Monday, April 07, 2014

Anything Boys Can Do...

[Blurt alert: this post uses a scientifically correct word for a part of the male anatomy in a non-graphic, non-sexual context. Consider yourself warned.]

When I was eight, my mother bought my sisters and I matching short sets with red-trimmed halter tops on which a girl was swinging a baseball bat. The shirts read: "Anything boys can do, girls can do better."

It was 1976 and that was a fairly revolutionary concept in some circles--the idea that girls were at least as capable as boys at all kinds of things. Raised as I was, by the parents I had, it never really occurred to me to think otherwise. And for most of my adult life, I was sheltered to some extent from overt sexism and chauvinism--I worked in mostly female workplaces, which is a big part of it and before entering places like auto parts stores or hardware stores, I've learned to arm myself with the sort of knowledge that heads antiquated assumptions off at the pass.

For the past five years, though, I've worked in an all-male halfway house for recovering addicts and alcoholics. Not only have many of the residents suffered from some outdated notions about gender roles and women's potential skillsets, but so do several of my male coworkers.

The other day, I was driving with a resident downtown and picked up some sort of metal debris that pierced the rear passenger tire. The tire was flat in seconds. We pulled into a store parking lot where we intended to change the tire, but discovered fairly quickly that there was no spare. (This is on a brand new vehicle, incidentally. For this particular make and model the spare tire is considered "optional" equipment, but that's a gripe for another time.)

I called the halfway house and spoke with my (female) boss and asked her to send down a (male) coworker to pick the resident and me up because there is no spare tire on the new van. (I picked the male coworker only because everyone else was getting ready to leave for the day.) So the male coworker arrives, with another resident beside him and they both start to get out of the van they are in, clearly intending to rescue me and the resident with me because they assume that I (a woman) and he (a small-statured hippie stoner type) are incapable of finding or putting on the spare tire.

I begin to tell my male coworker that there is no spare tire, but he does not even make eye contact with me and instead, looks at the hippie stoner resident, who is standing just behind me. When the resident confirms my version of events, my coworker and the newly arrived resident rehook their seat belts and accept that there is nothing they can do.

As we were driving away, we were all talking about how ridiculous it was that a brand new vehicle lacked a spare tire. Then the resident who had come down with my male coworker laughed and said, "I came down because I assumed Hippie Stoner would not know how to change a tire."

Hippie Stoner said, "Hey! I've worked on a few cars--out of necessity and by default, but still: I know how to change a tire."

I couldn't help myself at this point, I piped up. "For the record, not that you asked, but I know how to change a tire, too."

The chorus of "oh really" and "you do?" was almost more than I could bear. Here it is 2014, and it is apparently still a revolutionary concept that women are at least as capable as men at all kinds of things. These men appeared to be suffering genuine astonishment that a woman might know how to change a tire.

"Yes," I said, as though talking patiently to small children. "Yes, it's really true. I can change a tire all by myself--even though I don't have a penis."

My deployment of the P-word caused much chuckling and snorting so I paused to give them a moment to collect themselves before I went on. "I know it's amazing, and you might not really believe it, but it turns out that a penis is not a necessary implement for changing a tire."

They all laughed. Here's hoping they might also have learned a little something, too. 

F is for Feminism.




16 comments:

  1. As you said, you would think that in 2014...But I wonder if perhaps we really haven’t progressed that far. I think about certain current types of music and videos that certainly do nothing to promote respect, for women, let alone equality.
    When I learned to drive, way way back in the day, it was mandatory that each student, male and female, learn how to change a tire. We had to demonstrate that we could do it too.
    By the way, if I am stuck on the side of the road and it’s raining, and a gentleman stops to help, I don’t think I would say, “Nah, it’s okay, I got this :).

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    1. Oh, I'm definitely with you, Lynda--just because I CAN do it does not mean I would turn down help from whichever gender offered it. For example, in this case, it was not ME who crawled under the front end of the van to discover that the spare tire was not where it belonged. ;)

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  2. Grrr. That's my tiny roar.
    It seems completely ridiculous that something completely neutral - like changing a tire - would have a gender attached to it in the first place. So there's that. There's a part of me that completely refuses to fight about such nonsense any more. But then just yesterday I read a comment in a public forum, where a woman said something along the lines of: "I don't want my daughter to learn how to change a tire. That's not her business. That's what she needs a man for." So there's also that. And I think I might have given myself a little, tiny stroke in forcing my head not to explode. But then back to the not fighting... I wonder if this whole gender nonsense will ever go away completely because it's so emotional and so ingrained in people, one way or another. I wonder if I should just smile and nod and continue about my mannish, tire-changing business while amusing myself with the mental image you have so kindly provided me: that of a man using an unfortunately large penis as a tire jack. So, there's definitely that.

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    1. And, I used the word "completely" waaaayyy too many times in one comment, so I think I am still recovering from my tiny self-induced stroke.

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    2. I, too, go back and forth on a regular basis--particularly in the environment in which I work. Also, my daughter is 19, almost 20, and the crap she has to deal with not only on a sexual discrimination level but on a sexual harassment level has been very eye-opening for my formerly sheltered self. Eye-opening and enraging. I still think, though, that edgy humor (as above) is often better received and more effective than lecture and rants. The Catch-22 of it all is that especially to people who are prone to think less of women generally, the rants tend only to confirm their suspicions of women being hysterical and overly sensitive, etc. Bottom line is that I still cannot believe, much less accept, that things are still so archaic in this regard. (I know--or hope--that the rural redneck conservative locale in which I live is a huge contributing factor and I am hopeful that out in the "real" world things are changing at a less glacial pace.)

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  3. Youngest Sister4/8/14, 10:16 PM

    I never really wondered what kind of message we were sending to Little Brother. Poor kid never stood a chance! ; )

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    1. I was thinking as I wrote this--not for the first time--that the shirts really went a bit too far. ;) And yes, our poor Little Brother--really never did stand a chance. On the other hand, being surrounded by sisters does seem to have been great preparation for being surrounded by daughters.. ;)

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  4. Don't judge, but I've used the 'don't have a penis' excuse my entire married life. I still don't know how to change a tire. Well, I understand the concept, but have never had to actually do it.
    (And, yay for you doing the A-Z challenge. Gonna be a great month!)

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    1. Oh, I absolutely do not judge Julie--I'm all for any excuse that gets us out of extra work. ;)

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  5. I've had the conversation with several men about not thinking less of the women around them, but still wanted to "take care" of the women around them. To which I always reply, "benevolent sexism is still sexism." It is nice that they were willing to rescue you, but assuming that they needed to is aggravating.

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    1. Oh! I know this conversation oh-so well. I have a coworker (not the one mentioned above) who is always trying to "protect" the female staff by stepping in during confrontations with residents, etc. I have had to tell him OVER and OVER that all that does is undermine my authority with the residents and that I do not need his protection, etc. It's hard because I know absolutely that he means well, but...the end results hardly ever go well.

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  6. Little Sister4/13/14, 12:59 PM

    Considering that there was a running family bet that I would end up barefoot and pregnant by age 15 but in actuality was age 20 and well-ensconced in combat boots by the time of the actual event, I am VERY familiar with this gender dilemma. Having said that, if some unsuspecting male individual is so inclined to take on extra work on a given day to change my girlie tire, who I am to disabuse him of his perception of his own chivalrous nature? These means I will have more of my own energy to work that I actually enjoy and he has gotten his testosterone boost for the day. However, let him tell me that I CAN'T change the tire because I am a "girl" and I will most-likely be the one foolishly duped into doing the "extra work" that day.

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    1. Little Sister4/13/14, 1:00 PM

      *This not these

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    2. I'm definitely not above accepting help when it's offered, depending on the context in which its offered, of course. I pretty much have only EVER changed a tire to prove a point. Heh.

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  7. This makes me so completely nucking futs I can't even wrap my brain around it. Recently, Iwas organizing a volunteer event and the program manager said we needed men to come too. I agreed and said "of course! This opportunity will be open to anyone who wantsto help." She said "good because we need a man to climb the ladder to get those cobwebs."

    I said something along the lines of making it clear that we need someone okay with climbing ladders and somehow managed not to roll my eyes.

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    1. That sort of thing blows my mind--and at this point, it probably shouldn't anymore. I just cannot believe that there are still so many people (across all generations) who fall for that stuff. I think it's the "across all generations" thing that gets to me the most...it lets me know how little progress has really been made since my 1976 halter top days.

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