It’s the twenty-first century, and we have made tremendous progress in women’s rights. Today, the average woman can do nearly everything her male counterpart can, from voting to football. However, you would be wrong in assuming that the work is done, far from it. Sexism is still alive and well; it has only evolved to take on new, less glaring forms. Things like the wage gap and sexual harassment in the workplace are issues we face today.
Discrimination in the workplace never felt more real to Anna Sagan than when she transitioned from marketer to woodworker. “Right in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she tells me, “I lost my marketing job and was forced to make the difficult decision to move home from Chicago to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Luckily, I discovered a whole bunch of my late grandpa’s old tools in my parent’s garage. To keep my mind busy, I started fixing up things around the house. Then I started refurbishing old furniture and making wine racks for my friends and family. Then I discovered wood art, and I haven’t stopped since,” she told me.
Let’s face it; woodworking isn’t exactly a woman’s game. For whatever reason, whether social conditioning or biology, power tools just don’t hold the same appeal for women as they do for men, so Anna was prepared for some resistance going in. She practiced independently with her grandfather’s old tools and slowly built up the skill, patience, and persistence for woodworking.
Her first challenge came when she started sharing her work. She’s started with nothing, but she had worked hard on her craft and created pieces and art that she was proud of, and she wanted to showcase her skills. Unfortunately, she didn’t get that far before being reminded that this was a boy’s game. She recounts that “whenever I tell people that I’m a woodworker or wood artist, they often laugh or think I’m joking.” She says. She never once found it funny, and it was frustrating that people wouldn’t take her art seriously just because she was a woman.
Anna recounts a story that explains just how deeply ingrained sexism is in the profession “I’ll never forget this one time I showed up to an interview and the first person I met when I walked in the shop asked if I was the cleaning lady.” She says. “They were so confused why a girl was in their space.”
The real trouble started when she started looking for a woodworking community. See, there’s only so much you can do on your own, and this is especially true with woodworking. Some machinery runs into thousands of dollars, a substantial cost to head alone. Also, there is the knowledge that you can only gain by working with experts and mentors that can guide and correct you and expedite your growth. Anna had gone as far as she could alone, and she decided it was time to find support.
However, her first experience signing up to a co-share workspace was less of a dream than she thought it would be. The men rejected her for not being “skilled enough.” She said to me, “I’ve been rejected from co-share woodworking places because of my “lack of experience,” or the fact that I could be a liability to them, or that I’d end up chopping a finger off or something because I didn’t know how to operate the heavy machinery.”
All fancy ways of saying they didn’t want her in their boys-only club.
This treatment continues to this day. Anna tells me, “In my last job as a part-time carpenter, I “got in trouble for being a distraction to my co-workers. Not because of anything I did or my lack of experience, but just because I was a female, and I was always properly dressed too.”
Despite the unfair treatment, Anna is committed to staying firm in her passion. Woodworking and creating art make her happy, and what inspires her is seeing people’s reactions to her art. “I love seeing how people often react to my artwork,” she tells me. “When they say wow! How did you do that?” that makes me feel amazing or that I’m doing something special or unique.”
She’s also learned many valuable lessons from it, like “that woodworking and creating something spectacular and visually stunning takes time, hard work, patience, and persistence. And that the efforts in getting it done are hard but don’t go unnoticed in the final product.”
Men run the woodworking game, which is not likely to change anytime soon. But that’s fine with Anna, and she simply hopes that by paving a road, she’ll make the journey easier for the women coming behind her.
You can view Anna Sagan and her socials below: