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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Man skills

Aurora @ Island Dreaming

I don't know what else to call them - most people will know what I mean by 'man' skills, much as it irks me to divide labour along gender lines in this day and age. These are the areas of production that, in peacetime at least, have been the domain of men. Perhaps we could call them hard skills, as they involve sharp edges, hard surfaces, fire and electrical currents. A little danger, if you will, when contrasted against the much softer, rounder edges of garden, yarn and kitchen crafts.These are the industries that most commonly employed men and the skills kept alive, mostly by men, tinkering in sheds.

Until this week, I knew not a single person that shaped metal and welds in their spare time. I work in facilities management and the maintenance teams, comprised entirely of men, are obviously quite handy. But the older ones complain that the younger ones coming in from college lacking old skills - mental arithmetic, a working knowledge of their allied disciplines, a willingness to think outside the box. The number of jobs in these practical sectors seems to be continually shrinking. Whether this is a reality or not I don't know, but all of the people that I know that work in less tactile service industries do not pursue these hard practical skills in their spare time. They have hobbies - cooking, yarn crafts, gardening and may have an admiration for cars and gadgets. Few of them however, myself included, can fix a cooker, make a spinning wheel, re-handle a spade, perform an oil change or build a PC from spare parts.

Part of the problem I think is that these skills are less accessible and more expensive to learn. They require dedicated workshop space and tools. Many of them require a solid knowledge of scientific principles which many come out of school lacking. Part of it might be a mental block - these are the things that so many who are trying to simplify and transition to a lower energy future really can't imagine having to supply for themselves. I would hope against hope that women are not held back from them because they are unladylike, though I fear that may often be the case. But the idea that a powered down future is going to be built solely with knitting and seedlings is dangerous. I fear we may end up with an overabundance of skilled cooks, knitters and gardeners; and an under abundance of welders, tool sharpeners and ham radio enthusiasts.

Why is this on my mind?


This is the plough our allotment neighbour built. He spent the winter in Bangladesh on his family farm and brought this back with him. It is made from scrap metal, hand cut and shaped, welded together. It fits into a extendable paint roller handle. He shipped it back from Bangladesh, I suppose, because his expensive diesel powered rotovator was mangled by a piece of scrap metal buried on his plot. It is sturdy. It cuts through soil and weeds like a knife through butter and ploughs an allotment row in minutes. It laughs in the face of the scrap metal buried on his plot - and if it does get mangled, it can be repaired by hand with pieces of scrap metal. I am in awe of the handiwork and ashamed that I would not have a clue where to even begin with a project like this, short of 'Step 1: find scrap metal'.

My own grandad was a ham radio enthusiast. He built his own aerial in the back garden. He was an early adopter of computer technology and tinkered with all things electrical and mechanical. If I had grown up around him I may have been more handy than I am, but regardless of our crafts, I think that his example is why the DIY ethic courses through my veins. But my skills are all distinctly 'soft' and I felt both in awe and completely inadequate when confronted with this plough. Awe and inadequacy combined are an inspirational combination and I am now on the look out for my own 'hard' skill to develop over the next few years, though what it will be I do not know.

What 'hard' skills do you possess and are you trying to pass them on to others or revive them? Is there something you want to learn and what is stopping you? And what should I do? Ideas much appreciated...




16 comments:

claudia said...

Just out of high school, I took a community offered "auto repair" class with a friend. That pushed me headlong into learning many other mechanical, electrical. plumbing things not often thought of as women's work. i raised three daughters. Two of which I was able to instill the necessity for mechanial abilities. I am now teaching one of their boyfriends how to do repairs, installs and builds of things around the home. This was basically born of need. We have no extra money to hire people.

Oya's Daughter said...

I can weld, work on older cars, drive old equipment, and have a fair bit of herb-knowledge. I have been teaching my autistic son about herbs and growing food.

Actually I've been homeless before, for several years, and I learned a lot about trapping, scrounging and scavenging, and how to build a fire with basic materials. I've learned a lot and while I can't do much of it anymore due to disability, it never ceases to amaze me the "intentional community" types would rather hire someone who took a course with the same skills I know for hundreds of pounds rather than just take the knowledge I have in exchange for a place to live. Go figure.

Oldman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Oldman said...

My father believed in education but having a "trade" to fall back upon if times got tough as he lived thru the depression. Therefore, I was slave labor for my father beginning at an early age. Now some 50 plus years later, there is nothing I can't do or fix. Being an administrator for Cadillac Health Care Plans, my company went belly up when Obama Care went into affect. Now I spend my days as a handyman in Florida fixing things other people can't or won't fix. It never ceases to amaze me how little people can do with their hands, minds or other labor skills. I guess that's good use of my masters degree?

edifice rex said...

I have been a welder/ carpenter in commercial construction for almost 20 years and I'm so disappointed I don't see more women learning these trades. I tell all women to learn to weld. It's not that expensive and you don't need a huge shop for it. When I retire from the biz, soon, I will probably start teaching small classes for women. It not only gives you a valuable skill for our type lifestyles but gives you an enormous amount of self-confidence, which is worth more than a lot of people think. Learn to use tools too. Circular saws, drills, etc.
After working in the profession for so long I think many people have shunned the trades because of social stigmas, that's why we don't see many people going into the trades. Whereas tradespeople used to be considered valuable, they are often now looked down upon as 'trash' by many. I've seen this attitude many times and been the focus of it, so I know. A woman especially that works with her hands is considered worse than unladylike. I think this idea is changing somewhat but it's still pretty strong.

kirsten said...

I wouldn't do much without the supervision and guidance of someone more experienced, but I know the basics of roofing and hanging siding from church youth group "mission trips" in high school. Granted that was 15 years ago, but I think with a diagram I could still do small things like change a lightswitch or electrical socket, and I'm comfortable with power tools. As I get closer to finishing my MA in Liberal Arts (hah!) however, I wish I'd learned an applicable skill instead, like nursing. Hindsight's 20/20.

Alison said...

While I do not know how to weld, I have been doing small scale non-ferrous metalwork for years, I can solder with a torch. Can do simple plumbing, very simple household electric, sharpen knives, and various round the homeplace woodwork. Necessity drives learning.

I have friends that are afraid of power tools, I respect tools but do not fear them. My biggest difficulty is that I have tiny hands (the size of a child), and many tools are made for "man-sized" hands and are not safe to use if you cannot reach both the controls and the shut-off switch.

Anonymous said...

This is a good post. I've done some minor plumbing, very minor auto mechanical work, household hardware replacement, spackling and painting, and helped with stonework and some construction. Most of these were attempted out of budget constraints - some were a pain in the a$$, some were a huge pleasure.

I once took a short woodcarving class. It was fun, and the woods were so beautiful, but I think I might like to do some lathe work.

Maybe you should pursue a skill that might seem like an extension of something you already love. Good luck and keep us posted.

brenda from ar

knutty knitter said...

I can do most things and certainly have the basics for them but prefer the 'soft' crafts if push comes to shove.

One explanation for the lack of women in 'hard' crafts simply says that these things are not compatible with looking after children and therefore tend not to feature. I suppose that 40,000 odd years of natural selection is rather a lot to go against. Not that I'm saying you shouldn't, just that this might be why it is such a challenge to get women doing this stuff.

viv in nz

Oya's Daughter said...

In my experience, the challenge in trying to learn this sort of thing is not "natural selection" but the attitudes of men when you do it. I've worked in predominantly "male" trades most of my life, and believe me the guys are NOT pleased when you're just as good, if not better, than they are. My welding instructor told me that women actually make better welders, but due to harassment they just don't keep doing the trade. It's one of the reasons I stopped.

I don't therefore think anything as nebulous as "natural selection" has anything to do with it...but bias and prejudice certainly can have a part to play! That's something one has to try and overcome oneself however, and that's difficult.

Kristy said...

I can probably do a little more than the 'average' woman (did woodwork and electronics, can jump start a car, oil and water, change a tyre if I have to, light a campfire, basic repairs round the house, use power (and 'grunt') tools etc), but I want to do more.

My Dad, tbqh is a legend. No real pieces of paper to reflect his vast array of skills, but there is ~nothing~ he can't do. And there's almost nothing he hasn't HAD to do over the years...

there's nothing I ~can't~ do either, given the time and knowledge, but I haven't had to do them which is probably why I haven't as much. More than some, for sure, but still not enough for me. I was raised with the 'do it yourself' approach...

My Nanna still chops her own wood, and can pretty much do most things - again because she had to - when the men were away and you were in the middle of no where, you were all you (and the kids) had. So you just did. She is still in the middle of 'nowhere', and just 'does'. :)

edifice rex said...

Okay, I have to say that I don't think men's harassment has much to do with women not being in the trades, at least not where I'm from. I think it's more women's attitudes and belief that they can't do stuff like that. In my career I've rarely had a male colleague or boss challenge me. In fact, I most certainly would have retired earlier for my own comfort had it not been for the men asking me to come back. My company was always so good to me and encouraging; they even had me teach in the apprenticeship classes. I have had many women say some rather horrid things to me on account of my occupation but by and large the men have been incredibly helpful, encouraging and just great guys, even knowing I make more money than they do. Maybe I'm an exception but I probably would have never stuck with it had it NOT been for them! lol!

Angela said...

I was the only girl in my woodshop class in high school -- built a desk, the most ambitious student project that year. I would have taken metal shop, too, but it conflicted with one of my college-track classes and my parents said no. I've blacksmithed and tinsmithed and made brooms.

Over the years, I've found that I CAN do almost anything I take the time to TRY to do. I housesat for my cousin once and her parting words were, "Oh, there's something wrong with the faucet in the kitchen -- can you try to fix it while we're gone?" I had no clue. But she had home repair books, I had time, and the hardware store was a block away. I fixed it and felt great. My husband and I once replaced his truck's windshield with a used windshield from a salvage yard and Google's help.

There are definitely more hard skills that I'd like to have, but I definitely agree with the folks who have said that if you need a skill and can't afford to pay someone else to do it, you'll figure it out.

quinn said...

I don't think in terms of "man skills" or "woman skills." Around here, if it's going to get done, it gets done by me (a woman) or by someone I can pay - and I couldn't care less if that person is a woman or a man; just care that the job gets done properly.
I've done carpentry (rough and finish), wired half my house, put up fencing, torn down outbuildings, replaced a radiator in my van, cleaned a chimney, built a porch from the ground to the roof. I also knit socks and bake bread, but I know men who do both those things very well. Work is work, skill is skill. In recent years I've hired people for projects I once would have done myself, but it's because of joint issues that make it hard (or impossible) to do some things. But it's not a gender issue. Just age, drat it.

Amy said...

In our household, I am the handyman (ah, woman). I want to buy a cordless drill, a nice light one so I don't need hubby to take the battery off every time it needs recharging (I have small hands!). My list also includes a handsaw. And a workbench. And various other things. I like using my hands, and he doesn't so that's fine. He will do washing instead, so as long as we are both involved in the house I don't mind. I must admit to a secret thrill of delight as I whizz the drill. I built a chook cage this year. That was a mission much harder than anticipated, but I worked out that I simply lack the experience - something my dad has spades of. So he's been roped in to help put up the microwave bracket, but I've done the new magnets and safety catches on kitchen cupboards, and fixed a couple of shelves in the pantry (with tools borrowed from Dad, of course!).
I find it is all too easy to rely on my dad to do it for me or an inbuilt expectation that it is my husband's job, but I don't want to take that for granted and find that I'm unable to do the things that need doing when they can't do it for me!
Amy

cumbrian said...

In my school days (many years ago) it was the boys who took woodwork and metalwork lessons and the girls took domestic science and needlework classes.

So it was expected that men would have a basic knowledge of wood and metal craft skills, and girls couls sew and cook.

Having worked in the construction industry most of my life, over 40 years, I have to say that a lot of the old skills seem to have been lost, replaced by factory-produced items.