“Is your husband handy with power tools?” The plumber was referring to a small piece of baseboard that needed trimming.
“I don’t have a husband and I know how to use power tools,” I said, smiling.
“It’s OK,” I said. “Really.”
This has happened many times to me during the past few decades. I’ve also heard comments like, “Look at you using a drill” or “Do you want me to chop that log for you?” Those are usually accompanied by snide smirks and raised eyebrows.
When Roger and I moved to Tarawa Terrace base housing in 1998, we needed to mow our own lawn or hire a company which we could not afford. Since he was away so much on deployments and trainings, I would have to do it. He taught me to use the small gas-powered push mower. It was the first time I ever used a power tool and quite frankly, up until that point, I never considered it to be an option.
Soon after that, he taught me to use an electric drill that we purchased at Kmart. I used it for small home repairs and some crafts. Roger loved that I was learning to be independent because it gave him peace of mind for when he was away, and he saw my confidence build with each new skill he taught me.
After that, I learned to use all the power saws, chop wood, light and cook on a charcoal and a gas grill, drive a stick, and anything else a man is traditionally supposed to do. My husband was proud. He would look at me and smirk while I learned, and would brag about me to our mutual friends.
When he was a member of the fire department, he asked me to join as a community development member. I was hesitant but eventually filled out my application and was voted on at the business meeting. After watching everyone get dressed and jump on a truck to go save the world, I became intrigued and a little envious.
“Why don’t you try to breathe air?” he said. He was asking if I wanted to try on the SCBA, or self-contained breathing apparatus.
“Sure,” I said. I had butterflies. After a short lesson about how the air worked, he put a bunker coat on me, and had me put the air pack on myself. He then talked me through putting on the mask, a helmet, and how to turn the air on and hook it to my face mask. I remember the first breath I took. It was cool and clean, and I felt safe.
Through the plastic face shield, I could see Roger smiling big. He encouraged me to take the next step and attend a training. I did and became hooked.
There have been many times in my life when I was reminded about how odd it is for a woman to use power tools, light fires, or hammer a nail, and I’ve had more than enough encounters with people who don’t think it’s right that I do “man” stuff.
“You’re so stubborn” I’ve heard or “Why can’t you let someone help you?” These aren’t the traditional gentlemen practicing chivalry, but insecure chest-pounders who feel intimidated. Quite frankly, I didn’t have time for them.
It’s not a matter of me being stubborn, but more of my desire to be independent which stems from not wanting to wait, and also the fact that it’s plain old fun. To some, that is intimidating, and to others it’s empowering. I simply don’t get why some jobs are for girls and some for boys.
Roger and I never talked about the term feminist, but he truly was one. We were equals and because of his support and encouragement, I have achieved independence. My strength did not intimidate him, and I only wish I understood the depth and importance of his confidence and feelings of equality at the time. The boys saw it, though, and that’s what matters.
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