Yesterday, my partner and I noticed that the kitchen tap is leaking at the base of the fitting. Add to that the fact that our downstairs toilet has been deigning to flush only very occasionally for a few months, and I think it’s time to call in a plumber.
In the past, D has done any of these little jobs around the house. She’s always been good at DIY, and has been adopted by my family as the go-to-gal for anything DIY related, replacing toilet seats and light bulbs and dealing with minor plumbing problems such as ours without a second thought.
The problem at the moment is that D is suffering with some severe tendon problems in her right shoulder and we are currently waiting for the NHS to get round to giving her the keyhole surgery she needs to try and resolve the problem (a whole new blog post!). As a result, DIY is pretty much beyond her at the moment and she certainly can’t crawl around under sinks or yank levers in a toilet cistern.
So, the plumber was duly called last night. What stunned me was what I heard D saying to the (male) plumber on the phone. She knows perfectly well what the problem is or is likely to be with both the tap and the cistern. She could probably mend both in an afternoon if she were fit and well. However, the one-sided conversation I heard went something like this:
“I’m not sure what’s wrong with either of them. I expect it’s some sort of lever in the cistern? The tap might need a new washer or something, it would be great if you could come and take a look.”
You may think there’s nothing much wrong with the statement above, and ostensibly there isn’t, but it’s hard for me to convey tone of voice in a piece of writing. Not only did D deliberately “dumb down” her knowledge of what was wrong, but she also did so in a distinctly girly, giggly tone of voice. She was essentially saying:
“Hallo clever man who has learned how to do plumbing. I’m just a silly woman who couldn’t possibly know anything about how plumbing works. I may know a few clever words like “cistern” and “washer”, but that’s as far as it goes. Please ride over here and rescue me!”
OK, so I’m exaggerating a bit, but I asked her about it when she’d finished. She readily admitted that she had tried to make it sound like she had less knowledge than she actually does, partly so as not to come across as if she couldn’t be bothered to do it herself (she has a bit of a complex about this), but largely because she didn’t want to bruise his ego by claiming she knew anything about his job.
This is where we, as women, can be part of the problem when it comes to gender stereotyping. Now, I’m not sure if D would have done the same with a female plumber. Possibly she would have. In my opinion, however, it’s much less likely. Boys and girls alike are routinely brought up to believe that women are somehow inferior to men, something which I have talked about on here before.
We adults may not be aware that we’re doing it a lot of the time. Recently, I read this excellent blog post about how we label children who don’t fit into the “norm” of gender roles. Thus, Shiloh Jolie-Pitt decides to cut her hair short and call herself by a name which echoes those of her brothers and we immediately label her a “tomboy”. Similarly, boys who want to wear dresses or play with dolls are labelled as “princess boys”. The point that is made in the article is that these are just children. Children who like certain things and don’t like other things. We don’t have to obsessively label them. In fact, by doing so, we are teaching them that they are different in some way, even though that probably isn’t our intention.
Like most children, little Shiloh may well decide to grow her hair again in a few weeks/months/years and revert to her old name. What do we “label” her then? Wouldn’t it be easier just to call her by her name (whichever one she chooses to use) and make sure she knows that whatever she chooses to do or say, she will always be seen as herself?
I have to admit here that I have been guilty of labelling girls as “tomboys” in the past, including myself. I feel deeply fortunate that my parents and other adults in my life never tried to stop me being me. My Mum may have baulked a bit when I took to wearing men’s clothes in my teens, but ultimately she didn’t stop me doing so. As a result, I see clothes as just clothes these days and buy things based on whether they fit and look good, rather than because they are in a particular section of the shop. I also chose a long time ago never to wear make-up. Mum has even told me that she admires the fact I don’t feel I have to. I should know better than to label myself. I am lucky.
I am also fortunate to have grown up in a period when the pressure to look and/or behave a certain way wasn’t quite as extreme or all-pervasive as it is now. Growing up at the end of the 70s and into the 80s, I was a beneficiary of the tale-end of the militant feminist movement. Sadly, feminism is now often seen as a dirty word. There are still many of us out there, though, and I have actually been thrilled over the past few years to see campaign groups like Pinkstinks springing up on the internet and elsewhere to try and counter the sex-obsessed, gender stereotyped princess and macho-man culture that has been gradually invading every area of our lives for the past two decades or so. Long may it continue.
So here is my point: no-one is too female to be a plumber, doctor, astronaut or carpenter, or too male to be a housewife, nurse, teacher or care worker. Be proud of the knowledge you have. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. By doing so, you’re not only hurting yourself, but you’re setting a terrible example to girls and boys growing up in this damaging culture. Be feminist and proud, and that includes any men reading this!