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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: The letter in your column from "Lady Carpenter" inspired this letter. I do a little carpentry, too, but primarily I am an electrician. I have my own business and I, too, make frequent trips to hardware stores and lumberyards. I, too, bring my husband along to help carry and load. And yes, you guessed it, I'm also subjected to the ignorance of male clerks -- and sometimes female clerks, as well.

My husband is wonderful. He either ignores the clerk who talks to him first, forcing the clerk to address me, or else he tells the person to talk to me because I'm the electrician and the buying customer. The only way I can get a clerk to look me in the eye instead of my husband is to go to the store alone. Unfortunately, it takes longer to get waited on that way.

I once had to track down the owner of a small local hardware store and ask if he was ever going to wait on me. He said he thought I had come in with the last man, who had just left. He apologized and then said he didn't have anything in his store that would interest a woman. "How about if the woman is an electrician?" I asked. He said, "Oh! What would you like?" I said, "Nothing from you," and left.

Abby, we need to let more men know that there are plenty of women out here who are interested in so-called "men's work," and who are quite good at it, too. I've been "messing around" with wires since I was 10 -- more than 40 years now.

Please help us get the word out that women in the trades exist in greater numbers than most people realize. If you print this, please don't use my name. Let all those guys out there wonder which of the many thousands of us women who do "men's work" wrote this. -- LADY ELECTRICIAN

DEAR LADY ELECTRICIAN: Your encounter illustrates how offensive stereotyping can be. Knowledgeable women exist in the work force today in almost every field. Read on as another woman in a nontraditional business shares her wisdom.

DEAR ABBY: I got a kick out of the letter from the woman who went into a lumberyard with her husband (she's in the building business and the clerk was talking to him instead of her). She was furious because she was getting no respect as a woman and the owner of a business.

I am a woman who has been in the sign business since the '70s. I cut, paint, rout and letter my own signs, and I assure you I have never had a problem with "respect" from the lumber department. I also have raised six kids. I wouldn't dream of taking my husband along when I'm dealing in business. If you want respect, you don't drag your husband along. My business is mine, and I'm in control. My husband's business is his, and I assume he is in control of it.


1. Do not take a husband along -- go alone. Pick out your merchandise, let the clerk put the lumber on the truck or into the car. Your husband can meet you at the destination to unload.

2. If you can't drive the truck with the lumber in it, have him wait in the truck until you've made your purchases, then signal him to help. Then you'll be in control.

3. If you need him and can't do without him, let him linger in the back of the store examining other merchandise and making believe he is not with you. Then signal him when your shopping is complete.

Men are not ogres, Abby. The lumber people are only looking for business. If your money is green, that's all that matters. They don't care if you're male or female, 19 or 90. -- ANNIE IN THE SIGN BUSINESS IN CHESTER, N.J.

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