When I turned 21 years old, my dad gave me the greatest gift of all. A cordless power drill.
This cordless little wonder revolutionised my life. It liberated me from the stereotypes of women’s roles and the gender divisions surrounding labour. I no longer needed a man to fix a leaking tap, stabilise the dining table or change a light bulb (no matter how vertically challenged I was). Overnight I had the skillz and the will to independently fix problems as they arose.
Holding that drill in my hand that first time, feeling its reassuring weight, imbued a sense of confidence in my ability to rely on myself. I was grasping my independence. The only other time I had felt that way was when my dad taught me to drive. I realise now that on both occasions he was giving me the keys to my own power. I’m not sure if he knew he was doing this or even understood how important both those moments were in my life. How they would change me forever. But to this day, every time I get behind the wheel of a car or power up that drill (I still have the same one) I feel an immense sense of gratitude and calm.
What surprised me though, was that not everyone was ok with the independence the cordless power drill brought out in me. I had ‘friends’ who actually cautioned me against being too domestically capable. Friends who were ‘concerned’ that I was usurping the role of my future husband. Relegating him obsolete. I mean, if there was no squeaky gate to fix or bolt to tighten, how would he know he was needed…
There were people who truly believed that my ability to use a cordless drill and tighten a screw was somehow diminishing my value in the marriage stakes. That coming into my own cordless power was actually making me undesirable.
To make matters worse, this view was being reinforced by mass media. I was being bombarded by books that encouraged me to follow the rules, remember I was from Venus and needed someone from Mars. Books that were cautioning me not to castrate men with my wanton ability to fill the tank with petrol and check the tyre pressure (something my dad also taught me). As though this was all that the relationship between men and women was about.
Naturally, these attitudes fired me up. How dare people seek to restrict and limit the person I was becoming. To hold me back. And being as stubborn as I have always been… every comment, every pop fiction book, every magazine article that told me I was fundamentally flawed because I wanted to feel strong and independent, only fuelled that very need.
Did it push me too far in one direction? Maybe you could argue it did – after all here I am, 43 and single. My vagina is so unattended I worry that one day “it will dry up, become brittle, turn to dust and just blow away” (to quote Grey’s Anatomy).
But… I don’t really believe that. I love knowing that I can solve any problem I turn my mind to. Knowing the difference between needing the assistance of a subject matter expert and being able to rely on my own skills. That cordless power drill taught me self-love and respect. And I believe that makes me a better human being – and who wouldn’t prefer to be with that person.
What surprises me today is that those myths of women and power continue to be perpetuated. Women who are strong and independent are labelled with a range of derogatory terms. I have been called ‘bossy’ at best, ‘bitch’ at worst and everything in between. As though somehow that will change who I am.
Unfortunately for some of my female friends it does.
So what I say to them here is ‘fight the man’ – and the women who tell you are not enough. Don’t give in to this insipid, out-dated view of who we as women (and who you as men) are. Ask yourself – who do you want to be? And then be that person.
Rather than thinking like a Princess, isolated in your ivory tower, waiting to be rescued, as Oprah said, “Think like a queen. A Queen is not afraid to fail.” My father was a King of Men – he knew I was a queen in the making.