Thursday, July 14, 2011

Workin' It, Anti-feminist style.

I have something I'm ashamed of to admit to you. OK, ashamed is far too strong a word, but please, read on...the first part of the story is why I had to tackle this project alone and the second explains the __?___ I made to get help.

We are having new siding put on our house. To prep for new siding a lot of important but back-burner home improvement projects needed to be done. For example, we had to have replacement windows installed plus a bunch of other smaller things. This week, the "siding guys" told me that the "gutter guys" would be here and that if I wanted a diverter for my rain barrel installed by professionals, I needed to have the rain barrel in place. The rain barrel was purchased with good intentions a year ago, but due to project paralysis*, it has been sitting in the back yard uninstalled. What was holding up the rain barrel project was a rain barrel base**. Well, guess what? Today the gutter guys arrived. That meant I needed to get a rain barrel base ready in a hurry.

I did some quick back-of-the-napkin calculations and on the way back from day-care drop-offs went to the local hardware store and bought a bunch of masonry block. The staff loaded it for me in the back of my Golf hatchback (!).  When I got home, I realized that getting this block out of my car and uphill to my back yard was going to be very, very hard. I used to be pretty strong, but the two children I have borne have wrecked my abs, at least temporarily. This stuff was really too heavy for me, but I was going to do it, even if I had to lug each one very slowly around the back.

Enter the "gutter guys". On one of my return trips around the corner I encountered the foreman carrying two of the masonry blocks. Clearly this guy wanted to help the "damsel in distress". OK, let's stop here. I did not ask him to help. This is a small town with a big sense of community, and people help strangers out all the time. I did not mind that this guy wanted to help me carry masonry. How nice. I thanked him for his help after the car was empty, making it clear that I expected no more help from him.

He helped me place the stone in place (something that would have taken me alone a VERY long time). The back-of-the-napkin calculations I made were not the most efficient plans once I saw  them in place. He was very interested in helping me solve the problem of how to build the rain barrel base. Now, I didn't know what task I was diverting him from, but I was willing to listen to his professional advice. Then it became clear that he wanted to help me rearrange the block. We rearranged the blocks and rearranged the blocks until a good solution was achieved. The he carried the extra block we didn't use back to the car to be returned to the hardware store. I can see that having the rain barrel actually in place would help him decide if he needed to install any more parts in my rain barrel diverter. But I also got the feeling that he was going above and beyond the call of neighbor helping neighbor.

At a certain place in the conversation he asked, "So where's your husband?" I found the question a bit creepy but answered in an incompletely truthful manner that made it seem that he was on his way home that moment from out-of-town (the truth, just tomorrow morning). He treated me in conversation as if I were a housewife and that I was doing the project to make a pretty little garden (well, yes, I am), and since I was the little gardening lady without a helpful husband in town, that I needed some help (partly true). I answered truthfully to his questions but never volunteered more. He asked what my husband did, and I replied that he is a scientist but did not mention that I am, too. I also did not mention that I am a professor on summer vacation (i.e. someone who gets to do pretty-little-garden projects whenever she darn well pleases, and isn't "working for a living" right now). 

The help he offered was invaluable. If I would have volunteered more personal information to this stranger I would have felt less safe, but I would have also communicated to him that I was not as "damsel-in-distress-y" as he might have imagined. But then again, it might not have made any difference. I did need the help right then when he was there. He saved me probably hours of work and a few mistakes.Alternatively, we could have made a rough estimate with the material we had, he could have put the gutter in place, and Hub and I could have finished the job this weekend.

So readers, what think ye? Did I accept the kind help of a stranger offered freely and guard my personal information judiciously, or did I selectively not disclose my status in order not to risk help that may have been offered under false pretenses, in effect "batting my eyelashes"? Or, meh, you worry too much , PUIProf!


* project paralysis; the imagination that a project is too big to tackle or too far beyond our skills, and avioding it subconsciously as opposed to informing ourselves, gathering resources, starting, and completing to the best of our abilities

** rain barrel base paralysis; this needs to be about two feet high, hold 500 pounds, and not tip over if climbed on by naughty children. Web info suggests post holes and concrete (eek!) or three layers of ground base, landscaping stone and concrete (gasp!) and probably a strap anchored into the stonework around the house (*faint*).


  1. He'd help if he knew you were a scientist, too. In these kinds of projects, for most men, maleness trumps all.

  2. Part of my idea of feminism is not berating a women over how she acted, especially if she did so with forethought. Never be ashamed.

  3. I know all about project paralysis - it is the reason I'm reading blogs instead of grading!

    I think you worry too much. I don't offer information about my job if it isn't necessary. And you definitely should not tell strangers that you live alone for many reasons. You did not embarrass the feminist movement.

  4. I'm a feminist and I don't mind men holding the door for me. As for a project like that, I wouldn't even attempt them myself, so I see no reason for you to worry.