Whenever I use the term 'man,' I use it in the original sense of 'person.' I am a 'man' as opposed to a pine cone or a lizard. In this sense, I am a Tool Man just as much as many of the males in my life. Mysteriously, tool use seems to be less about what distinguishes hominids from other mammals than about traditional gender roles. Let's talk about this.
Being a Tool Man is extremely useful. It comes in two parts, fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. Fluid intelligence includes the ability to solve problems and learn from experience. Crystallized intelligence includes training and the lore of how things are done. The difference between the two can be illustrated by the frustration of novice cooks when they hear that someone "doesn't use a recipe."
Someone who has been taught to be a Tool Man knows the names of all the common tools and what they do. He (I'm just going to say 'he' as a shortcut) can pick up a screwdriver and turn it in the correct direction without thinking about it. He knows that certain types of hardware exist, he knows where to buy them, and he has brand preferences. He can do basic repair tasks quickly, because he's probably done them before, or at least stood by and watched. He can tell at a glance when other people don't know what they are doing. He has knowledge and experience. Not everyone who has been taught how to use tools is all that good at troubleshooting or solving problems in novel ways, though. That is a separate cognitive skill entirely.
Interestingly, everyone who is skilled with tool use thinks of it as 'common sense' when it's really more of a guild specialty. It's also a reliable indicator of demographics and social class.
I have a blue collar background, which is why I know how to use tools. For me, tool use is closely bound to the concept of masculinity, even though I don't think of myself as masculine. In my world, people know how to do things. It feels weird to me when someone doesn't have practical skills, such as cooking a meal or pitching a tent. One of the light switches in our house was wired upside down, and this offends my sensibilities in a moral way. When I meet a man who has no ability to use tools and no interest in learning how, it's hard for me to respect him as a completely mature adult. If I can do it, why can't you?
I probably read too much Robert Heinlein when I was a kid. He wrote about the concept of being a representative of the entire human race to space aliens, and it really caught my attention. People should be good at as many things as possible. I learned how to use a sewing machine, change a fuel filter, build furniture, knit socks, tie up a bear bag, care for a baby, do first aid, use a water filter, make pickles, fix a running toilet, and all sorts of other things. The more practical skills I learned, the more obvious it seemed that acquiring practical skills is useful, convenient, and interesting for its own sake. It also felt empowering. Tool use is girl power!
My husband and I are both Tool Men. We respect each other for this. We can both cook and sew and clean house and change diapers, and we can both light the camp stove and chop firewood and assemble furniture and carry heavy loads. We have a joke where I say, "You're the man, fix this!" It acknowledges the burden that is placed on men by traditional gender roles when anything difficult, scary, or strenuous comes up, like removing a wasp nest. We try to meet each other in the middle and not act out negative stereotypes.
That being said, traditional gender roles got that way because they are efficient. Sometimes, when you are both equally good at something, it's more challenging to figure out whose job it is. Sometimes it can lead to a tendency to keeping score. (Actually, more score-keeping would probably be a good idea in some relationships, because it helps us to respect how much our partners are contributing).
If you're not a Tool Man, but you want one, because you think it's the "man's job," then you have to accept the package deal. If you want a man to be a traditional man, then you have to step up and act like a traditional woman. Quid pro quo, baby.
If you expect him to be the one to do all the heavy lifting and strenuous physical labor, then you should be offsetting that in some way. Respect it as a gift. Shoulder massage? Cookies? Find out what he likes, because he's not a caricature. If you take this labor for granted, you'll start seeing less of it. Reward what you want to encourage.
If you expect him to be the one to take on the strain of mental bandwidth whenever there is a complicated technical problem to solve, it had better be worth his while in some way. What are you offering in exchange? If he's the one who has to diagnose engine problems at the side of the road, or troubleshoot leaky plumbing, where is the tradeoff on your end? Also, you are shortchanging yourself if you stand idly by during these episodes. Who will do this stuff for you if he quits one day?
If you rely on him to pay more than half on dates, do all the retirement planning, or earn the majority of your household income, then you'd better have something to bring to the table to make up those discrepancies. Personal charm? Beauty? Good luck with that. The traditional model means that he carries more of the financial load and the female carries more of the domestic load. Financial dependence is vulnerability in a bad way.
My mother taught me traditional housewifery. I have the full complement of June Cleaver-style abilities. I know how to darn socks, sew buttons, iron shirt collars, turn hospital bed corners, clean an oven, and all that kind of thing. I call it "geisha stuff." I can't bear a dirty, messy house. I know how to clean quickly and efficiently, so to me there's no reason to let things get out of hand. I would clean all of the same rooms whether I lived alone or with half a dozen housemates, and it only takes about 10% more work to do it for two than for one. I don't feel oppressed by this labor because I don't see it as "women's work" and I also don't feel degraded by it. I feel that it demonstrates my mastery of my own home. It's a way of marking my territory. Professional chefs clean their own counters.
Also, my husband does his share. We negotiated.
The more you do, the easier it is to ask someone else to do something. A clean house is its own supporting argument. The tidier it is, the easier it is to keep it that way. It explains itself, making it obvious where most things are stored and what 'clean' looks like. It also makes necessary home repairs stand out as urgent problems rather than chronic annoyances.
Nagging doesn't work. In my opinion, one of the reasons that it doesn't work is that it leaves out all the thousand things that the other party is doing right. It fails to acknowledge other types of contribution. It's accusatory and critical, rather than appreciative and welcoming. We often fall into sloppy habits of treating our partners like bad roommates or annoying coworkers, rather than lovers and mates. Another reason that nagging doesn't work is that we put the burden of something we want on someone else. "Fix that toilet!" rather than "Hey, I'm trying to figure out how to fix the toilet," or, "Hmm, why don't I think this is my job?"
A hazard of being in a relationship is that it can lead to arrested development. We get together and we quit learning new skills. We get together and we fall into bad communication habits that a new love (or total stranger) would never accept. We get together and forget what it's like to live alone and depend on ourselves alone. We give up our independence and get little in return except entropy.
I use tools for the same reason that I clean my house: it's what humans do. I master my surroundings. I am the boss of my life. I want to live the way I want to live, and I rely on myself to make that happen. It's great when I have someone else to pitch in, but ultimately, I'm my own responsibility. Knowing that I don't need anyone else makes more room for me to want someone else, to want him for who he is and not just for the practical roles he can fulfill in my life. A Tool Man, not a man I use as a tool.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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