“Feminism isn’t about making women strong. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.” —G.D. Anderson
I recently had to leave a conference early to prepare for a hurricane. It has been that kind of year. I took a red eye to the east coast, grabbed a short nap, and proceeded to get the house ready. If you aren’t familiar with the process, it involves bringing everything outside inside, covering windows, gathering batteries, and making sure you have that extra propane tank. Oh, and you must make sure you have water. Buckets and buckets of water.
The very, very last thing to do is to install something called a wind post. If you have a double garage door, a wind post will keep the door from being blown in by the wind. As you might imagine, it is a long, vertical post made of steel. It bolts to the floor of the garage at its base. It bolts to a plate above the door, at the top. You can also imagine, that it is quite important that the two plates line up correctly. A steel post, by its very nature, isn’t going to have any room for wiggling. Long story, short – the plates didn’t line up. Being a prosthetist with tools, I set to work on a short-term fix. After a few hours it was “fixed.” It withstood the storm.
A few weeks later I called a door company to make a permanent repair. They sent a repairman who didn’t seem familiar with the equipment. He lied about how the post was supposed to be installed. He maintained this lie even after I politely pointed out a manufacturer’s picture of the correct installation glued to the garage door. Next, he assured me it didn’t need to be repaired. Finally, he declared that I probably didn’t want the door to be repaired, anyway. (After all, it would be A LOT of work.) An hour passed as we danced around the idea that he knew more about this than I did. He called his supervisor to discuss the problem, and admitted that, “she seems mechanically inclined.” Finally, he broke down and asked me how I had managed to get it fixed. I thought we had reached a level of mutual understanding: I must know at least something about the subject, and he was willing to collaborate.
I was way off base. As we gingerly discussed the next steps – me insisting it should be properly installed, him insisting I could just keep using my temp fix – I noticed that something was now broken on the door that wasn’t broken when he showed up. That’s when the yelling started. He immediately thought I was accusing him of breaking it. Believe it or not, I wasn’t. He yelled that he had been trying to be nice to me this whole time, but not anymore. Seriously? He decided to take his tools out to his truck and go home. He waited by his truck, so that I would ask him to come back. I didn’t. Instead, I called his boss who informed me that, “Yeah, he does that sometimes.”
When that day ended, I was exhausted. I was tired of explaining myself and defending my knowledge. I was tired of the surprised look on his face when he realized I understood tools. Tired of the condescension and the easy way he lied to me, as if I wouldn’t notice. Lastly, I was tired of the acceptance and protection that this man, and his behavior, enjoyed. Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard if it only happened on this day. But it has happened again and again. It’s a constant for a woman in a male-dominated field.