It’s neither the start of a joke nor the thing a woke mugger would say. It’s a conflict happening within the walls containing two very different worlds, where woke meets dangerous machinery. For those unfamiliar, makerspaces are a relatively new concept that allow people to have access to a wide variety of equipment and machinery, from laser cutters to 3-D printers, that would otherwise be unaffordable and out of reach.
A makerspace is a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools.
Much as the verbiage sounds inclusive, these aren’t toys, and people using this machinery don’t get a pass on safety or competence, unless they’re hoping for the new nickname, Lefty. As obvious as this may seem, a problem arises from the nature of “collaborative work spaces,” which tend toward more ethereal concerns such as diversity, inclusivity and, naturally, empathy.
A call came in from a man who was terminated from his employment at a makerspace. His job was to maintain the equipment and oversee its safe use. People who used the machinery had to be trained, but brief training alone was insufficient to assure that they wouldn’t harm themselves or others. Everything is happy until the blood starts gushing out, you know, and his job was to prevent that from happening.
As it happened, his superior at the makerspace was female. They had very different visions of the job, as she extolled the collaborative nature of the endeavor, bringing the ability to create things to the unwashed masses for the betterment of humankind, while he just liked to build stuff and didn’t want anyone to die on his watch.
The supervisor had been given basic training on the equipment, essentially what was provided any other random user who showed up, as her job wasn’t to actually create anything but to spread the vision, the mission. Yet, in doing so, she would occasionally try to use the machinery to show others what could be accomplished. It wasn’t that she had any skills or depth of knowledge, but even stories of saving the world occasionally required an actual demonstration of what a laser cutter can do.
One day, the supervisor flipped the switch and the equipment came to life. From across the room, the man saw this happen, and what was about to happen next, as she was about to get a new nickname due to her failure to pay attention and use the machinery safely. He yelled from about ten feet away for her to stop before she harmed herself. No blood gushed that day.
What did gush, however, were feelings. The male, an employee over whom she exercised authority, embarrassed her. He did his job. He made sure she went home that day with all her appendages intact. But he hurt her feelings. In the scheme of acceptable things to do in a woke workplace, this is not on the list.
He was terminated the next day for his insolence, or as it’s often related, sexual harassment.
It was not, as one might suppose, that they didn’t recognize the importance of competence or safety in the use of a CNC lathe. They said they did quite emphatically. Rather, the expectation was that one could be safe while simultaneously being sufficiently courteous and respectful of another’s feelings so as to avoid causing any woman to feel uncomfortable.
Machinery is the ultimate in equality. It’s inanimate. It doesn’t care about the gender of its user, their level of sensitivity or their expectations of empathy. It’s just machinery, and when used improperly, it can do serious harm, even take a life. Old-school machine shops get this, and machinists are respectful of their equipment rather than demand their equipment be respectful of their feelings.
As for the person in a makerspace, no matter how woke the collaborative aspirations may be, who is responsible for making sure every user goes home with all her digits, a choice has to be made between the harsh reality of a barely-trained person using dangerous equipment and the potential for embarrassment, or harassment as any unpleasant interaction between male and female tends to be characterized these days: your feelings or you life.
This particular makerspace now has no one who is capable of maintaining the equipment, training users and overseeing safe use. The man is out. The woman remains. It will be a warm, empathetic collaborative space, where the users of equipment need not fear their feelings will be hurt should they use the machinery improperly, dangerously. The machinery doesn’t care.
Caveat: Not all makerspaces share these priorities. Most are extremely concerned about the safety of user, and safety is truly their first priority, and do everything possible to assure that users are adequately trained and supervised, so that no one goes home with a new nickname.