(NewsNation) — Pamela Robinson took a few detours before starting her career as a truck driver.
She was always interested in the industry— but her ex-husband didn’t want her to start trucking. After getting a divorce, Robinson worked in the non-profit field, but funding for it was unstable, leading her back into a corporate job. Soon after, she missed the freedom she had from the non-profit.
When trying to think of a job that would give her both financial stability and freedom, trucking popped into Robinson’s head. With the support of her current husband, she went to get her commercial driver’s license and was soon on the road.
Now, she’s part of a group of women who are sharing their experiences on TikTok. To their thousands of followers, these truck drivers detail the struggles, the triumphs and everything in between about the industry.
Robinson posts under the name @pamulahbaby, and has garnered 105,000 followers and over 1 million likes on TikTok.
“It allows me to be creative. There’s so much inspiration there,” she said. “You can do whatever it is that you want to do to make it fit and resonate with your audience.”
Kayla Chavez (@iamkaylachavez), who has 12,000 followers on TikTok, owns a trucking company with her boyfriend.
She said she loves seeing “so many beautiful states,” and the empowerment truck driving gives her.
“I feel like I’m actually contributing to society,” she said. “It’s very rewarding.”
After seeing another women truckers’ videos on TikTok, Chavez decided to document her own journey as well.
“I have so many people on there that message me, they comment on my videos, and they say that my videos have helped them, and they’re getting their license,” Chavez said. “If we see more representation of ourselves, then..our brain will be able to kind of give us a boost of confidence to go out there and do it for ourselves.”
Something that surprised Robinson about getting on TikTok was how many questions people had about trucking. They started rolling in the first time she did a video tour of her cab.
“People didn’t know we actually slept in the truck,” she said.
TikTok users’ interest gave Robinson the courage to create content and show the trucker’s lifestyle.
“We don’t get the recognition,” she said. “People are unaware of the kind of lifestyle and sacrifices that we have to make out here on the road.”
It’s not a lifestyle that’s for everyone, Robinson, who owns and operates her own truck, said.
“It’s not your ordinary 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” she said. “Out here, if your wheels are not turning, you’re not earning.”
Savonn Barnes-Poags, or @china.trap on TikTok to her 151,000 followers, knows what that’s like. In her TikToks, she documents the long working hours that come with the job; the truck stop showers,the pre-trip inspections. In one video, Barnes-Poags joked about how long it takes to fuel up; in another, she shows off a long stretch of snowy Wyoming field she’s driving by.
Barnes-Poags has been a trucker driver for a little more than a year. Although her husband asked her to join the profession, she had her doubts, especially as a woman who is 4’9”— but during the pandemic, Barnes-Poags hit a point where she didn’t know what she wanted to do next.
“He just asked again, and I was like, ‘Fine,” she said.
Even as more women make waves on the road and online, they still make up a small fraction of the trucking industry. Only about 10% of over-the-road truck drivers were women in 2019.
While trucking is still a male-dominated field, the community understands women are a part of it, too, Robinson said.
“The fellas, when they see a pretty woman, they’re willing to help you,” she said. “I haven’t had any real issues.”
There are some barriers women face, though, such as not being taken seriously.
“People just think that because I do a full face of makeup I can’t drive correctly,” Barnes-Poags said. “I don’t understand how it correlates.”
With TikTok, Barnes-Poags said, she was able to embrace her femininity, and influence other women to do the same.
“We are judged really harshly, especially women who like to get dressed up,” Barnes-Poags said. “Whatever we decide to put on, it doesn’t change the fact that we’re out here with everybody else.”
Something drivers of any gender deal with is loneliness. Long hours on the road alone can cause anxiety and depression for a lot of drivers, Robinson said.
“We’re out on the road for a couple of months, and you’ve come back home and your friends have had their babies or had their weddings,” Chavez said. “You definitely miss out on some important events.”
Building a community on TikTok helps with this, Robinson said.
“I enjoy seeing the emojis, the comments, the laughter, people saying that they can’t wait for me to post again,” she said. “That’s ultimately the reason why I create content.”
Barnes-Poags also gets many positive messages and comments from people. As a Black woman, though, there have been times she’s encountered racism, or people doubting her abilities.
Chavez said she’s gotten comments from people accusing her of making up the fact that she drives a truck.
They don’t let hate stop them, though. In one TikTok, Barnes-Poags addressed the hate she gets, saying in the video’s caption that she isn’t changing a thing.
“At the beginning, it got to me,” Chavez admitted. “But after a certain time of doing it, I kind of block it out. I’m here, I’m doing it and no one should take that from me. No one should make me feel like, I’m not worthy enough to be here.”
TikTok isn’t the only place female truckers are creating connections. Barnes-Poags and her husband started a group, TruckTrappas, on Facebook, where people can ask questions and get them answered. Robinson has an organization, “Sunshine for Truckers,” through which she provides hot meals, showers, mental health help or bus tickets home to drivers who are stranded.
Robinson credits her success online to her authenticity.
“I went into it with being myself. This is who I am, you’re either going to accept it or you’re not,” she said. “People can sense that through the phone.”