This afternoon I bought a staple gun. When I asked Twitter first if anyone had one which I could borrow, the only responses I got were incredulous as to why I would need one? ‘Scariest tweet in my timeline’ said one reply, ‘Do you know about restrictive gun laws?’ said another. I’m not sure whether the jokes were due to men getting nervous at the idea of an 8 month pregnant woman wielding a staple gun or just me specifically. Sadly, the answer was much simpler. I needed one to build something.
At home my husband and I often fulfill contrary roles to those expected of a heterosexual couple. He lives to tidy and, in his mind, I liberally scatter dirt in my wake. I, on the other hand, manage wiring, assemble furniture in record speeds and take charge of the bulk of other DIY projects. Just last week he phoned to let me know the toilet was broken and he had left it for me to fix as ‘you know how to do it’. I don’t mind though, I enjoy mending things. Some women get diamonds, I get to repair stuff and in exchange I never ever have to vacuum. A very fair deal if I say so myself.
I come from a long line of handy folk, especially when it comes to toilets. My grandfather, by himself and in his spare time, built his first home from the ground up with the materials that he could find. As Canadian industry reverted to civilian production post war, toilet manufacturing was slow on the uptake. My great grandfather, a canny and taciturn Glaswegian engineer, aghast at the idea of his grandchild being brought up with an outhouse in the modern country he’d emigrated to found the best solution he could - poker. A game with the local hardware store owner gave my great-grandparents the perfect housewarming gift: porcelain for the bathroom. If my mother’s side of the family had a slogan it would be: practical solutions for stoic people.
My grandfather always encouraged my desire to build. I can remembering him hanging a Smurfette poster on my wall which boldly stated: ‘Girls can do anything.’ I often dis- and re-assembled household objects, learned how to use power tools my hands were too small to hold and even once terrified my mother by constructing a mini-gallows for my Barbie dolls. I loved playing with Barbies, especially the fab 70’s dresses which I’d inherited from other families. Despite the joy in getting Barbie dolled up, I knew that something was amiss with her rigid expression of femininity. The joy at making Barbie look divine didn’t feel entirely kosher; she had to pay for the sins of the patriarchy. Ergo the oh-so-chic mass hangings.
Separating your own pleasures from the unfair expectations put upon women as a whole is tricky to do. For the longest time I did not feel comfortable wearing makeup without feeling like I was somehow selling out the sisterhood. Was baking a cake surrendering my sense of self worth to 1950’s domesticity? Was Betty Friedan rolling in her grave somewhere? While growing up, navigating what was right for me vs. what the world expected of me as a woman has ultimately boiled down to feeling comfortable in my own skin. Yes, the personal is political, but sponge cake is also delicious.
Today I do what pleases me and what needs to get done, whether that’s fixing the toilet or doing a photo shoot for a fashion magazine. I don’t see a contradiction - and if others do, I don’t really care. Challenging outdated societal norms is my very favorite kind of deviance (that and jaywalking late at night when there’s no traffic). Woman-led home improvement doesn’t really feel like a revolutionary act to me (it’s the 21st century for goodness’ sake) but if others want to see it that way, go for it. I define what kind of a woman I am. And today I’m a woman with a brand new staple gun.