Book Review: Kate Braid, Journeywoman: Swinging a hammer in a man’s world

Braid Kate Journeywoman cover copy

Kate Braid dedicates her memoir Journeywoman: Swinging a hammer in a man’s world (Caitlin Press, 2012) to all blue colour women but it will resonate with any women who labour in a man’s world.  She speaks to the importance of women’s solidarity when labouring in a man’s world.

My usual approach to reading a memoir is long and leisurely, but Braid’s writing was so resonant with my experience in my positions as a university operations manager (working with blue collar women in cleaning and food services and groundskeepers) and later as a faculty member in graduate adult education, that I found myself racing ahead to Kate’s next struggle, fall and/or triumph. I was taken — transported — with the passages in which she adjusts (sometimes maladjusts) her body and her dress to either conform with how a man would “swing a hammer” or lift lumber, or to compensate for difference in a woman’s body, and sometimes to protest man’s ways of doing and being. 

In many ways, Braid’s memoir is sheer poetry in motion. The one actual poem in the memoir entitled “These Hips” (pp. 165-166) could serve as an abstract for the tone and thrust (yes, a male word!) for the whole.

Some hips are made for bearing

children, built like stools

square and easy, right

for the passage of birth

Others are built like mine.

A child’s head might never pass

but load me up with two-by-fours

and watch me


When the men carry sacks of concrete

they hold them high, like boys.

I bear mine low, like a girl

on small, strong hips

built for the birth of buildings.

I was reminded of Iris Marion Young’s edited volume (2005, Oxford University Press): Female Body Experience: “Throwing Like a Girl” and other Essays.

Kate Braid’s book could serve as a primer for any women (and men) who are involved even from the sidelines in a construction project, including building/purchasing/renovating a house. whether you ever get to swing a hammer or not.  Kate Braid tells us so much about the construction process, and how it resembles learning a second language — the stuff of a male secret society. I love it that she writes in the present tense — giving immediacy to this action-packed memoir.

~ by artpoped on April 24, 2013.

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