Tag Archives: women

The Myth of the Helpless Female

Barbie WorldOne of my neighbours, a 60-something country guy named Paul, came over recently to say hi and offer me some firewood. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I’d been fixing my lawnmower.

“You need any help?” he asked.

“Nah. I just had to replace the starter cord. I’m putting it back together now.”

“Huh,” he said, looking impressed. “You’re not one of the usual useless females, are you?”

I muttered something along the lines of: “I can usually figure out how to do things… I don’t like useless people…” But I was flabbergasted as to how I was supposed to respond to his comment.

I’m pretty sure — no, I’m positive — that he meant it as a compliment. But it doesn’t feel right to say thank you for being essentially told that I’m not like most women, because I’m not “useless”.

This is not the first conversation I’ve had with someone about repairing the lawnmower (which, incidentally, is not actually mine — it’s one I borrowed from a friend). My other neighbour, an almost-deaf man in his late 60s with a heart of gold and the gender-bias of someone from the 1950s, laughed when he saw me working on the mower. The conversation went something like this:

Him: What are you doing?

Me: Fixing the mower.

Him: *laughs* You?

Me: Yes…

Him: *smiling patronisingly* What’s wrong with it?

Me: The starter cord broke. I was just replacing it.

Him: Well, what you’ve got to do is–

Me: It’s alright. I’ve done it.

Him: You?

Me: Yes.

Him: …. Maybe you should have a look at my car. *laughs and walks off*

Which leads me to believe, of course, that fixing a lawnmower is somehow related to having a penis.

Either that, or there is a large subset of the community that believes that to be the case.

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to go on a lovely bushwalk through a mountain-top rainforest with a close friend and her three children. Halfway through the walk, her six-year-old daughter started limping and pretending her foot was sore. “She’s copying her book,” my friend explained.

So, it turns out that there’s this book — it may or may not be part of the Barbie franchise of sparkly pink merchandise — and the story invokves a group of girls going for a bushwalk. One of them goes off on her own and wanders into a cave. But don’t worry — she doesn’t get lost. She sprains her ankle and has to be rescued.

Yes, she sprains her ankle.

Honestly, I thought we were past the days of helpless female victims spraining their ankles and having to be rescued. But apparently not. Apparently, this is still what we’re teaching our girl-children.

Girls have weak ankles. Girls need to be rescued. Girls can’t look after themselves.

I had a conversation with a friend of a friend last week, actually. An incredibly talented, creative, intelligent woman who pretended not to understand cell phone plans, because it’s easier to appear stupid and helpless than to argue with her husband — and that way, she gets what she wants, and he feels happy and superior, and everyone wins.

Well, everyone wins assuming she’s happy for her husband to believe she’s helpless.

It strikes me that it’s a self-perpetuating cycle of women pretending to be helpless, which makes men treat women like they’re helpless, and so women pretend to be helpless… So much so that it’s seen as somehow aberrant for a woman to fix her own lawnmower. Or understand a cell phone plan. Or go exploring on her own and discover a rare type of fungi before being found, sprain-free, by her friends.

In fact, some of the “best” relationship advice I was ever given was about how to keep the man in my life happy. “Sometimes,” I was told, “you just have to let them open the olive jar.”

The idea being that in order for a man to feel happy in a relationship, the woman needs to ask him to help her do “manly” jobs, even though she’s perfectly capable of doing them for herself. You know, things like fixing broken things, and mowing the lawn, and lifting anything heavier than a saucepan…

I tried it. It worked. But eventually, I found myself asking:

What kind of relationship is this?

Is this the kind of relationship I want?

What am I teaching my children?

I have no interest in perpetuating the Myth of the Helpless Female.

And so when Paul, my always-helpful neighbour, told me I wasn’t like the “usual useless female”, I didn’t quite know how to respond. Should I be flattered? Angry? Grateful? Before I’d really worked out my emotions, he said, “My wife, God rest her, I loved her. But she was useless. She couldn’t do anything.”

And I felt sad. Because chances are, he never got to see the real her. He never got to see how useful and capable and intelligent she was, because she was too busy spraining her ankles and handing him jars of olives.

Just like she was taught.

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Monday’s Top 10

I know, I know, I promised to catch up on last week’s Top 5. But by the time I’d read all the previous week’s posts it was Thursday, and I had another 90 new blog posts sitting there to be read, and it was just all too hard. So I decided to just move on and give you a double dose of linky goodness this week with the Top 10 posts I’ve read over the last two weeks. I hope you enjoy.

Billie Jo Woods explores her writing process in Ogres Have Layers and Novel Writing Does Too. What do you think — do you “pants” it all the way through, or do you write in carefully planned layers?

Alexandra Sokoloff (a fantastic author who draws on her experience in screenwriting for her novels) posted about Key Story Elements and Lessons from Musical Theatre. I’m a very auditory learner, and being able to put all the parts of a story into the context of exciting musical performances really works for me. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Aly Hughes has a weekly “vs” column where she looks at two different ways to do something and compares/contrasts the two. Last week she tackled the Hand Writing vs Typing debate with some interesting points. Personally, I’m more comfortable typing than hand writing — but only because my handwriting looks like a frog fell in blue ink, splotched across a page and then died an ignoble death. Also, typing is quicker. What about you?

My very good (real life) friend recently started her own blog (I’d like to think she was inspired by my pure awesome, but I’m pretty sure the two things are unrelated) named A Mediocre Bunch of Boring. She raises an interesting question this week: Who Wrote the Rule Book on when women have to move from miniskirts, high heels and flirting with bar-staff to sitting at home in a house dress plucking hairs from their chins? It’s a great series of questions (I’ve provided my own answers on her site), and I highly encourage you to check them out and support a new blogger.

April of That Nolen Chick is a prolific blogger, writer, and mother of four kids. She’s always got something interesting to share, and this week was no exception. Check out her Eleven Things Not to Do — especially because it includes a quote about Sicilians and death….

Thinking about Valentine’s Day yet? (It’s tomorrow. Just in case you didn’t know.) Lily from Bedtimes are for Suckers shares with us her ideas for Valentine’s Day Hearts for Parents… Without the Bullshit.

Remember when children belonged outside and you didn’t need TV or the government to tell you that? Remember when we spent hours away from home and our parents only had the vaguest idea of where we were? Remember when you could go visit your friends and you didn’t have to bring your mom with you? Mommy Rotten brings a little nostalgia to the blogosphere this week when she asks Remember When…? I loved this post — and it definitely got me thinking about the lack of freedom our own children have these days.

Remember when going for ice cream was just going for ice cream? A single or a double in a sugar cone? Tracy of Sellabit Mum remembers those days before we had the choice of 352 TV channels and 58 types of mints at the CVS check-out lane. Sure, it’s nice to be able to choose between the 5,789 pairs of black pumps available online, but what effect does that have on our children? In Tracy’s words: I Blame our Ungrateful Society on Baskin Robbins.

Kvetch Mom is also asking questions. In her case, the question is: How many two year olds get attached to a marble? Look, as someone who has had to listen to a similar cry of “AQUEEN! AQUEEN! WHERE YOU, LIGHTAQUEEN!?”, I completely empathise with her situation. And really, don’t we all have those stories of odd things our kids get attached to? (In Big Brother’s case, it’s been everything from a paper airplane to a snow globe.) Check out The Marble and Other Unsafe Lovies.

Don’t you just hate it when your children use your own rules against you? Yeah, me too. But sometimes it’s just so darn cute. Tricia from Critters and Crayons details just such a moment when her four-year-old daughter said, “Mum, You Need to Invite Dad to the Peace Table.”

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Monday’s Top 5

Stephen Watkins has a great post this week where he addresses the various types of ambitions a writer may possess. In many cases, when asked why they write, writers tend to wax poetic about the way they “have to write or they’ll die” and other such over-dramatic statements. While I understand the sentiment, the reality is that we probably have more concrete ambitions with our writing than mere survival. Stephen looks at three types of Writer’s Ambitions, what they mean, and which are most important to him.

Regardless of where our ambitions lie, however, there our times when we have to choose between spending our time writing and spending our time with our families. Tess Hardwick captures that conflict, and the fact that it really isn’t, beautifully in her post It Is Only Now…

Stephanie of Momma Be Thy Name freely admits that she has often been accused of being “overly altruistic, naive, and trusting”. She blames this over-optimistic attitude on Growing Up Sesame and struggles with the questions all parents face:

So what do I teach my children? To be skeptical? To be paranoid? To be distant? To skip down Lollipop Lane oblivious to society’s shortcomings? To steal off to a cabin in the woods and never return?

We’d all like to protect children from the negativity of the world, but how do we do that when we live in a world where language that was once taboo is common place. Heather from Prawn and Quartered touches on this issue in her post Strong Women Are Not (Necessarily) B*tches.

My main objection to the increasingly coarse standards of culture is the desensitization process. If kids see this kind of thing plastered across magazines and TV shows their parents watch, they will think it is acceptable too.

And finally this week, I bring you a great story of fear and redemption. If you have ever visited Bridget at Twinisms, you’d know that she has an aversion to crafts that borders on the phobic. Her take on craft is best summed up by her comment when discussing New Year’s Resolutions: “Take up crafting — Yuck. Don’t be gross.” But despite her distaste, this week finds her not only participating in, but apparently even enjoying, a craft project. How did that happen? Well, let’s just say she was Craftnapped!

I’m not here. My morning and my blog have been hijacked by my so-called-friends. At our Thursday morning coffee they made me do…a craft. It was the worst morning of my life. I can’t talk about it. My “friend” Brooke now has a hot glue gun to my head and her crafty fingers on my MacBook typing out a play-by-play of the awful events.

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