Is that a screwdriver in your trousers, or are you just happy to see me?

by Mama Shakes: Writer, composer, retired teacher, responsible party for What the Poop?, and mother to Liss.

It will probably come as a shock to no one that Liss comes from a long line of independent-minded women. Her maternal great-grandmother, grandmother, and I all worked outside the home during at least some of our married years, and all exercised strong and (for the most part) equal voices within the families. As I reflect on it, I'm a bit surprised to realize how egalitarian my parents' and grandparents' marriages were, at a time in which that was definitely not the norm.

One of the ways in which my mother and grandmother differed from their peers was that, if something needed to be done around the house—painting or minor repairs—they tackled it themselves.

This developed, as my mother explained, as a form of aggravation avoidance. My grandfather did things in a slap-dash manner that left more clean-up than it was worth. My dad didn't like household repairs, so he would procrastinate until my mother was ready to pull her hair out. Both women discovered it was easier in the long run to do things themselves. (On the flip side, when my mother went back to work, my dad discovered he really loved cooking and took over the shopping and cooking chores.)

I married a wonderful man with many gifts, but home repair is not his forte either. We always joke that Papa Shakes is not a swearing man…until he has a tool in his hand. Then the air quickly turns blue. I, on the other hand, really like tools. I like wandering the aisles of a hardware store almost as much as the aisles of a bookstore. (Almost!!) I like the smell and the look and the heft of new tools and weird gadgets.

I was thinking about all this because of a discussion Liss and I were having yesterday about overt, covert, intentional, unconscious and other forms of sexism. She said, "You know what it's like: you're at a car dealership and you ask a question, and the salesman directs his answer to Dad. It's infuriating."

I said I hadn't experienced that so much, but I had faced it several times at the hardware store. I would go in to buy something, and the salesperson would ask what my husband was trying to do. When I would say that I was doing the repair, often the question would be rephrased as if I hadn't even spoken. What type of hammer does your husband want?

"Just because I don't have the right type of 'plumbing,' I guess they figure I wouldn't know how to use a wrench," I complained, causing Liss to laugh and suggest I write a post.

Years ago, my friend Jacki and I decided that the next time we needed to go to the hardware store, we would first stop at the screwdriver display and slip one down the front of our jeans, so we could be seen by the staff as someone with a brain.

Ooops, did that sound sexist?

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