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February 24, 2005: Not your usual Ladies' Night

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When I was younger, I was a Girl Scout. In fact, I was a Girl Scout from the first year of Brownies all the way through the last year of Seniors, and even earned the Gold Award to finish it all off. I was fortunate to have access to troops over the years that focused on keeping us girls active and learning. During the years I was a Junior, a Senior and a Cadette, my troop did long backpacking trips, went camping in Wyoming (memorable for both the funnel clouds in the sky and the fact that I spent four hours lost in a canyon because we thought it looked like a good shortcut), competed in camping skills (who else can say that they’ve won awards in both semaphore and Morse Code several years in a row?), made solar box ovens, sang, danced, wore neon green uniforms, and generally had a blast.

Part of the reason we did so much cool stuff was that my mom was the troop leader, and she didn’t believe in sitting around and just doing ladylike crafts all day. One of the things she emphasized to my sisters and I was that there was nothing we couldn’t do just because we were girls, and to that end, she made sure all the girls in her troops knew how to use tools, and how to do basic maintenance around the house. There were a few parents who were ever so slightly horrified when they found out that she had shown all of us how to find the main water and gas connections for a house; how to turn off the water for an individual sink; how to take things apart and put them back together, but we all pretty much ignored their dithering. There were also a few of the girls who had obviously been given the ‘girls don’t do that’ speech a time or two, and seemed to be aghast that my mom expected all of us to occasionally get our hands dirty.

One little girl in particular had a small fit during one meeting, when we were doing something with tools, and told my mom that she couldn’t use a screwdriver because she was a girl.

My mom, never one to mince words, retorted “Why not? It’s not like the boy holds it with his penis.”

She heard from more than one set of parents about that one, since there are an amazing number of people out there who feel that their little girls are far too delicate to hear the ‘p’ word, but the point was made. If a boy can do it, a girl could too, and none of the girls in her troop were ever allowed to use their gender as an excuse. It’s something that has stuck with my sisters and me into our adulthood. There are a lot of things I don’t know how to do – and an awful lot of those do tend to be traditionally ‘male’ tasks, like building and carpentry and electrical work. But I know that my only stumbling block is that I just don’t know what I’m doing, and not that I *can’t* do it just because I’m a girl. After all, I’ve rewired lamps. I’ve replaced faucets and showerheads. I’ve taken apart plumbing (although in retrospect it didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped). I’ve sanded and finished and painted and built things. The only thing that stops me from doing more is simple lack of know-how.

So when my knitting friend told me about Ladies Night Out at a hardware store in Vacaville (Meeks), I was intrigued. I liked the concept – training classes specifically geared toward women – so last night I headed off to see what they had to offer.

They had three sessions – one on drywall (taught, I should point out, by a very enthusiastic woman), one on toilets, and one on moldings – and you could attend two of the three. Since I think I know everything I really want to know about drywall (after spending an entire day hanging it for the Habitat for Humanity project last summer), I decided to check out the toilet session first, then attend the molding session next.

The whole thing was amazing. Hardware stores (much like many mechanics) are still, too often, places where sexism lurks and is sometimes encouraged. A woman walking alone into a hardware store is more likely to be given the proverbial pat on the head, and there are a lot of hardware stores where there is still the assumption that if you’re female, you obviously don’t know what you’re doing, and everything has to be dumbed down. Not, mind you, that I’ve run into that at our favorite local hardware stores (what, doesn’t everyone have a favorite hardware store?), but I’ve seen it – and experienced it – in others. And I think, in a way, this Ladies Night Out was geared toward trying to change that.

There was a large crowd of women – and yes, even a few men (mostly husbands, I suspect, of some of the attendees). They provided us with dinner, and there were a few employees wandering around throughout the evening passing out door prizes – things like work gloves, knee pads, portable CD players, little tool kits. The grand prize of the evening was a huge combination tool that looked like it sanded and drilled and screwed and did a lot of other really useful things. And the sessions were led with the assumption that we were all smart people who knew what we were doing, but just needed a little help. The guy who led the toilet session walked us through how to take an entire toilet apart and put it back together – including replacing the valves, seals, and so on. The guy who led the molding class got into animated discussions with a few attendees on which nail gun was best for which project, and which compound miter saw would be most useful, and seemed to just assume that we all would be at home around both. It was informative and energized and most of all, so very refreshing, because they treated us all like we were just ordinary people, and not like we were ‘girls’.

Among all the adults there was one little girl in attendance (likely a daughter of one of the other attendees). She sat in the front row during the session on toilets and clutched a rather raggedy looking stuffed animal while she watched him take things apart and discuss the pros and cons of the various types of valves and seals and parts. She had glasses and a pony tail and she was probably about 8 or 9 – maybe around the same age as the little girl who told my mom she couldn’t use a screwdriver because she was a girl, all those years ago.

I was glad to see her there.

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