Monday, August 31, 2009

Women's Work

My parents raised me to be a feminist. Not the stereotypical man-hating, bra-burning kind of feminist, but the kind who isn't afraid to tackle things just because they are considered a "man's job".

When we had trees cut down around the yard over the summer, I challenged myself to cut up one of the fallen trees with a chain saw....just so I'd know how to do it. Jay gamely taught me how to do it safely (I have a healthy fear of chain saws). I learned that upper body strength is something I don't possess and very necessary to handle a chainsaw. Still, I can say I did it. I couldn't move my arms for the next week, but I did it. I can also honestly say I did not feel at all compelled to help with stacking the resulting firewood.

Likewise, I have tried to make sure my children don't buy into stereotypes of jobs that are appropriate for their gender only. I also try to encourage my teenagers to be their own homework, their own laundry, clean their own room. The idea is not to have clean rooms and clothes (although that would be nice), but for them to be comfortable with doing it themselves. According to the experts, it's supposed to build self-esteem.
I have a dear friend we'll call Marjorie. I can mention her because I know she won't read this. She wasn't raised to be as self-sufficient as I was. For instance, she always goes to the same full-serve gas station because she insists that whenever she's tried to pump gas herself, she does it wrong. There are many other examples of ways in which Marjorie could be more self-sufficient, but I digress. My point is that I don't want my daughter to be like Marjorie and depend upon a man to do the most basic of things for her.

So when we came home from back-to-school shopping at Staples yesterday with a desk chair for each teen and a computer desk for Kelsey (Tyler already had a desk), it became their job to do the assembly. Jay had warned me that he wouldn't have time to put anything together. Like I was going to ask....Hey, I used to work at a furniture store....simple assemblies don't scare me. I even read directions. But I wanted the kids to be able to do it themselves. Tyler was easy; he didn't want help and feels compelled to demonstrate his independence quite often.

Kelsey initially played the "I don't know how" card. What....they didn't teach you to read directions in 8th grade? I encouraged her to look at the pictures, read the directions if all else failed. I reminded her that all the members of the family on my side were mechanically inclined, with the exception of my brother (sorry Paul. You know it's true). My dad enjoys carpentry and working around the house. My mother can repair a toilet. My sister can hang sheet rock.

Once Kelsey got going, you could just see her mood change from a whiney "I caaan't" to "Hey....Look at what I did." The desk was more complicated so I helped, but she still took the lead. In the end, Kelsey had a new desk and chair she was very proud of and the attitude of someone who's now not intimidated by basic assembly. Kelsey was so pleased, she had to show off the pictures of her assembly process to her boyfriend to prove she'd done it all by herself.

Here, she poses in her normal state with her new accomplishment.


  1. I reminded her that all the members of the family on my side were mechanically inclined, with the exception of my brother (sorry Paul. You know it's true).

    Hey! I've built things!

  2. Paul, a.k.a. Howard: Lego and Lincoln Log structures don't count.

  3. I still remember standing by holding my breath while Mom was removing a broken lightbulb in the ceiling fixture in the bathroom using pliers (with the light switch in the "off" position). Maybe that's why I'm a safety professional. And I can do more than hang drywall (although that is my least favorite thing): lay tile, wire fixtures, plumb, solder pipes...