A friend sent me an interesting article from the Washington Post last week: More Women Are Picking Up Power Tools and Taking Over Home Repairs.
“Welcome to the latest field in which women are joining and sometimes outshining men — home repair. As the country’s demographics shift, more women are making more money and staying single longer than ever. Consider this seismic shift: There are nearly twice as many single female home buyers as there are single male home buyers, according to 2011 data from the National Association of Realtors. These women don’t have to rely on men to financially support them — but somebody still needs to rewire that light switch and unclog that drain. That somebody is them.
They are power women with power tools.”
That this is happening isn’t terribly surprising. But while it makes sense that single women would take these tasks on themselves, I also find it noteworthy that straight coupled women are also picking up the tools and handling these tasks. What really jumped out at me was when the authors of the book Dare to Repair: A Do-it-Herself Guide to Fixing (Almost) Anything in the Home said that throwing money at something just because one’s husband can’t or won’t fix it isn’t a good option when the economy isn’t doing so hot.
It’s the “can’t or won’t fix it” that really piqued my curiosity. The article doesn’t expand on why either of these things are happening and how they might contribute to women doing more handiwork, but I’ve noticed since we bought our house that the can’t is a very real thing. While we may still believe as a culture that handiwork is the “last bastion of manliness,” as Hanna Rosin was quoted as calling it in the article, that doesn’t mean that young men are really being taught to do these things anymore, or even have an opportunity to do them, before they reach the point in adulthood when their garbage disposal quits working and they don’t have a landlord to take care of it. So they might believe that they should be able to do these things, and society might sort of assume they are able to, but that doesn’t mean they actually can. And here also seems to be a myth that home repair just comes naturally to men, so even if they’ve never done it, it can’t be that hard right?
But it often is hard (or harder than it looks), and acting like it’s not is kind of crappy for men, who are now stuck believing that just because they have testicles they should automatically be awesome with a jigsaw — and, conversely, if they aren’t good with a jigsaw the first time they pick it up, that that actually says something about their testicles. (I’m allowed to be terrified of using a jigsaw. Eric is not.) I know I get pretty pissy when I’m not good at something I’ve been told my whole life that I “should” be good at, so I can’t really blame any guy who feels insecure about his DIY skills. But how are they supposed to learn? I actually feel like plenty of men could benefit from the basic level classes that Home Depot is offering, but by calling them “do-it-herself” classes — which is great for women, don’t get me wrong! — they’re basically perpetuating the myth that men already know how to do these things.
The article also doesn’t mention how damn satisfying it is to build and fix things, especially something you’ve never tried before. Whether it’s baking a cake or hanging a door, both will give you that feeling of “HOLY SHIT I DID THAT!!!! No seriously…look what just happened when I followed the directions!!!” no matter your gender. I would imagine that that feeling of confidence and self-sufficiency is a big reason that men have traditionally enjoyed doing home repairs, and there’s no reason women wouldn’t want to get in on that action. Seriously, I felt amazing after I led our light-hanging project. Why would I let Eric have all of that fun?!
I also think it’s the kind of thing that grows once you get the reminder that you can do it. For women who have never tried this kind of thing before, seeing a female friend do it — or, quite often these days, a blogger — can be exactly what you need to have that, Oh, right, I could totally do this! moment. So as more women are taking this kind of thing on and sharing it in conversation or on Facebook, even more women are being subtly reminded that they can do the same.
Speaking of subtle reminders, I saw a Home Depot commercial a couple of days ago that featured a woman doing a project herself. (No husband or kids were shown, though presumably she could have had both.) That she was a woman wasn’t a point in the commercial, but it was a subtle reminder from Home Depot that women are their customers too. Given the fact that women clearly need/want to do handiwork, this sounds like smart marketing on their part. But I would love to see more reminders in general from tool companies and hardware stores that neither young men nor young women are guaranteed to have DIY skills these days, and that traditional gender roles shouldn’t keep any of us from feeling welcome to develop them.
Thoughts on all of this? How does this get handled in your household?