Sooooo, have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated hobby? I’ve made a list of 3 things I have dealt with as a woman woodworker. Some of these things were a total surprise, some an unpleasant reality, and one I was expecting. I’d love to know your thoughts and your experiences with these issues as well. Dish it in the comments!
You may also be interested in the seeing me get fired up about a comment that was written in reaction to a Slate.com article that mentioned Ana White and Pink Toes and Power Tools. Actually you’ll see me get fired up about woodworkers putting down other woodworkers, male and female.
I’ve got the husband. You may be dealing with a boyfriend, dad, uncle, brother…
When I first started out, my husband never objected or tried to talk me out of trying my hand at woodworking. We went out in the garage and he showed me how to use the miter saw and left me to it. I took it from there, but he had no idea the extent of my big ideas.
I got my feet wet building a closet organizer and some leaning wall shelves for the house and then hit him with my first big idea–a built-in for the mud room to hide our litter box and hanging laundry. This was the first sign of balking from him, and I thought it was because of the project. I was going to attach the thing to our wall after all! And I really didn’t have much experience at that point either. But he agreed to the project, probably because we’d been married long enough at that point that he knew first hand how stubborn I can be, and I moved forward with it. It wasn’t until later that I discovered another reason he wasn’t entirely thrilled with the idea.
What I never considered at the time was how this might affect him, manhood wise. We’ve all been raised with gender specific roles (I do believe the lines have blurred in recent generations, but you’d be hard pressed to convince me that they are gone.). I’ve never been a girly-girl, so I had no issues with being seen as a woodworker who gets sweaty and dirty in the garage and wears wood-glue covered jeans. I discovered after I completed the built-in, that my husband did have to overcome some issues with how other people might see him because I was the one completing a home improvement project.
It made more sense for me to take on some of the projects that might be seen as man’s work. I didn’t have a job at that time and my youngest had started half-day kindergarten. My husband also had no interest in learning how to woodwork and I did. But at first, it was hard for him when people came to our house and noticed the improvements I was building, and telling them who had built them. He admitted to me that it was a bit awkward for him, even though he does major home improvement projects in our home as well.
He did get over that feeling pretty quickly. Now he’s the one pointing out to our visitors my handiwork throughout the house, and I can tell he enjoys their surprise when they say “She built that?”. I think he’s proud of me and the fact that I build now. I can totally see how it could be awkward for a guy, but it was something I hadn’t anticipated. I’m also not saying he should never have felt that way in the first place–you feel what you feel–it’s how he acted on those feelings that matter.
I got an email from a young female reader who wants to take up woodworking, but her boyfriend and her family were not supportive. I emailed her back, but she never responded. I hope that she didn’t let anyone else keep her from trying.
I hope you don’t either.
I guess this would be an issue I deal with as a female woodworker who put herself out there on YouTube, however it is not a stretch for me to imagine women getting comments like this in their own situations. I can immediately call to mind two gentlemen I knew personally, both who had very strong ideas of what a woman’s work and a man’s work should be, and no social filter to stop themselves from voicing their opinions.
This is what I have personally experienced in the comments on my video about how to cut plywood with a circular saw. For context, I’ll give you some background– until very recently I had only one video on YouTube. I filmed it because I had a reader request a video showing how I cut plywood with a circular saw. I was wearing what I always wear on a hot day. I had not planned on filming when I got dressed to go work in the garage. In fact I only have a few pairs of shorts and T-shirts that I wear to build to avoid ruining a lot of clothes. The shirt is not revealing in any way, with a high neckline, and the shorts aren’t LONG, but they aren’t Daisy Dukes either. I wear steel toe boots, which I got from a summer job I had in college, whenever I cut sheets of ply with a circular saw with the intention of saving my toes in case of a mishap. The goggles, well I’m not sure where that came from. I wear clear safety glasses, for obvious reasons. I was a little taken aback when I got this comment on the video:
Jean shorts, goggles, boots,, still unimpressed. If the guide is straight,, no need to mark 4 spots and if you cant chalk the line and follow it,, you shouldnt use the saw. If the cut is gotta be precise for cabinetwork, for example, it should never be done with a circular saw, especially not with THAT saw,,its homeowner grade , at best. [Copied and pasted directly from the comments on the video.]
I wasn’t trying to impress anyone with my clothes. Does he comment on the clothes that a man wears for YouTube videos? He thinks I shouldn’t be using a saw if I can’t follow a chalk line, and that my homeowner grade saw I’m using shouldn’t be used for cabinetwork. I honestly can’t do anything but laugh at this comment! I built my Home Office/ Dining Room built-ins with nary a chalk line and with this saw. I’d say my method worked just fine. I don’t think I would have given it a second thought except for the clothing part. It never occurred to me that someone would think I wore that get-up in order to attract attention! It is still puzzling to me.
Another I’ve gotten:
To all you ladies – stick to cooking!
And still another:
That doesn’t look like a kitchen.
And yet another:
Do you ever work with hard wood? (sexual innuendo)
I dealt with the last one by treating it like he meant it literally. I’m sure if the commenter ever read my response, that he thought I was a total moron when I explained I only build with pine because it isn’t as expensive, lol!
Now to be clear, there are WAY more numbers of encouraging comments I’ve gotten on that video, and even some responses to the neanderthal comments that defend me and what I’ve done in the video, which really, really makes my day! There are a lot of supportive people out there, including men. I am not bashing all men here.
My point is that I’ve gotten some push-back putting myself out there on the web as a woman woodworker. Other women might get push-back in other ways, even if they aren’t blogging and putting videos on YouTube. You’ve got to have thick skin and learn to laugh at it–and most importantly, not let it get to you. I don’t find this hard, but others might.
Start building! Keep building!
Now this one I was expecting. Feeling uncomfortable walking into the home improvement and woodworking stores and trying to find what I needed was a hurdle for me. I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb in the wood section. The first time I went in and started sighting boards to find the straight ones, I swear I was stress sweating right through my shirt. I was SO uncomfortable. I would have rather nobody asked me if I needed help, because sometimes I didn’t even know what the thing was called that I was looking for in the beginning. Everyone I ever encountered in those stores was super helpful though, and eventually I didn’t mind having to go in.
Going in with my work jeans on helps! When you walk in wearing paint splattered jeans with wood glue wiped on top, you kind of look like you know what you are doing. I was going in often enough after awhile that the guy who works in the plywood/building material area recognized me and would ask about the latest project.
I did have one gentleman who made no effort to hide the fact that he was totally unimpressed with the idea of me woodworking. It was at a Woodcraft store I only went into a handful of times since it wasn’t real close to my house. I had given the staff my blog business card at a previous visit, so they could check out the project their product would be used on. When I went again, I mentioned it as I was checking out. There were 2 younger guys at the counter who remembered and asked about my latest project. The older gentleman acted more like “Oh. You.” and seemed irritated with me. And was obvious enough about it that I hesitated to spend my money at their establishment after that. Maybe he’s crabby to everyone, but for some reason my skin just wasn’t thick enough for that encounter. Maybe because it was to my actual face, I’m not sure.
Now I did run into one issue when I was initially learning the ropes in the store. When someone is helping you, you might get asked “What does he need this part for?” assuming you are picking up the part for your man’s project. Be polite. Be a lady. And next time, rock those paint-stained, wood-glue covered jeans right on into the store. I mean, would you ask that question to this girl? (Yes, I do use my pants as a rag.)