The wielding of hammers and power tools has traditionally been a male province. No more. Women are proving they can do more than just scatter a few cushions…
The foreseeable future is, I think, going to be interesting. I’ve discovered a whole area of living that, up to now, I never dared to pursue. Over the last while, I’ve found myself engaging in, what are for me, very unusual activities. I get dirty and dusty and I’ve broken several nails but still I like it. It’s really quite satisfying. I’ve taken to a bit of DIY.
Which, as I say, is very unusual for me. I grew up in a household that didn’t own tools. If anything needed doing around the house, somebody came and did it. We ‘got a man in’. The only thing by way of DIY that I ever remember happening at home was a bit of wallpapering and that was usually disastrous. It was generally bubbly and lumpy and very inexpertly trimmed. Even something as basic as changing a plug presented a challenge. We were never sure about the colour of the wires and anyway, we could never find a screwdriver. We’d go at it with a knife and eventually give up. Time to get a man in. As far as I was concerned, there were lines of demarcation that were never crossed. Plumbers plumbed, painters painted, carpenters hammered and electricians wired. If you need a washer on your tap, a new hinge on your kitchen cupboard, a lick of paint on the ceiling, you got a man in.
Then I met and married himself and was in awe of his talents. He knew things. He owned power tools. And knew what they were called and knew how to use them. He could change plugs – and fuses, even. He could cut tiles. He understood plumbing. He knew big DIY words like laminate and silicone. He could tie up ballcocks and examine the innards of a toilet; he could strip the plastic coating off wire like a professional; when he hammered things, he always had a few spare nails in his mouth; he could clean chimneys and unblock drains. He became the ‘man’ of ‘get a man in’.
My mother loved him. Even before we were married, my mother loved to see him coming round the place. There was always some little job for him to do. No more than myself, she was quite in awe of his talents and abilities. It’s difficult for anyone who is naturally handy to understand just how unhandy other people can be. In a mere couple of hours, he would sort out loads of little domestic repairs that had been niggling at my mother for years. She used to tell me repeatedly how lucky I was to have found such a ‘nice young man’. I used to think she was driving the point home so that I’d realise the importance of love and life and lofty things like that. Not a bit of it. She was terrified we’d break up and she’d lose her handyman. She’d be back to poking at the plugs with a knife and whacking things with the heel of a shoe. I’d say if I’d even hinted at a change of heart coming up to the nuptials, she’d have drugged me and dragged me up the aisle. I don’t think she cared two hoots that she was losing a daughter…she saw it as gaining a handyman. The dabbing of eyes with a lacy hankie on the wedding day was pure relief.
Over the years, he has continued to be my DIY hero. And, over those years, I’ve learned at his hand, so to speak. I’ve picked up a bit of lingo and have become DIY educated to some extent. If, for instance, he shouts at me from the top of a ladder to hand him up a screwdriver, I’ll immediately ask ‘flathead or Philips?’. Or if he asks for a vice grips, I can go to the toolbox and identify it. I also know that sandpaper comes in different grades; that drills have different-sized bits; that there’s more than one type of saw; and that a mitre box is the handiest thing since sliced bread.
And now, things have moved on a bit. Over the last few months, I’ve found myself getting a bit more hands on with the DIY. It started out with a bit of harmless painting but it just sort of grew. We were renovating an attic room and the deal was that he’d do all the grunt work of plastering and wiring and so on and I’d do the nicey nicey girly bits like painting and decorating and making the tea.
But the nicey nicey painting got a bit out of hand. I had armed myself with the painting tools of brush, roller and paint but it just wasn’t enough. Because it was an attic room, I kept clobbering my head on the low bits. So I got a hard hat. Because the ceiling was wooden cladding, it needed to be sanded. So I took my courage in my hands and opted for the electric sander. It was very dusty. So I got a mask and goggles. The gaps between the cladding needed to be filled. So I got decorator’s caulk and a caulk gun. There I was standing in the attic attired in all the armour of DIY warfare and armed with a mastic gun and a damp cloth. I felt invincible. Like an Amazon. It felt good. Empowering.
And I think I’ve got the bug. I had four chairs that needed to be re-covered and I’d been waiting for himself to get a bit of time to tackle them. Emboldened by my attic success, I decided to tackle them myself. I bought upholstery tacks and went at them with the hammer. I even put spare tacks in my mouth. (One good sneeze and the job would have been done pronto.) I wielded that hammer like a pro and had my ‘new’ chairs up and running in no time. Mind you, they wouldn’t stand up to very close scrutiny but I don’t care. I’m irrationally pleased with myself.
And it seems that I’m not on my own. The whole business of women DIYers is growing apace and the DIY chains are taking heed. B & Q, the largest home-improvement retailer in Europe, has seen an enormous increase in the number of women buying power tools and getting involved in the hard end of DIY generally. They’re recognizing that women want to do more than just artfully scatter cushions. In some of their UK branches, they offer free DIY classes and women, it seems, are well up for a bit of sawing and hammering.
Product manufacturers are catching on too – some paint manufacturers are considering packaging paint in easy-open tetra packs and Black and Decker make lightweight, wireless drills that they reckon will appeal to women.
A few years ago, the independent trend firm http://www.trendwatching.com reported an increase in new business concepts and products aimed exclusively at women. They reckoned that more women than men actually make the purchasing decisions and that manufacturers of all sorts of goods are keen to cash in on what they call ‘female fever’. For example, via the website http://www.tomboytools.com, you can buy power tools exclusively made for women. They’re fully functional power tools – but they come in pretty shades of pink. In the UK, USA and Canada, you can buy the tomboy tools on a party plan basis. A bit of a shift in gear from Tupperware or Avon.
So from now on, I’m going to get busy and dirty. I’m fired up with enthusiasm for a bit of drilling and sawing and hammering. I’ll still leave the big stuff to the guru. But I’ll move on a bit from the nicey nicey.
And I just gotta get me a pink drill. Now that’s what I call proper girl power.