Feb 012011

Sunili Govinnage writes in the Unleashed section of The Drum today, opining how social researchers are making claims about women loosing the “female skills”.

I was intrigued, especially when she started in on one of my favourite television personalities, James May. Yes, James May of Top Gear, James May. That one. The boy who never really grew up. A Generation X member who seriously wishes he was born a ‘boomer’.

Now, James wrote this piece bemoaning the fate of the DIY culture he apparently grew up with. I strongly urge the reader to read James’ piece BEFORE reading Sunili’s. I think you’ll understand why if you do so. The males among you will at any rate. I’ll link to Sunili’s piece at the end of this.

James explains that his Dad built & installed central heating in his boyhood home. James himself built bicycles, and so it goes. The knack for taking things apart to see how they tick, then re-building them is – in my humble view – innately male. Mind you, some of us can do the taking apart better than the putting back together. I know I do more often than not, but we’re not all budding engineers. Mind you, after a series of half-cocked attempts at tuning a 2.0L Escort in the late seventies/early eighties, I learned enough to be able to understand the principals of the internal combustion engine, and tune one such that an A grade mechanic wouldn’t notice the difference galloping past on a horse.

Tinkering, to give the penchant it’s proper name, is not essentially gender specific. Not the exclusively male domain of sheds, greasy overalls and beer fridges. Tinkering is part and parcel of the human condition. As a continually evolving species, we constantly seek better ways to do things. That’s how airplanes and digital watches came about. I’d agree with James May that the sleek cylindrical tube of the airliner and unerring accuracy of the digital chronometer are no where near as fascinating as the Hunter-Case pocket watch or ultra-light petrol engined glider, but each are improvements on the other because someone wanted to tinker, find a better way to fly & tell time.

So, whilst tinkering might be considered a male pursuit by some because in general it involves fixing lawnmowers and installing power outlets, I’ve known a few women who tinker with cars, build garden sheds, lay paving and so on. I also know a few males who knit, can handle a sewing machine (count me out on that score), cook and clean house & actively participate in child-rearing as opposed to simply playing ‘bread-winner’. It’s all tinkering, you see. My wife paints, sketches, makes jewellery and countless other arty-crafty pursuits. That’s tinkering, even if it’s not mechanically oriented, or deemed to be fixing something. It IS however seeking to improve on something. Her own art.

Sociology researchers and market analysts attempt to simplify the world we live in, by cataloguing everyone into specifics. You’re male, therefore you played in the dirt as a child, smashed a few cars as an adolescent, become a chauvinistic bore as you grew older & in your dotage you sit in the sun & do crosswords. If you’re female you played with dolls, read Dolly, Cleo and Cosmopolitan, learned how to cook, sew and clean house from your Mother and grew up to have & raise children and dote on your grandchildren. Gender profiling? Far from it, I say. Simply generalised societal anticipations. That’s how it’s been for decades, if not centuries. But….never forget that during the second world war, women took the places of men in practically every role apart from actually fighting overseas. That became the norm for the day as well…at that time.

So, while our westernised society might have gender anticipations there are no rules of the game stating categorically that gender profiling of those anticipations are in any way, the norm. A woman who can’t cook might seem unusual, but a man that can’t cook is really missing out. Similarly, a man who doesn’t understand what an adze is might be considered unusual, but a woman who can do her own plumbing is a definite bonus around any house. We are who we are and none of us experts at everything. My motto in life is that one may be good at one, maybe two things. One can be really mediocre at many things. We stick to what we do best. Males are best at some things and women seem to be best at others. We should all have the ability to cross-skill, to use nineties management terminology, but that risks the mediocre in my view.

As James may says in his piece, have a go! Oh, and by the way, Sunili….James’ article wasn’t anything to do with “boys don’t cry; they fix shelves”. Blind Freddy can tell you that much.

Sunili Govinnage article is here. Make sure you read it now.

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