Larry Price

And The Endless Cup Of Coffee

On Gender Bias and Home Improvement

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Instead of a highly technical guide, today I have a short anecdote of some recent electrical work we did in the master bathroom.

I met my wife when I joined my high school robotics team. I was a hammer: with no singular skill that I wanted to focus on, I was thrown into painting, cutting, drilling, electrical, lifting, sanding, building the website, and even marketing. Funnily enough, I never actually worked on programming the robot. As far as I knew at the time, my wife was doing similar work with more focus on marketing and operating the robot.

Fast-forward 10 years. I do most of the indoor home improvement work (electrical, dry walling, painting), and our yard work is fairly balanced. A few weekends ago, we were swapping out the light fixtures in the master bathroom. Well, she was mostly holding the flashlight while I cursed at the previous owner’s hackwork. As we’re wrapping up the first fixture, she starts asking really basic electrical questions. Beginner’s questions.

This struck me as a little odd. I answer with a bit of sarcasm, mentioning that it’s the absolute basic stuff she should remember from being on the robotics team. As it turns out, the (all-male) mentor staff never really encouraged the girls to work directly on the robot. The girls were pushed toward things like “marketing” and operating the robot, presumably because it reflected well on the team to have female drivers/operators. I started to think back on our overlapping time on the team and… Come to think of it, the girls really were pushed into a less-technical experience while I was pushed towards the greasy work.

This was 10 years ago, so I would hope things are a bit different now as more girls are influenced to get interested in STEM in high school. It’s a shame that she wasn’t encouraged to take on the same tasks as the boys, and it’s left an obvious effect on her into adulthood.

So I started thinking about my parents. My father would include me as much as possible in fixing up the house. My sister, on the other hand, would generally not be included. Granted, she’s 4 years younger than me, but I was forced to help my dad do things from a very young age when I would have rather been playing video games than learning life lessons. My wife is the eldest of three daughters, and they also were never really invited to help with home improvement outside of yard work.

We may not have grown up in the most forward-thinking town, but our parents are not sexists. Our robotics mentors may have lived a bit in the past, but they intended no malice while directing students towards work. In both of these cases, the adults were following the same pattern they’ve seen for generations. The trick now is to break that pattern.

For the second light fixture in the master bathroom, I held the flashlight. I instructed my wife in removing and replacing the fixture, only intervening on stubborn bolts. After we finished, she thanked me. I felt a bit guilty for not letting her take the wheel for so long. My assumption had always been she had the skills but no desire to get her hands dirty. Turns out she only needed the opportunity to break the pattern.