Dear Reader -
I come to you today with a question. Is there still such a thing as Women's Work? I'll explain how I came to ask this question, and then I'd love your take on this.
It's the first month of my alterations business. After a very nice article in our local newspaper, business has really picked up, and my shop is busy. Orders are coming in, and people are making inquiries by phone and email. I have had mostly good experiences, and met some lovely people. I have met my real customers and I like them!
I have also talked to a few older ladies who think that my pricing is much too high, and take that as justification to yell at me and scold me. There is at least one older lady in town who has been sewing for years, and she does inexpensive sewing for her friends. Some of these women like to tell me how "Bertha" (not her real name) has much better pricing. I imagine that Bertha does good quality work. But not one of her "friends" tells me that she does beautiful work. Bertha is valuable because she works cheap. I just figured out that the unspoken message here is that these ladies will bring their sewing to me if I'll just cooperate and work even cheaper.
Let's do the math for Bertha's business, assuming she has an actual business where she declares her income to Canada Revenue......
Someone brings her a pair of pants to hem - that's at least 15 minutes for a consult - to discuss what the customer wants, have them try on the pants, and get them pinned accurately. Let's say Bertha can cut, hem, and press that pair of pants in 15 minutes. Let's add another 5 minutes to make an invoice and bag up the garment. Then her customer comes back in to pick up the pants and she collects payment - at least 10 minutes. That's 45 minutes if all goes well. The customer pays her $6. That means Bertha is working for $8 per hour. Once Bertha pays for advertising, shop supplies, insurance, income tax, etc - let's be generous and say Bertha takes home $6. per hour. Minimum wage in Alberta is $9.95. This makes me sad for Bertha.
Certainly we all want to save money. But I have a hard time taking the abuse of older women who think it's a good idea for me to work for less than $6. hour because I am "just sewing a hem".
Do people still view some professions as "just women's work", and therefore not worthy of even minimum wage? Clearly, not every woman knows how to sew a hem, and those that know how don't always want to. So I think my skills are valuable to some. I was just quite shaken to be rebuked pretty harshly by older women, for trying to earn a decent living. I know I am taking this too personally, and it may be just a case of people who like to complain about prices. Perhaps the bullying tactics work some of the time. (There were other things said which I am not mentioning here. These were not nice little grandmas.....)
So, back to my question. Are there certain skills which are perceived as traditional women's work, and therefore should not cost much money? Am I in a profession where I will need to explain my pricing much of the time? Or is my situation common to any business? I'm not sure how to think about this. I realize I need to develop a thicker skin, because not everyone is polite. But why do older women, who I think ought to know better, push another women to work for free?
I was going to talk about overseas sweatshops, and the deplorable conditions there, which enable us to buy $7. jeans at Walmart. But perhaps that's not the point. We live in Canada, we have labour laws and a minimum wage. We know that doctors made a certain level of income. We understand that an automotive shop charges a hefty shop rate per hour. We understand that the young person working at McDonalds works for closer to minimum wage. Do we have an expectation that sewing pays less than a fast-food job? Should I explain the value in what I do, or do I politely but firmly end the conversation because this person is never going to be happy paying a fair price?
Let me know what you think, I'd love your feedback.