I like to collect skills like some people collect stamps, and to that end, I recently started exploring the exciting world of metal working. I’ve already picked up stick welding pretty well, and at this exact moment, I have a garage full of scrap metal that is destined to be at least two work tables, an activity chair, and a few other things. After all, a good feminist should know how to handle his/her tools, right?
While I was helping to load this stuff in, I got to thinking about this slow rage that’s been building and burning in my gut. It’s the same rage that I’ve carried my entire life, the one that points out the injustice and imbalance in our society when it comes to gender roles. I know, weird thing to think about when you’re loading metal, but the reason that I was loading it in is a tribal response to a specific injustice.
Now, you’ll have to follow a little close now, because it’s going to get a little convoluted. Welcome to my brain.
Earlier this week, I took Daniel to get fitted for his wheelchair. This is something that I asked for back in September, then in November, then in February, and they just got us scheduled for this week, and it’s going to be at least another month to four months before the paperwork gets done and we actually have it in our possession – but the whole point was to have it in preparation for the summer break so that he could have a safe place to watch television with the rest of us, have a meal, color some pages, things like that.
Well, we picked out a wheelchair with a tray, low wheels, all that stuff, and even with insurance, it’s going to be a pretty penny out of our pocket to cover the copay and all that – not counting that part where we might not even get it until the next school year – and I really started sweating it. I mean, this kid is going to have the suckiest summer if he’s stuck in his room for three months because that’s the safest place for him. Between letting him run around where he could literally drop at any moment and suffer a mortal wound (he has no precursors for his seizures, and even if he did, he wouldn’t know how to communicate them to us) and keeping him cooped up in boredom but safe, I have to pick the safe route. But boredom. Ugh.
Enter in my good friend Andy and his crazy-awesome memory where he remembers that I mentioned two years ago that I really wanted to learn how to weld. He contacts me about all this awesome scrap he’s got, and now we’re on the adventure. All I have to do now is design the chair, and we’ve got everything we need to build it. (I already started learning to weld with the rig that he left at my house, so the timing was impeccable.)
But then I started thinking about how weird of a culture we live in that we automatically default to having to pay possibly thousands of dollars for a vital piece of equipment when there are plenty of resources around with which to build that piece of equipment. And that led me to thought about how much money we pay for food instead of growing things, and then how much we spend on clothing…
You see where this is going, I’m sure.
As we’re driving to and fro, we’re chatting about how we’ve grown away from a local makerspace. It’s a good place – don’t get me wrong – but it’s become too ungainly for its own effectiveness, and regardless, I never felt welcome there. There was no policing of anyone, so anyone could be an asshole, and good luck getting it addressed – especially if that asshole was a founding member, or at least had been there for ages. Seniority totally beat out equal rights, and even though I gave it a good long run as a teacher (not just a member), I didn’t feel safe most of the time. I felt judged, scrutinized for all the wrong reasons, and generally always on the outside looking in.
But the idea of a makerspace is important. The concept of it is, in its own way, an answer to the injustice that I’ve been hinting at.
It is not just to live in a culture where we are more likely to be ostracized, marginalized, or even criminalized for opting not to pay hard-earned money for our basic necessities than we are to be celebrated. It is not just to get fined (usually by civil groups like HOAs) for growing food out in the open where everyone can see you, as though having vegetables on your lawn was as bad as breastfeeding in public, which is also fucking ridiculous to be ashamed of. I remember having to research whether or not it was even legal to have a natural childbirth in my state, because it wasn’t in several at the time. And why would I want that, besides not having to get shot up with drugs or messed with during a wholly natural biological experience?
Because I didn’t want to be in debt for the rest of my life since I wasn’t “blessed” enough to have any kind of medical insurance while pregnant.
Bringing it back to the topic at hand, it was cast in my mind as a feminist issue because, in learning how to weld, I am being remarkably un-feminine. Girls don’t weld. In fact, girls don’t really do any of the things that are crucial and critical to getting on in the world. We’re traditionally supposed to leave the budgeting up to the men, who are also supposed to be exclusively responsible for our household income. We’re supposed to let them handle changing the oil in the car, doing the lawn work, building things, fixing things, making things…
Fuck a bunch of that noise.
I am culturally considered “gender queer” because I do all of these things – fix cars, build furniture, repair most things in the house, run budgets, earn income, weld, woodwork, do lawn care – but I’ve also had six kids and am on Round Three of raising humans to adulthood. But do I think of myself as gender-queer? Am I, in some ways, more masculine than feminine?
Aaaaaand, welcome now to the point of feminism.
I was seriously pondering my cultural gender identity and what it would mean for me as a person – as a mother, wife, friend, employee, etc. – instead of using those brain cycles to pay attention to the fact that, holy shit, I’m learning how to fucking weld!!! How fucking cool is this shit!?!?
So Reason Number I-totally-lost-count-now of why we need a feminist revolution: Because we’ve defined ourselves into a corner from a gender perspective to the exclusion of just enjoying our humanity. It’s not that I think that it’s somehow a bad thing to know how to do all the things I do (let’s face it, it is really cool), but being excessively focused on how stepping outside of those gender norms is going to affect my kids or my husband or my job prospects or my relationships with the neighbors…
We live next door to this awesome family, and the elder of the household is probably in his mid to late 80s. When he saw me out there working on the cars – changing the oil, bulbs, and air filters – he was ready to storm into my house and give my husband a what-for about “making” me do all that. I had to convince him that my husband let me do it, and that my dad and grandpa taught me how.
I had to justify my skill through male validation.
Now, he’s a sweet old man and I’m not mad at him for it. Still, he represents an attitude that you may think has gone extinct, but it hasn’t – not all the way. It’s sitting under the skin of our society, itchy like an infection trapped under a scar, still forcing the lines between the sexes like an involuntary trench, pushing us into foxholes and pressing wrenches and saucepans in our hands (depending on which side you’re on). And he’s just so earnest that I should be inside making something tasty for my husband while he’s out there working on the cars… he honestly believes that this is the key to my happiness.
To bring it back to the original point, how much of the dependency on monetary currency has been created by simultaneously pulling the teeth from our men – forcing them into skill sets that diminish their capacity to love, create, feel – and also crippling women into stepping up and filling those creative gaps?
In my mind, I see the word “feminist” as a placeholder phrase to keep our spot until we are comfortable enough to move forward and realize what it is that we are actually working towards – a fully balanced society, transparent and fair, with actual liberty and justice for all.