[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 Not only have many of the residents suffered from some outdated notions about gender roles and women's potential skillsets, but so do several of my male coworkers.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.
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