Even as a passionate feminist, I must admit — when it comes to physical labor, I do greatly enjoy playing the helpless damsel in distress.
“Oh, honey, can you open this jar for me? I tried halfheartedly for three seconds and already permanently injured my hand.”
“Oh, baby, can you go get that thing on the top shelf in the closet so I don’t have to get off my rear end, find a stepstool, and get it myself? It’s so heavy.”
“Yes, I’ll definitely let you change the car battery in negative winter temps.”
“Babe, the sink is clogged again.”
“And so is the shower.”
“And I can’t figure out how to turn on this appliance. Again.”
It’s been burned into my brain that men are more naturally gifted at figuring out user manuals and things with random screws. Some of that I get from my upbringing. Boys took out the trash, girls did dishes. Boys held open doors and carried boxes, girls walked through doors and sat around while men worked.
I’m also not at all dexterous with my hands (ask my sister who taught me to crochet three times), blessed with spatial awareness (ask my husband who watched me crash into a wall while trying to plug in my phone), or gifted with any muscles in my upper body (ask anybody). Plus, I’m short. And cute. And sometimes I paint my nails and can’t have them ruined by manual labor.
Once, my dad took the time to teach me how to change a tire. I tried very hard to pay attention and ask intelligent questions — or rather, I tried very hard to ask intelligent questions so that I looked like I was paying attention. I wouldn’t remember this anyway, right? There was a manual for this somewhere in the glovebox, right? And wouldn’t I just be calling my dad and having him come out and change the tire for me, anyway?
It didn’t occur to me that I could learn and master a mechanical challenge.
I don’t think it occurred to my dad, either, because at the end of his presentation, as he crawled out from under my Ford Escape, he said, “And if you forget any of this, Erich will know what to do.”
Which, actually, he would not, come to find out. My husband is surprisingly unlearned in all the skills my dad possesses. He doesn’t memorize the timetable of when all the cars need oil changes. He doesn’t know where I misplaced important documentation. He can’t answer any of my questions about insurance. He doesn’t immediately start taking things apart when I complain about them not working.
In fact, there’s not even much effort on his part to fight my material battles. More often than not, he’ll start tinkering with whatever problem I face, hit a roadblock, shrug, and say, “I don’t know.”
I don’t know? A live, flesh-and-blood man, saying I don’t know as if he doesn’t possess innate knowledge of the home maintenance world?
Clearly, this is not a real man.
(I spend a lot of time on the phone with my dad trying to solve problems my husband can’t fix.)
Even more shocking, I discovered this pseudo-man I married, this impostor of a knight in shining tool bet, isn’t skilled in anything particular other than knowing how to Google WikiHow articles.
And he has patience. Immense patience. Patience far longer than the three seconds it takes me to give up unscrewing a pickle jar.
I guess he didn’t grow up with the assumption that someone of the opposite sex would always be around to fix his problems, so he had to figure them out himself.
I began to feel bad about this whole situation. If solving all the problems I didn’t care to fix was an issue of Googling and patience rather than natural male prowess, did I really have an excuse not to fight my own home maintenance battles — myself?
We recently moved into a new apartment. Being unemployed, I got stuck at home with a menagerie of strange objects — unfamiliar blinds, a dishwasher without a start button. And I got stuck with a menagerie of strange tasks — figuring out how to forward our mail, changing our address on everything, setting up the internet.
It started with the internet. No, it actually started with the blinds.
The night before, Erich showed me the particular way I needed to close and open the blinds without breaking them. Like a typical damsel in distress, I nodded absentmindedly, knowing my dashing knight would be just around the corner to help me. (In other words, I wasn’t at all paying attention.)
But then my dashing knight went to work that morning, and I wanted the blinds open. I ended up jamming the whole system and breaking off two panels. Fearful of breaking something else, and being short, I left the panels on the floor for my knight to wrangle upon his return home.
Then I set about starting up the internet. “Just plug in the modem,” the nice lady at Spectrum told me. So I plugged in the modem. And waited. And unplugged it. And replugged it. And restarted my computer and my phone. And tried to connect the ethernet cable somehow. And sent a bunch of flustered and desperate texts to my husband, which convinced him to skip lunch break soccer to come fight this dragon for me.
“I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong,” I whined, trailing him into the office. “I plugged in the modem.”
“That’s not the modem, Bailey. That’s the router.”
Well, how was I supposed to know? I’m not a man!
Then I tried to start the dishwasher, but like I said, there was no start button. I rotated the knob several times. I pushed it in. I pulled it right off the dishwasher. Nothing.
He walked over. Rotated the knob. Pushed it in. Pulled it right off the dishwasher. (See, I was catching on to the male intuition.) Then he flipped the outlet switch and the dishwasher roared to life.
“Weren’t you wondering what that switch did?” he asked incredulously.
“Not particularly,” I grumbled. Again, obvious point: I was a helpless female.
I was beginning to feel frustrated with my own incompetence. It wasn’t convenient or empowering to wait for my husband to put out these little fires that made my life so difficult. It wasn’t productive to put off all the work until 4:30 PM when he could unstick all the projects that got stuck during the day.
So when the plastic white band on the frozen orange juice can snapped and I couldn’t dig it out or pry the lid off, I stabbed it open with a kitchen knife.
And when the dishwasher sprayed bits of food onto the dishes that got cleaned and didn’t clean the other dishes, I Googled how to unscrew bits and pieces, clean out the gunk, and run a cycle of vinegar and baking soda.
I emerged from the dishwasher after about an hour, sweaty and gunky and oh-so-proud.
It felt good. I hope I never have to do that again, but it felt good — to try something new, to not give up, to challenge myself, and to come out victorious over my home maintenance battles.
Plus, my husband was overjoyed that he didn’t have to stick his head in a disgusting dishwasher. A fairytale ending for both Prince Charming and his damsel in distress.