Power and Privilege: The Blindfold We Unknowingly Wear

We must, as an industry, recognize that it costs us nothing to alter our words

April 11, 2022
pro remodeler

"So, if we can admit we have a problem, how do we fix it? How do we create welcoming environments free from discrimination?"

Remember when it was okay to be funny?

Remember when you could tell a joke without the woke culture trying to cancel you? Remember when men were men? Remember when you could compliment a woman and call her Toots?

Here’s the thing about power: you might not be aware you have it, but you are very aware when you don’t. Those jokes were never funny to the person they ridiculed. The atmosphere those comments generated never felt welcoming. Is it any wonder the industry is so homogeneous?

I’m guilty of wanting to fit in and be part of the team, laughing at those jokes I knew were inappropriate.  

Years ago, while reviewing a bid from a tile setter, he said, “So how much are you going to Jew me out of this one?” It took me a year to muster up the strength to explain to him how offensive that language was. He had no idea the phrase was antisemitic and apologized. 

Over the years, I’ve been guilty of weathering comments that were offensive to my heritage instead of speaking up for myself. Who wants to be singled out? When someone comes to you and says, “That language or action hurts,” recognize it is no easy task.

RELATED: Making Jobsites More Welcoming for Diversity

Good Intentions

When we hired our first female carpenters, it felt like we took a chance. Could they do it? Would they be taken seriously? But with those questions came reflection: Why did we make performance judgments based on an individual’s biological sex? There’s so much societal head trash to get through, it clouds the judgment of even the best-intentioned among us.

"My hypocrisy, buried in good intention, was a rude awakening."

A few years ago, we hired someone who used they/them pronouns. Internally, we struggled to use the right language. Our trade partners, when informed, rolled their eyes. I told the employee that they couldn’t expect people outside our organization to use the right pronoun, and that’s when it hit me: Had this been a racial or religious slur, I would have had zero tolerance, but without a personal connection to this issue, I was willing to compromise. My hypocrisy, buried in good intention, was a rude awakening.

A friend provided some guidance. One of his children’s sex is male, but her gender is female. He is fiercely clear about how his daughter is addressed, and would never tell her to accept others’ intolerance. Should I accept substandard treatment for an employee?

Leading by Example

We recently had a project manager on staff with great experience, and he was tough on our male carpenters. The guys did not like being spoken down to, but I wrote it off as them being too soft. That was my first mistake.

When I told my wife, she wasn’t surprised. She could see his misogyny a mile away. When I told the woman running one of our trade partner companies about the staffing change, she visibly relaxed. I then heard about the belittling comments he made towards her.

Here’s the thing: I couldn’t see it until it reached this breaking point. This guy suffered from both a sexist view of the world and an unhealthy idea of masculinity, which, unfortunately, is common in our industry. Neither should be tolerated in our workplaces, but as a white male, I acknowledge I have a terrible blind spot for seeing what doesn’t impact me.

RELATED: Don't Call Me Baby

Leading by Listening

There is a narrative in the construction industry that is long overdue for a healthy remodel. Our culture of misogyny, racism, and twisted masculinity was never okay, and it’s time we made a change. So, if we can admit we have a problem, how do we fix it? How do we create welcoming environments free from discrimination?

It starts with listening. It starts by hearing the requests for how we address someone. It starts by asking, “Is there language or behavior that I could change?” It starts by recognizing that it costs us nothing to alter our words, but means the world to those that hear them.

That Golden Rule says to treat others as you would have them treat you. If you find yourself saying “What are they complaining about?” that is a sign that you have power and privilege. Do you roll your eyes at people who present their pronouns as he/him? Recognize that while for you this may seem trivial, for someone else it is powerful, and you have the privilege of power.

About the Author

About the Author

Michael Anschel is president of Otogawa-Anschel Design + Build, in Minneapolis, and a founding board member of Minnesota Greenstar.



You did a nice job of presenting this issue. Many years ago some wonderful building science speakers had problems with this issue. Some male building science experts took it upon themselves to inform the speakers that the language wasn't appropriate. I recognize it is hard to brake a long-time habit. I totally respect the speaker's knowledge of building science. I wouldn't want to miss their presentations. They can help us Build Back Better!

Dixie, Thank you for sharing this! It's a great example of how we have the ability to stand up and lend a voice to help others recognize where they can make a change in their language!

The problem with buying into this work ideology is that you’ll never satisfy the parent or mob that want to push this even further. Girls are girls, and boys are boys. I don’t have any friends with children identifying as some other gender since this sorta idiot thinking would get talked about and the woke parent would leave my circle. Time to toughen up America. Don’t buy into this weak woke push.

What's really weak here is the lack of effort you're willing to put into your personality. All that is being asked here is to "think before you speak" and you're not even willing to invest that much effort into making the people around you feel a little more comfortable being around you. Strolling through life offering armchair quarterback advice about "toughening up" just so you can be absolved from the liability of acting like an a$$hole? That's what's weak. Additionally, you failed to hear the actual point of the article. It has nothing to do with debating gender validity, but rather helping people exactly like you to see and understand that you are doing tangible damage to your surroundings by being so callous, ignorant, and inconsiderate. The rest of the world doesn't need to toughen up just to make you feel comfortable, Texas. You just need to think before you speak, and if you can't muster the decency to think more, then please, for everyone's sake, speak less.

It's not unexpected to have this kind of response. Frankly I'm surprised it wasn't full of expletives. It's unfortunate that your response is to move to exclude people in your community rather than look for a way to keep them in or bring more ways of thinking and being together. Unfortunately, biology doesn't support you beliefs around gender (which could explain that there are no biologists or geneticists who are in that camp). At the end of the day, I'd challenge you to ask what you would lose if you chose to change your language?

Stop lecturing. Grow thicker skin. I’m a femal in this business for 40 years. You build respect buy your work product.
You have wasted good pages of a formerly wonderful professional magazine and newsletter.

Remodelers do hard work and are not guilty of anything but being human.

Once again, Anschel expertly disentangles another very intrepid subject in ways which make everyone feel included and educated, rather than ostracized and alienated. I can now acknowledge the power I hold inside the words that I choose, and other readers should now be able to acknowledge the high ground of mutual respect that they surrender when they allow harmful verbiage inside their spheres of influence. The message is clear: the age of hypermasculinity in the trades is O V E R. Every day which passes that the old school who reinforced these arcane tropes doesn't put bags on is a day when newer, younger, more open minds begin to hold more and more presence in the thought space of modern building, and, to Michael's point, we should choose carefully where and how we nail the future of this fragile new social ecosystem together. If we do it right, we can build it to be stronger, more resilient, and more agile of accepting and fostering CHANGE than ever before. That's really what's at stake here. It's not as much about being "woke" or "PC", it's more about training the muscle memory for adopting change inside an industry systemically suffering from the atrophies of tradition. So, throw away the prescriptive mindsets you've been taught about being open minded about people, their identities, and what is defined as "respectful" behavior. Society evolves, you can and should evolve along with it. Be especially careful how quick you are to label these kinds of conversations as "woke" when in fact you may be the person asleep at the wheel. There's a real future at stake here, and you don't want to look back on your career one day to find that you were the one standing in the way of progress simply because you were too proud to choose your words a little more carefully.

Tool Hacker, Thank you for the kind words. It is really a gift when words can resonate and create a paradigm shift for someone to make that small change.. that small transformation that has reverberating impact across the industry. The "systemically suffering from the atrophies of tradition" line catches the root so perfectly. Well said!

First of all, I think you described the issue VERY well and highlighted the BIG problem (or flaw) with this country and humans, and used yourself and experiences as a great example. Michael didn’t have to put himself out there to try to help others see, that was a very solid move, and those were great examples. So many, too many, can not relate to a situation if it doesn’t impact them personally or will roll with things because it’s easier or for a number of other reasons. Maybe it’s some old caveman survival gene, as it seems so hard to make some see that we are all in this together, and to just simply learn to be respectful, not even asking that you be their friend, just be a good coworker or manager. Even if you don’t agree, or approve, or understand, just let people live their lives as they wish and address them as the prefer, and be kind to each other. It’s not brain surgery stuff here, and it takes far more energy to be mean, or negative.

I also don’t think it is just a male issue though, having worked in a male dominated business, music; concert production, I found some women in power positions that apparently decided on having a - if you can’t beat them join them attitude (and were intolerant AH’s). There were a few women where I would have preferred working under the worst male - over working with them. It’s often worse, as for one you feel like they should know better, and it’s often amplified as if every move they make needs to be seen by their male coworkers. To verify their stance more, hey look at me - I think like you, I have tough skin, I can be one of the guys, and mirroring them. Common group mentality, or a survivalist mode maybe? I just often saw an over compensation thing going on. If that makes sense. Ugly human behaviors.

I think we all need to grow and learn to accept things - as they change, and I will admit I have been surprised at some of the new titles and gender crossovers I have seen. Working in the entertainment and arts industry I have seen some people that definitely made me do a second look. 20 years ago they might still be working in a circus as a bearded lady or something along those lines. I don’t think we need to not feel surprised so much as it’s still a pretty new experience for many of us. The exposure on TV to other sex preferences has become very normal to see, with drug ads etc., and in homes struggling with it, or not wanting their kids to see it often because they don’t know how to deal with it. I can see how they may feel alienated maybe, if that is the right word choice…? But I think they need to look at it as an opportunity to tell their kids about the real world and prepare them for those we share the planet with. Things are not going to go backwards, even as hard as many may try. Just try your best to be kind to each other. You don’t have to get it, just learn to respect others despite if you agree. Choice and freedoms is what this country was supposedly built on, but theres a whole other conversation there… For some anyhow. Maybe that’s the problem, we said one thing so long while it really wasn’t that way at all. I will end this there.

Sunny, You raise a great point. It's not just one group, it's all of us in all of our places of power which are not constants. We may have power in one setting and not in another, and how we utilize that position and how we treat those around us in that moment matters. It raises the another question / observation, of whether people see this as a potential loss of power.. whether they feel powerless in some aspects of life and so in these other areas they react so strongly against change or criticism of their language.

Add new comment

Overlay Init