll in their graves, they'd right come out of their graves to give me a de-nozo slap if they heard me using any sort of language in front of a lady!”

Young guys, on the other hand, are often more 'gender blind'. Women being denied access or opportunities simply due to their gender is seen as old-fashioned.  They are also keenly aware of the legislation that protects that equality and will err on the side of caution so as not to put their foot in it.

They tend to test the waters and gauge what they can and can’t say around their female colleagues before they are rebuked.  It does give us a modicum of power, as they follow our cue.

However, 'formal' equality does not necessarily reflect a true change in their social attitudes and underlying expectations.  And the biggest giveaway is in the way the workers speak.

The language used by men on the rig is indescribable - and that is what they choose to say in front of me.  It’s relatively easy to complain about offensive or derogatory language in a modern mix-gender workplace.  However, when operating as the sole female in a male dominated environment, there are some awkward challenges.

Yes, we can go in, guns blazing, demanding things happen on our terms. The legislative framework exists, and is there for anyone to use if they feel discriminated against in any manner.

The protection we have as women in these environments is unprecedented when compared to attitudes two short years ago.  Legal change is the first, extremely important step.  However, forcing change in that manner inevitably fosters dissent and confusion in some cases.

In other words, the rules are changing for these men, but they don't quite know how to deal with it yet.  It is this behavioural change that we must now strive and push for, and it will be an uphill struggle.

In the end these are people I work with, live with, laugh with and rely on to keep me alive around pretty heavy machinery.  Most of them have fallen over themselves to help me and make sure that I am protected and looked after.  Although they can be painted as uneducated chauvinists, many of them are also a product of their society and what is expected of them to be ‘men’.

As my rig manager said, “This is a completely different world to [the one] out there... There is no way I would speak the same way I do on the rig in the street, that wouldn't be right.  It's just a way of keeping yourself a little sane'.”


I enjoy what I do and the company of the people I work with.  I don't envy the difficulty they have though, in dealing with the changes in societal expectations.  We live in unprecedented and interesting times...

What do you think?  

Crazy Rig Conversations: Part 7

BeautifulCaricaturemachoarts5_01One of my favourite parts about working out on the rigs is the crazy/hilarious/random/unexpected things people say.

Here are a few of the gems of conversations I have been a part of recently!
NB: In the interests of privacy and what-not, I have referred to individuals as Old Mate, or OM for short.


Me: Oh mate, I got woken up this morning by a cow! It was right next to my window like MOOOO!

OM: Oh you shoulda just opened the door and been like 'Oh mate, I don't do cattle'.

OM2: Yeh but then he woulda been like 'Oh but I'm built like a horse!'

OM: ...and hung like a donkey!

Laughter ensued...


I learnt a new phrase the other day...(apologies for possible offense!)

OM: Oh yeah we're doing a job up there for so-and-so

Me: oh yeah what kind of operation is it?

OM: Oh it's a bit of a n***a show.

I shook my head and made sure I heard correctly.


OM: You've never heard of the phrase n***a-rigging? It's when it’s real rough-like and you make do with what you've got. N***a rigging man! It's a worldwide thing!

I looked around. All the other guys seems unperturbed.

OM2: It’s true aye.

Me: *shock*


I was chatting to a colleague about things we did as kids...

OM: Oh I once branded my mum with a hot poker on her bottom!

I burst out laughing

OM: Yeah! We were on the farm and they'd been branding the cattle all day so I though that's what I should do too! I put the poker in the fire and then just poked her on the bottom.

She swears she's got the scar till this day...

She won't show us though!


I was chatting to a colleague from the United States' deep south.

OM: I guess I was lucky because I grew up not seeing colour... I mean, we've done that - everyone drinking from their own fountain and you can sit on the back of the bus...

Me: So when did segregation stop?

The Old Mate smiled.

OM: When did it stop?  We're still waiting for that to happen...


Mate, you takin' the piss?

It is a unique cross between the 'tall poppy syndrome' and a disdain for political correctness.

What is it?

It is the 'Australian' sense of humour and the way we constantly, unapologetically and indiscriminately make fun of anyone and everyone - particularly each other. In fact, 'make fun' of each other might be putting it lightly. Perhaps 'take down a peg' or 'bring down to size' is a better description.

Where do you find it?

Well, everywhere on this great expansive continent! Hot spots include groups of mates, families, name it, someone's got something to say about it.


No doubt this is a gross generalisation on my part and I only have my personal experience to draw from, but a comment from an Irish colleague recently caused a bout of reflection.

"Jeaysus! All you Aussies just cut each other down so badly, and it's really quite merciless!" he exclaimed (in his strong Irish tones).

What we see as 'group banter' was to him, something a little different. Group banter and joking around was one thing, but here? Well apparently, we all really had to have 'quite a thick skin'!

Now, this may perhaps be a reflection of the places where I have worked and studied - engineering, motor racing and the oil and gas rigs aren't the most forgiving environments by any stretch. So perhaps this a biased reflection.

The broader question that it brings up however, is worth paying attention to. Where is the line between 'team banter' or 'taking the piss', and true bullying and harrassment?

This is clearly a sensitive question to your 'average aussie bloke' (whatever an 'average aussie' is). Even broach the topic and the conversation generally turns to:

"Mate, do you live near a Bunnings?" Errr...yes? "Well go there, buy a bag of cement and harden up!".

There is a sense out here that if you should be handle and brush off whatever comes your way, and be able to dish out just as much. There is also a strong pushback against people being 'way too politically correct' and having people control what can and can't be said.

"Mate, I've had enough of this political correctness rubbish. It's gone way too far. We can't say anything!" is a common sentiment expressed, particularly amongst the older folk.


There are two issues at play.

One is the general Australian disregard for authority and heirachy. Anyone who thinks they know more or who has an answer for everything is cut down, or straight out ostracised. This is manifest especially among groups of friends, where the playful banter is often at the expense of someone else. By and large, this seems to be the expected and accepted way of life - whether it is politically correct or not. In fact, if anything is said, it is usually put down to an individual being too sensitive.

Whether or not that needs to change, or whether changing that would be unAustralian is food for thought.

The second issue is the line between banter and bullying. Particularly in male dominated environments, the banter is seen as a part of asserting ones masculinity and to earn kudos (?) with the group. I see it happen often in front of me and find myself often thinking - at what point is this no longer funny?

It is no longer funny when the person can't handle it, when it defeats them personally, reduces them and their self esteem and when you feel it isn't right. Banter is one thing, but to have fun at the expense of others - no matter how funny you may find it - is still bullying.


Back in the days when men were men?


Ah, LOTR…Totally Irrelevant Photo =)

I was told by my work that I am only allowed to write about my personal life, not about work per se.  I am not totally sure what that means, but I am hoping they are just referring to “talking about the actual things we are doing” and not “talking about anything remotely to do with work/having a job/how I feel”.  It is a strange feeling, being beholden to a company or organisation which you depend on for money…I know that is really what “working” is all about, but I had never really taken it that seriously before (for all my sense of responsibility, having someone tell me what I can and can’t do has never been a strong point, just ask my parents =P).

Suffice it to say I work for a large oil services company and so my job is based on the oil and gas rigs, truly male dominated territory.

What is interesting about this though, is how different working in a male dominated field is from studying in one.  I had never even given the issue much thought at all, considering since from about grade 10 I had taken traditionally male subjects and studied mechanical engineering (with less than 10 girls in a class of a couple of hundred).  I honestly thought it wouldn’t even be an issue, I would be ‘all over it’.

Perhaps that was my naivety.

What is the difference? When studying, you grew up with your mates, saw them as colleagues, friends, community, family.  Gender seemed not to be an issue, because the guys saw you as just another student or friend.

Out here in the oil and gas fields, those rules don’t apply anymore.

I won’t say that it is an absolute either way – some people will treat women with kids gloves and try to do anything for them, while others will disregard us and think that we shouldn’t be on the rigs or simply incapable of doing the job as well as a man (not even jokingly…they actually think we can’t do a job because of our chromosomes)…but the fact is that our gender matters, and is a defining part of how we are seen and dealt with.

For someone who has spent the last seven or eight years trying to not make that an issue, that is galling indeed.

An interesting experience though nonetheless, and one that I am embracing.

…and hey, as the fellas say as they chew and spit their dip, “Welcome to the Oil Fields!”