Popular classes, including Ladies’ Intro to Welding, will no longer be available after the closure of the Athens Makerspace.
Funded by ReUse Industries, Athens Makerspace allowed people to create and build projects using provided resources.
Beginning just a few months ago, the Ladies’ Intro to Welding classes gave women an opportunity to meet a few times a month and learn basic joining and welding techniques. Making these classes exclusive to women provided a safe space in a field that is traditionally male-dominated.
Liz King, one of Makerspace’s welding teachers, sees the classes as a chance for women of all ages to learn how to easily repair or work with metal-based objects without turning to someone else, namely men, for help.
“I literally have people with no experience,” King said. “I start at square one and we just kind of work up from there, but usually after a three hour class they’re decently comfortable. I’ve had people from sixteen… up to people in their sixties.”
King believes the fact that she is a female instructor is what draws women to her female-only classes. She explained that in her all-gender welding classes, men tend to control the conversation and don’t make women feel as welcome. A lot of men are inclined to immediately assume that they have the most experience.
“Usually the women will just step up and try everything, and just because there are men in the class the female students kind of hang back,” King said. “Having women-only is a better environment and nobody’s afraid to try something and not be good at it. Nobody is judging, we’re all just having a good time and learning together. The students seem to have a lot less pressure.”
Rachel Metzger, a mediator in Athens, discovered the welding classes because her friend’s husband taught Makerspace’s woodwork classes. She valued the classes because an all-women space made welding less intimidating.
“Having a woman lead the class was empowering because it broke that paradigm for me,” Metzger said. “It was a small class, but so cool to be grinding metal and creating something without judgment or someone assuming I couldn’t do things. The instructor was great about giving instructions and assuming competence unless we asked for more.”
Wenda Sheard, another resident of Athens and fan of welding, attended two of the welding classes before Makerspace came to a close. She explained that no one quite believed that she and her friends would be capable of making garden gates after just one class.
“We made garden gates out of recycled metal,” Sheard said. “We were there almost six hours… and we did it. We really enjoyed (King) and learning about how she’s been in male-dominated fields in the four different careers she’s had so far. I just think they underestimated our ability to learn and Liz’s ability to teach.”
Sheard, who has been an educator for many years, explained most learning depends on the motivation of the student, not the gender. If you’re motivated, you can learn how to weld, no matter your gender.
“Liz knew that,” Sheard said. “She knew we were motivated, so she said give it a go. One of the private classes we set up did have a man in it, and that was fine, but I think a lot of times when you’re going into a field that’s historically been 99% one gender, it’s really good to have a single gender option.”
Sheard has been a lawyer for over 40 years and claims that being able to communicate with other women in law was one of the most important things for her as she got started. She explained that as a profession becomes more diverse it’s less of an issue, but welding is still one of those that is still really male-dominated.
“In classroom situations there’s been a lot of research about that, that men do tend to dominate a lot more than females do,” Sheard said. “My younger daughter went to a women’s college for that very reason. It’s very hard for a very smart young woman to do well unless the men are removed from the situation.”
Sheard plans to continue welding, using her neighbor’s welding equipment and the skills and knowledge she’s obtained from the Makerspace classes.
“I’m hoping the Makerspace somehow is resurrected,” Sheard said. “I know the board has voted to close but I’m hoping someone can purchase the equipment or lease the space or something because it’s just a treasure to have a space like that that can help people learn new skills and even put those skills to work.”