Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Woman's Guide to Home Repair

McKay's, a huge used bookstore near my house that I visit biweekly, if not more often, has a large bin out front for free books. There's not always something interesting in there, since it's the books that McKay's doesn't offer to buy from people. They'll give your books back to you, of course, but if you say you don't want them then they end up in the free book bin. Sometimes I find interesting things in there, and on at least one occasion they ended up buying back a book that I'd taken out of the free book bin after I finished reading it. The demand for it must have changed while it was sitting on my end table waiting for me to read it, I guess.

I'm reasonably certain that they're never going to take back the book that I found there a while ago, though:

A Woman's Guide to Home Repair

Urban Dictionary might want to borrow that photo from me, so that they can put it next to the definition of mansplaining on their website because, Jesus, this book is really, really mansplainy.

When I saw it, though, I wondered, "Why would they need a special book just for women about home repair?" so I picked it up and read the back, which I will now quote in its entirety:

Here is the fixit book women have been waiting for -- a sympathetic but noncondescending approach to home repairs addressed to women as intelligent people who simply lack instruction.

Anyone who can back a cake can fix a broken oven -- and save on expensive repair bills. In combining practical instructions with delightful wit, this is the first home-repair guide for women -- both single and married -- that really works!

How about that, ladies? If you can bake a cake (and I know you can, because you're a lady), you can fix your oven. This book, published in 1973, will treat you like a rational, thinking adult (who bakes cakes), unlike books from around the same time period that treat you like raving emotional nutbags. Now, I'm not a woman (even though I can bake a cake), but I'm also not especially handy around my apartment. I don't have to be, because apartment living means calling the office and having problems magically go away while you are at work. At the time that I found this book, though, I had a dripping faucet in the shower that would not shut itself off, and thought, "Maybe this can help me, too."

SPOILER: It didn't, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

A Woman's Guide to Home Repair opens with a charming little introduction where an unknown, uncredited woman tells a brief story of how she was disappointed to discovery on her honeymoon, barely minutes into her marriage, that her husband isn't very handy. How will they survive? How will they live? Will they be at the mercy of the local handyman and his arbitrary charges for fixing ovens and hanging pictures in the living room for the rest of their lives? On the very first page, Mystery Woman (this book has no credited author, not even on the copyright page), asks the question that apparently haunts every woman:

"Did you marry for love, or did you marry just to get your toilet fixed?"

The idea that her husband might not be able to fix the damn toilet after she's gone to all the trouble to marry him makes Mystery Woman question not only her life choices, but also her husband's very masculinity:

"To have one who was not handy was like admitting he didn't watch football games, use an anti-perspirant, or read Playboy at the barbershop."

Wait...people read pornography at the barbershop?

1973 was a wild time, I guess.

Getting back to Mystery Woman, though, it's sort of cute how she doesn't want to be stereotyped as a helpless woman creature while ladling on the stereotypes that manly, handy men watch football and read porn, if by "cute" you mean "terrible". As the story of her growth into a handywoman progresses, we come to understand that her poor choice in husbands really did ruin her life, leading to a failed writing career:

"Some things, of course, I could not fix. I have been writing columns and novels without the use of the letter s which sticks on my typewriter. No wonder I never made it big. Who wants to read a book without _ex?"

Poor Mystery Woman, typing away into obscurity. That doesn't have to be me, though, or the woman that she hopes one day reads this:

"The fact is that women don't have to be unhandy."

They don't. Neither do middle-aged gay men, right? If only the author could say something to reassure me, something like...

"I contend that anyone who can enter an unfamiliar grocery store and walk unerringly to the canned peaches (and few women can't) can master a hardware store."

Wait, you have to be able to find things at the grocery store? I'm doomed. Grimly, sensing disaster (possibly because this book is for women and I'm not a woman even though once my straight boyfriend D--- accused me of having "a woman brain"), I plowed ahead, hoping that somehow I would find a way to fix the leaky bathroom faucet without calling the maintenance guy, since calling maintenance means that I have to clean, dust, and vacuum and I just wasn't feeling it.

After assuring the aspiring handywoman that yes, this book will help her, Mystery Woman starts a whole illustrated chapter explaining what tools are and what the handywoman would use them for. Mystery Woman, who I suspect is actually a man writing as a woman, even explains why a woman needs tools in the first place:

"Wondrous and diverse as are the contents of your purse, a tool kit it is not. The jobs at hand call for more than a key or a dime or even a nail file."

Ladies, you really need to start carrying more useful things in your purse.

The chapter on tools isn't the only one with helpful illustrations. This page from the chapter on electrical problems, for example, shows the kind of educated, technical terms that this book makes use of:


"Fancy doodad", ladies. Fancy doodad.

Turning to the chapter on plumbing issues, which opened with a reminder not to put "paper, string, silverware, and diamond rings" in my garbage disposal, I found a section on how to fix a dripping faucet. I read the entire chapter carefully, noting that I would need a wrench. According to the chapter on tools, I had one:


Then I needed to find the shutoff valve for my tub. According to the book, it would be somewhere near where the tub pipes come out of the wall if I had an older-style tub. I do not, since I live in a mid-century era apartment, so I consulted the book again, and it suggested that the cutoff might be in the cabinet in an adjacent wall. Nope, the cabinet under my sink was empty, too. Maybe I could just take the faucet apart without shutting off the water?

According to the book, that's a bad idea.

I thought about doing it anyway, but the book used the word "flood", so I decided that no, let's not do that.

Let's just call the apartment office, and let them send a man over to fix it.

I failed. Even worse, I'm not sure if I failed to be handy, or if I failed to be a woman.

Maybe someone can mansplain it to me.


nan said...


Marcheline said...

I'm with nan, so long as you pronounce that first syllable like "high".

Jade Graham said...

If work has already been performed, fire damage restoration erie