Lately, my life has shifted quite dramatically. Since I’m getting ready to sell my house (as part of a cross country move), I’m basically living out of a single suitcase. I only use the microwave to cook, never the stove or oven, so I won’t have a big mess to clean up in the kitchen. I spray down the shower every time I use it.
And certain tasks that I didn’t think too much about before have become the center of my life.
A big one is mowing the lawn.
I’m mowing the lawn all the time now. Basically, it’s something I have to do every four days or so. Our lawnmower is ancient and far from top of the line, so it’s not a good idea to let the grass get too much longer than that. And besides, having an overgrown lawn is up there with an overflowing mailbox as a sign that nobody’s in the house. Which is not only not true in this case but not something I’d want to broadcast even if it were true.
Mowing the lawn with practically religious adherence sends a clear message to the neighborhood: Yes, you may have seen a moving truck here in recent history, but there’s someone still living here, thank you very much. Do’t mess with my damn house.
Or as someone else put it when I told them, “LEAVE MY PIPES ALONE, SANDRA.”
So I’m mowing the lawn constantly. Even though I’m not particularly good at it.
There’s A Lot I Didn’t Learn to Do Growing Up, Even Though I Asked My Dad to Teach Me
I never really mowed the lawn much before, you see. My partner had been the one doing it before they went away. And while I did a lot of chores growing up, mowing the lawn is not something I ever did as a kid.
In the house I grew up in, my dad and brother were the ones who cut the grass. They used a really nice riding lawnmower, which was apparently fun to use, judging from how eagerly my brother volunteered to do it.
I’d asked to try it to myself. I wanted to learn. But when I asked my father, I’d been told no. I wasn’t going to be allowed to cut the grass. Because I was a girl. And that’s not something women did. Forget about it.
This wasn’t the first time he’d said no to me based on my gender. I’d heard the same thing when I’d asked about helping him build things in the garage. No. Go away. Don’t you have better things to do? This isn’t for girls.
My father was a construction superintendent and my brother would grow up to be a civil engineer, but I didn’t even know how to use a hammer or a screwdriver (and neither did my sisters).
The Employee That Thinks They Can Be Irreplaceable By Not Writing a Job Description
As a young woman, I accepted this answer, one that was reinforced by every other woman I came into contact with in those days. “Why would you even want to do that?” they’d reply. “That’s what men are for.”
It didn’t even occur to me until much later to even question this. When I started to run into people who grew up in different circumstances, in different cultures. Who weren’t part of a large Catholic family in rural Maine where strict gender roles were taken as a given.
And it wasn’t until I was mowing the lawn one afternoon recently and my mind was wandering (as it always does when I mow the lawn) that I made an interesting connection: Perhaps men were excluding women from certain kinds of work so they’d have job security.
Because after all, the way my father (and other friends’ fathers at the time) refused to teach women “men’s skills” reminded me of the employees I’d work with on occasion who kept parts of their job secret, thinking it gave them job security. It was the exact same reaction when you’d ask them to share their knowledge. The same tone of voice.
“No, I’m not telling you. I’m not telling anyone. That way they can’t replace me,” one such employee confided in me. “They don’t know how to do this without me.”
Of course, it created quite the hassle whenever she was absent or on vacation. But to her, those secrets were an important form of protection. One she considered foolproof. Especially because she wasn’t terribly good at her job, something she openly admitted.
Maybe it was similar with the men in my childhood. They needed women to need them, so they kept their processes secret. Kept handiness scarce. So women had a reason to want them around. Since they needed someone to fix things when they inevitably broke.
Learning to Do Things That Were Kept From Me
It’s an interesting idea to me, as a person who spent my adolescence as a bisexual woman who leaned heavily lesbian. A person who enjoyed the company and affection of the occasional man but wasn’t exactly solely dependent on them for love, sex, or anything, really. Especially since I had (and still have) an aversion to pregnancy or having biological children (the one thing that arguably only a man could do for me).
Looking back, my first long-term male partner (now ex) wasn’t really any more mechanically inclined than I was. And somehow we survived our daily lives without either one of us being particularly handy. And stayed together for several years before we parted ways.
I’m approaching middle age now. As I renovate my house and prep it for sale, I’m now learning a lot of these skills myself for the first time. How to use a screwdriver, a hammer, an electric drill, a caulk gun.
It’s a big paradigm shift, to be sure. And as frustrating as the learning process can be sometimes (mostly guided by YouTube, Internet searches, and odd questions posed to my handier friends), part of me feels like I’m uncovering a trove of treasures that was previously locked away from me.
Is it irritating to teach myself this stuff? Yeah. Totally. It sucks sometimes. I’ve cried. Thrown tools. Definitely sworn in novel ways.
But when I master a new technique, I get a huge rush. I feel so proud of myself. So empowered.
Becoming Handy Doesn’t Make Me Want to Ditch My Handy Husband
In a way, I get why this was hidden from me. However, even as I’m learning to be handier around the house, I don’t really foresee much in my life changing. I have no intention of ditching my husband — who is a treasure of a human being even setting aside the fact that he’s a DIY whiz.
And anyway, incompetent employees can always be replaced, even if they’re lording over secret sauce. Like the one I mentioned before. Work got irritated with her sub par performance in the best of times as well as how much more dysfunctional everything became when she was out of the office. And they began to observe her, figure out what she was doing, even without her letting on. Over time, they cracked the code, and she was replaced with someone who did the job better and less fearfully.
As I was mowing the lawn last time, it occurred to me that I grew up in a world where men felt like they needed to be sexist and exclusionary for job security when they probably didn’t.
And I’m willing to bet that there are plenty out there who still feel that way.