Eisenberg, Susan 1950-
EISENBERG, Susan 1950-
PERSONAL: Born 1950.
ADDRESSES: Home—9 Rockview St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130.
CAREER: Master electrician and poet. Teacher of writing and theatre. Creator of "Not on a Silver Platter," an interactive mixed media installation.
It's a Good Thing I'm Not Macho, Whetstone, 1984.
If I Had My Life to Live Over: Anthology, Papier-Mache (Watsonville, CA), 1992.
We'll Call You if We Need You: Experiences of WomenWorking Construction, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1998.
Pioneering: Poems from the Construction Site, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1998.
Eisenberg has published works in Prairie Schooner, Willow Springs, and Mothering.
SIDELIGHTS: When Susan Eisenberg decided to research the status of women in construction, she found positives as well as stories of difficulties—difficulties that she had already experienced. As a master electrician Eisenberg worked in the male-dominated construction field. To counter the poor female and minority representation in construction trades, the U.S. government had declared goals for increasing the percentages of women who worked in federally funded construction projects. But female representation in such trades only climbed to two percent in the early 1980s and remained at that level into the late 1990s. Many of the barriers faced by women who attempted to enter construction trades were brought about by threatened and bigoted men.
Eisenberg interviewed thirty women in her book We'll Call You If We Need You: Experiences of Women Working Construction and tells of the issues that these women faced as they attempted to forge new ground in their chosen fields. The author talked to trades-women including "carpenters, electricians, ironworkers, painters, and plumbers." Dealing with many obstacles, including threats to their lives, sexual harassment, isolation, little job security, barriers to joining trade unions, and on-the-job conflicts regarding whether they had the physical strength to do the job, these women also lacked an adequate support system of other women, since there are so few of them nationally to begin with. Gay and minority women are often exposed to extra, targeted discrimination.
In her book, Eisenberg covers each issue dealt with by these women. While New York Times Book Review critic Samuel C. Florman admitted that the format could have been "tedious," he concluded that the author has constructed events and interviews in a way that keeps the reader engaged.
Eisenberg was surprised by some of the positive reactions voiced by the women that she interviewed. While her book was undertaken originally as a type of protest against the situation, the author also found that many of the women gained self-confidence and pride from the skills that they learned and the completion of a tangible product, such as a building at which they could later look. The women even mentioned "exceptional men" who had assisted them during their struggles to forge roles as women construction workers. Eisenberg was amazed by women who were "consistently generous" as they related stories, some of them negative, and concluded that "At the most profound human level, I don't understand parts of this book."
Eisenberg published a companion volume to We'll Call You If We Need You, titled Pioneering: Poems from the Construction Site. According to Florman, the collection of poetry contains none of the optimism present in Eisenberg's first book. The author fully vents her anger about the status of women in construction in the lines of these poems, and uses imagery that includes male construction peers armed with knives, dismemberment, electrocuted animals, and falling human bodies. Florman commented that the poetry "made me wince" and hoped that in the future, the author would focus more strongly on some of the positive comments that women construction workers shared in their interviews.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
A Directory of American Poets and Fiction Writers, 1997-1998 edition, Poets and Writers (New York, NY), 1997.
Journal of American History, June, 1999, Ileen A. de Vault, review of We'll Call You If We Need You: Experiences of Women Working Construction, p. 331.
Library Journal, June 1, 1998, Kay Meredith Dusheck, review of We'll Call You If We Need You, p. 135.
New York Times Book Review, April 26, 1998, p. 37.
Progressive, September, 1998, Leah Samuel, review of We'll Call You If We Need You, p. 40.
Women's Review of Books, November, 1998, Pat Cooper, review of We'll Call You If We Need You, p. 24.*