Well, it’s happened. After almost three months of training, I’ve upgraded to first seat driver. For civilians, that means I passed a company test and have become a full-fledged company driver and Christopher’s teammate, no longer his trainee. Not much has changed, except now I get paid a little more and I can back up our rig without his supervision, which are things we both looked forward to.
Still, I ride out pangs of imposter syndrome when I’m in a difficult parking lot or have trouble navigating a chaotic warehouse. I’ve had to work a little harder to prove myself since day one of trucking school, and even before that while getting my medical card. Some of that was warranted with the simple truth of my physical stature, and some of it, not at all. Those that know me know that I don’t balk in the face of a challenge, especially not when that challenge happens to be a person, who discounts or treats me differently because of my sex or my size.
Back when I was Christopher’s ride-a-long, I was walking by myself one morning to the truck stop restroom for a little dental hygiene. As I was crossing the fuel island, a male trucker called loudly from the pump, “you not no truck driver! You not no truck driver,” he repeated, with a grin on his face. I smiled back and said nothing: one, because it was said in good humor; two, because not all confrontations are meant to be had (I learned time and place the hard way as a teen); and three, he was right. I wasn’t a truck driver, yet. I was maybe one week into studying for my permit tests and getting a taste of what life was like on the road. And like anything new, I was asking myself the hard question of if I could actually do it.
Chris shared that encounter on one of his previous blog posts, I think. Between us it’s become a running joke, especially as lil’ old me has become an actual truck driver. (“You mean, you drive one of those things? But you’re so small!”) But deep down, it was unearthing some old insecurities. I wanted to be a truck driver; I wanted to be skilled and competent and knowledgeable, and for people to see me as such. That desire and weakness is nothing new; I constantly have to prove my legitimacy not really to others but to myself, and not just when it comes to trucking. Typical overachiever anxiety.
And as an adult woman, I find it mostly harmless when men like the one at the fuel island indirectly or directly comment on my appearance. It still takes me a little off guard, being an ugly duckling become black swan, if you’ll pardon my euphemism. My self image growing up didn’t really depend on physical appearance or the approval of men. Instead I had a need to be the smartest, most creative person in the room; it’s where I thought my personal and social capital lied. I wasn’t rich, pretty, talented, or even all that nice. My test scores and grades and large vocabulary were what I received affirmation for, so it’s the reward that I constantly sought, and still seek.
So when men, in particular, even in good humor, minimize my less visible ability to learn anything, in favor of the surface judgement that a young, attractive, and petite woman couldn’t possibly be truck driver, it makes me a little prickly. It makes me recall similar instances in trucking school, like when another student—who had failed his DPS tests multiple times—tried to grab me by the waist and the arm to help me up into the cab of a training truck. Again, dear civilians, learning how to safely get inside a truck using three points of contact is one of the FIRST things we learn, and at that point I had been at school for weeks and was approaching my test date with confidence. I shook him off and declined, a little prickly again, and went about my maneuvers.
Later, during a break, he tried to apologize to me—emphasis on tried—by saying he “was just being chivalrous, and likes to treat females a little differently…” Sufficed to say, this was a confrontation I did not let pass me by. After a little while, we (I) returned to some civility, he remaining a well-meaning sexist, me a Raging Bitch for calling him out on his unwelcome and uncouth bias. It was not the first encounter I’ve had like that, nor will it be the last.
In the wild, as I go about my day-to-day duties as a gainfully employed trucker, I’m met with a mixture of the same misguided flirtation and what I can only decipher as sheer bafflement. It’s true I might be externalizing, but men in the industry seem so confused—maybe bemused?—when they see me operating a big rig, especially with a degree of skill. I mean, the industry has come a long way, and I am in no means alone among women truckers. It’s true, I may not look like some of the ogresses working out here—no offense to ogresses; in fact, I wish my size were more formidable and my looks less conspicuous, maybe then I might get some respect—but that shouldn’t be grounds to look at me like I just emerged from the wardrobe to Narnia with hooves for feet.
But I can deal with flirtation and take elevator eyes in stride. What’s worse is when I’m struggling with backing, and I’m being watched as I’m trying to get out from between an almost literal rock and a hard place. It’s moments like those when I really feel “female” and not like a real trucker, a real professional, and all those doubts about legitimacy and worth come rushing back. That, my friends, is internalizing.
If I’m so smart, young, and pretty, then, why did I choose trucking as my next career move, you may ask. One simple reason of many: I don’t always play well with others, as you may have deciphered from this post alone. I’ve worked a lot of different jobs in different places, and at the end of the day it doesn’t take long for idle office chitchat to nauseate me, or for the carnival of humanity to become overstimulating. Of course, people will always be a factor working in any industry. But trucking brings minimal interaction. Better yet, most of my interaction is with one of the few people I can be around for extended periods. Working with my husband is a dream come true. And it’s always nice to come back to the truck with the most recent story of some dude’s misfire in flirtation and get some real validation from someone who matters.
Sometimes I just wish that another person would shout to me across the parking lot again, “you not no truck driver!” just so I could respond, “oh yeah, well I’ve got a license and a truck that says differently!” as some second cousin to wit escalier. But as those fantasies often pan out, they don’t. So when I receive or deliver each load, back each trailer, fuel each tank, and drive each mile, I just tell it to myself.