Women. Since the dawn of time we’ve been underestimated as only being able to do certain things. By virtue of the fact that we literally bring forth life, I’d say we can do just about anything. Period. However, society doesn’t really see us that way. Women are still considered second-class citizens in many countries around the world, and even today, we still have to be at the heels of patriarchy and know our place in a sense.
The reality is that there is a perception that there are certain things that women cannot do, or at least, should not do, because it’s a man’s job to do so. Between being capable of ruling a country to being able to fix a leaky faucet, we’ve been told that certain tasks are for men and not women. We’ve also been force-fed the notion that we should always “let a man be a man.” To diminish ourselves in a sense to assuage the part of the male ego that is all about protection and provision.
I’ve always been a tomboy of sorts. I remember carrying a purse for the first time at 15. I lived in cargo pants up until then, because who needs a purse when you’ve got pockets? Interestingly enough, I grew up around women, and my mother always imprinted on us the idea that as a woman, you could do anything a man could. Now, before you jump on me, her efforts weren’t to build a self-sustaining Amazonian tribe of daughters, but to empower us into self-sufficiency past the basics. I was brought up to never be a D.I.D., otherwise known as a damsel in distress. So by the time I was in college, I knew how to change locks, bulbs and install my air conditioner without asking for help. I’m the girl with a tool kit who knows a Phillips head from the others.
I had gone home one summer, and decided I wanted to learn how to drive. As part of my basic training, my instructor showed me the ins and outs of the car engine and the rest of the car parts. The most important thing, according to him, was to learn how to change a tire. There is no such thing as AAA in Lagos, Nigeria, and the fear of being stranded fueled my attention. So I learned, and it served me well.
That is until I went on a date with a guy in the States who had a flat tire.
I met this guy – very macho, yet still a sweetheart. We’d go on dates and he always insisted that he pay. The one time I tried to get the check, he actually got mad at me. When he would come over, he would take my trash out without me asking him to, and fix random things that could use mending. And while my roommates loved him, call it self-sufficiency, or maybe being single for too long beforehand, but I wasn’t overly impressed. Chuffed at times, but still, my mind wasn’t blown.
On one of our dates, his car ended up with a flat tire. We pulled off on the side of the road, and it was dark. He calls for AAA to come and they said they would come as soon as possible. I asked if we could change the tire ourselves since he did have a spare hanging in the back. He wasn’t too keen on the idea, and said he’d rather wait. I got impatient, and playfully joked with him. I said I could change it in the time we were waiting. He scoffed at me and dared me to. Not wanting to look like a punk, I went in the trunk and took out the tool kit, hiked up my dress and got to work on the tire. Fast forward a few minutes later, and the tire was changed while his mouth was left hanging. No need for the cavalry.
As we started on our way home, he was quiet. When he dropped me off at home, he excused himself and said he’d call me later. That was the last I ever heard from him.
In trying to figure out why he went ghost, I asked my male friends, all of whom shook their heads when I mentioned the tire change. I was told that I emasculated him and that I should have just let him be a man — and wait for AAA. The worst part of it all was being told that my ability to do for myself may be seen as threatening and that something as simple as changing a tire communicated that I did not need him (or at some point down the line would not). Since when does my self-sufficiency become challenging to a man’s ego? Of course, it’s not the first time I’ve had to be aware of this and sort of downplay my own efforts and strengths to make a man feel good, but to be honest, I resent it. My need to get things done if I can, by myself, does not take away from the fact that you are needed or wanted as a man. Protection and provision are not exclusive to masculinity. A woman who is handy is sexy – in a Rosie the Riveter way. And if a guy can’t get that, it’s his problem — not mine.
Is this idea of a self-sufficient woman still threatening? Should we downplay what we can do for ourselves in order to make men feel needed? To the men, is a handy woman threatening to your ego?