Today is Women’s Equality Day, which makes the discovery I share here particularly apropos.
For weeks I’d been asking my husband to fix the clock that’s high up on a wall in our front hall. It was running fast and kept making me think I was running late. I was about to nag him again to fix it when I asked myself a surprising question: Why couldn’t I fix the clock?
“Wait a minute,” I said to myself, “ Who says that climbing ladders is a man’s job?” In that moment I realized that ever since I’d been a little girl, I’d been socialized to believe that certain things are the province of boys and men, like doing things requiring strength or risk, using tools, understanding engines, or dealing with anything mechanical or electrical. In fact, I’d bought into that assumption so completely that I wasn’t even conscious it was a belief; I thought it was just what’s so.
When I recognized that characterizing things as “men’s jobs” was a story I’d been telling myself, a whole new world opened up for me. I immediately got a ladder, climbed to the top, and moved the hands of the clock to the right time.
I can’t tell you how powerful that simple act made me feel. Because I hadn’t just fixed the clock. I’d broken free of life-long constraints on what I, as a woman, could and couldn’t do. I’d proven myself capable of accomplishing something I thought was beyond me. And, perhaps most significantly, I’d escaped dependency on my husband.
Since then, I’ve noticed how often “that’s a man’s job” comes up for me. Only now I don’t let it stop me. For example, one of the lights in front of our garage had been out for weeks and I’d been waiting for my husband to fix it. Suddenly it dawned on me that I was perfectly capable of changing a light bulb, even if it was on an outside fixture, and I did it.
A few days later, I was mowing the lawn with our Kubota tractor and saw that the engine was running hot. My first instinct was to tell my husband about the problem, expecting him to repair it. After all, not only are engines male territory, but it would be so much easier for him to take care of it than for me to figure it out.
But I then I caught glimpse of how much depending on my husband was disempowering me. Did I really want to make him responsible and let myself off the hook? Or did I want to seize this opportunity to venture into an arena I had never explored before? Clearly the latter was the road to feeling powerful and, more importantly, being powerful. So I marched into the garage, found the tractor’s instruction manual, looked up the reasons the engine could be running hot, and discovered that a clogged radiator screen could be the culprit.
Once again, I had a choice. I could call my husband, who knew all about radiator screens, and ask him to do the job. Or I, who knew nothing about engines, their radiators, or their screens, could open the tractor’s hood, locate the radiator, find the screen, discover how to pull it out, and clean it myself. Ten minutes later I proudly walked into the kitchen and showed my husband the spotless radiator screen.
Then I got on the tractor and mowed for a while to see if the engine was still running hot. It was not. I had fixed the problem. I felt like Wonder Woman!
If you want to stop waiting for the man in your life to do home repairs, read about “Power Tools for Women.”
Susan Weiss Gross has spent over 40 years strengthening social justice groups so that their people and programs succeed. Her special love is coaching women to realize their full leadership potential. Among the groups she’s assisted are the American Civil Liberties Union, Children’s Defense Fund, National Partnership for Women and Families, Natural Resources Defense Council, Innocence Project, and Human Rights Watch. Susan has written numerous publications on leading and managing organizations, including Seven Turning Points: Leading through Pivotal Transitions in Organizational Life.