In answer to a recent call for printmakers to submit small black and white works on the theme of ‘Gender Equality’, and what it meant for each of us, I stewed about a subject. Despite feminism and changing attitudes, inequality still exists in so many areas of life and society. Yes, I could do something on domestic violence, something with which I’ve had familial dealings. Or perhaps any number of other serious and disturbing issues. I chose instead a bit of light ‘relief’ (pun intended). As a sole parent for many years, I strove not only to be a good mother and earner, but also a stand-in father between access weekends when my two kids visited their other home.
Thinking back, I’ve rarely been afraid to tackle what is generally considered ‘man’s’ work. In the late sixties, in my fourth year of secondary school, I rebelled against the ‘girlie’ subjects of typing and General Business Education. Then, they bored me senseless and no way did I want to work in an office at a desk. Now, after the directions my working life has taken, including sitting at numerous desks in various offices, perhaps those subjects could have been beneficial. But, I’ve always gotten by. Besides, how much more interesting, and fun it was to do sheet metal with the boys.
To give him his due, my father took my side when I was keen to do something more creative than use all my fingers to type – which I still can’t do. He was also a bit of a rebel in his own right. Having worked for years as a sewing machine mechanic in the rag trade during the fifties, he and not my mother was the sewer in the family, apart from me. It was Dad who sewed the uniforms for the marching girls team of which I was a member.
Thanks to my father’s backing, and my persistence, I was the first girl in a Victorian school permitted to do a traditionally boy’s subject. After that year, I transferred to a different school with a more dedicated art stream, but I set a precedent. Subsequent years saw girls doing wood- and metal-work, and boys cooking and sewing at Glenroy Tech. The trend flowed onto other schools. And, why not.
I’ve not done any welding since that year at school, but I’ve turned my hand to a lot of other ‘male’ tasks, mostly through necessity. I’ve done my share in fitting out a log cabin, walls, tiling, and floor sanding included. For years, I tented-it with two young kids and a large dog at various camping spots around the countryside, dug and unblocked drains, mended pipes, laid bricks, cut glass (sometimes successfully!) and puttied windows. I’ve serviced my own cars (pre-computers), can wield a hammer (without choking it), can saw a straight line without the benefit of electricity, hefted wood splitters, pulled down and put up walls, laid floors from the stumps up, converted two garages into studios, put up shelves that are fairly level (!) and am now onto more renovations. Things may not always be perfect, and might take longer than if a ‘man’ did them (though, not always!) but they do eventually get done.
Some first-time tasks would not have been possible without the willing and patient instruction from experienced ‘male’ friends and family. To them, I say a heartfelt thank you! Rarely have I been told, “You’re a girl, you can’t do that.” To those who have dared utter those words, I’ve shown them that I can at least have a go. I’m not great on ladders and I do draw the line at circular saws and chainsaws – I know myself well enough – but give me a jigsaw and electric drill and I’m off and doing.
There are certainly times when it is nice to receive a compliment as a ‘girl in a frock’, hair in some sort of order, and a touch of make up. But, it is just as rewarding to look at the laminated shelves in the pantry, cut by hand and put up with a struggle, by me, a ‘girl’. And, it is equally wonderful to have a gentleman open a door for me, or enjoy a delicious meal, cooked for my benefit by a fella.