Sunday, July 31, 2016

What century is this anyway? A bit of a rant against misogyny

As I mentioned in my last blog, I’m currently partway through renovating a new house. (The house being new to me, rather than a house that is actually new.)

Now, I consider myself a fairly practical kind of person across quite a wide range of subjects. Not an expert, but … capable. Comes from being a bit of an autodidact, I think. If I happen across something I find interesting, or useful, I go about acquiring knowledge on it. And the more that information is widely and freely available, the easier it is to obtain.

Sometimes, however, information is nothing without hands-on application. So, it’s not enough for me simply to watch a How-To clip on YouTube, I want to get out there and also acquire the real-world skill.

Having helped complete a self-build project with my ex a few years ago, I had no qualms about taking on a property I knew needed Work.

Indeed, I bought the house fully intending to do quite a bit of what was needed myself, including expanding the shower room into a bath-and-shower room, chopping the staircase about, and moving the kitchen from its existing location into the open-plan living area to provide another bedroom/study. As well, of course, as moving most of the lighting and power outlets around. Why is it they’re never in the right place?

Like I said, I’m fairly practical, and it’s nothing I haven’t done before.

But then I managed to crack a rib. On reflection, I believe I may have crumpled a couple this time, and in rather awkward places. Yes, I’ve reached the hurts-to-cough/laugh/sneeze/breath-deeply stage, and when I went to the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival last weekend I had to warn friends I hadn’t seen for ages not to hug me too hard!

With Jeff Deaver in the bar at the Old Swan, Harrogate. Photo: Ali Karim
So, I admit to a bit of a downer earlier in the week, as the realisation sank in that there really are some jobs I know I ought to be able to do, but the truth is at the moment physically I just can’t. Heaving large pieces of solid-wood kitchen worktop about, for instance, is simply not a good idea unless I want to prolong my recovery time.

Finally, I took the sensible course and decided to draft in some expert help instead. Enter various tradesmen to quote for the bits I’m intending to farm out. I spoke with them on the phone beforehand, explaining that I was unable to finish what I’d started because of the creaky bone situation. And yet all four of the ones who’ve called round over the past week have walked into the house and, almost as an opening gambit, said with an incredulous air, “Have you really done all this yourself?”

Charlie Fox would have kicked their arses into the middle of next week.

Aware that I did actually want to extract a reasonable quotation from them, rather than entrails, I refrained from a similar course of action. I produced a slightly baffled look, as if the question was a rarity rather than the dull norm, and agreed that ye-es, indeed I had.

I did not maim any of them.

(Not even a little bit …

… however tempted I might have been.)

Nor did any of them leave minus quantities of blood or teeth.

(Heroic, isn’t it, what self-restraint I have?)

Now, most of the jobs I’ve done are not exactly brain surgery. They require a bit of logical thought and practical application. Occasionally, there is a certain amount of brute force and dead ignorance involved, but the former qualities often take precedence over the latter. As Archimedes pointed out: “Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”

Or something like that.

So why the astonishment? And, it has to be said, the tiniest hint of scepticism?

Sometimes, I struggle to remember we are more than halfway through the second decade of the twenty-first century. We have our second woman Prime Minister in Theresa May.

America has a female serious contender for the White House.

And then there’s Naomi Climber.

Never heard of her? Well, in October 2015 she became the first female president of the UK’s Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET). Traditionally male preserves are becoming more open to gender equality all the time.

But not DIY or house construction. I seem to recall that during the self-build, visitors assumed my ex was the one doing the technical stuff, and I was making him cups of tea between choosing paint colours and sweeping up. Still, it could have been worse ...

I could have been the one on the ladder.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am as against positive discrimination as I am against negative discrimination. I believe firmly in people achieving appointment by being truly the best person for the job, not because they fulfil a gender quota. Interestingly, when blind auditions were introduced for orchestras, the chances of a female applicant obtaining a position rose by 50%.

I never would have imagined that classical music would be a field where misogyny was rife, just as I would never have imagined before I began writing crime thrillers that there would be any kind of objection by male readers to women writing in that genre.

Or amazement on the faces of tradesmen that I know how to hold a screwdriver.

(Thrust sharply upwards just under the left side of the diaphragm. Or straight through the neck from one side to the other.)

Ah, not quite what you had in mind, huh …?

What about you, folks? What bias of any kind have you encountered in the workplace, and what reasons were given for perpetuating it?

This week’s Word of the Week is eucatastrophe, meaning the sudden resolution of events in a story to provide a happy ending. It is said to have been coined by JRR Tolkien, who added the Greek eu, meaning good, to catastrophe, to signify a reversal of fortune which ensures the protagonist does not meet the apparently inevitable sticky end. 


  1. As opposed to a ewecatastrophe, which is is what happens when the sheepdog runs all the sheep off a cliff, or a youcatastrophe, which is what happens when you forget yourself and try to lift more than your calcium structures shear strength can handle.

    1. LOL, EvKa. Or how about a eeugh-catastrophe, which is one that ends messily?

    2. Or a yuuugecatastrophe, which is what we'll be experiencing if Trump wins in November...

    3. You might think that, EvKa, but I couldn't possibly comment ...

  2. I've run into precisely the same issues you have - I'm good with DIY projects, and thoroughly frustrated by the frequent comments (startled, sarcastic, and dismissive) of contractors who deserve a shiv to the ribs for believing women can't handle a hammer as well as we do a rifle, a bow, and a government.

    Some people are good at home improvement. Some are not - but gender is rarely the deciding factor.

    PS - my parents gave me a real tool set for Christmas the year I turned 5, and had me working around the house from the time I could tell a weed from a seedling. I love them immensely for it.

    1. Hi Susan. How far-sighted of your parents! And I know plenty of people who are DIY-inept and have no trouble admitting it, but they have skills in other areas. A friend of mine cannot -- and definitely should not -- be entrusted with power tools, but give him a Mac with a problem, and he's brilliant.

      (And remember when you're wielding that hammer, always go for the kneecap on the RIGHT leg. Then they can't even drive an automatic transmission ...)

  3. This is exactly what happened when Barbara tried to take over the project management of our new build. Half of the builders simply ignored her, half listened then came and asked me what to do despite having been told not to disturb me because I was doing important stuff like earning the money that would be used to pay them at the end of the week. Every morning at Bouchercon in Long Beach I would get a call around 3am from one or other of the builders wanting something and deciding it was easier to call me on the other side of the world than speak to Barbara fifty feet away in the caravan. Funnily enough, the worst offenders were the ones who also did a crap job and got fired quickly.

    1. Hi James, and I sympathise entirely with you both. Interesting that the worst offenders were also the ones who did a crap job, though. It speaks of an overall disregard for the preferences of others, and not treating them -- or their property -- with the respect it deserves.

  4. If I were to say such a thing to you as prompted this rant, could I please ask only be kicked into Tuesday, as that's Barbara's birthday and should I miss it, broken ribs and screwdriver shishkabobbing would be the least of my concerns.

    The reason I say that I might say such a thing is I've had the same asked of me and never took offense...though perhaps I should have, because the woman who said that subsequently nicknamed me "GI Jew" as she couldn't believe a descendant of people who wandered about lost in the desert for 40 years would know how to fix things in a house...or barn...or use a chainsaw. Come to think of it, perhaps I should have introduced her to the finer points of a wood chipper.

    As for your word of the day, you're absolutely correct (as if there were any doubt) that adding "eu" to the front of some words means "good," as adding "dis" means bad. HOWEVER, the proper pronunciation of that addition is either "ef" or "ev" depending on the letter that follows. All of which means the proper way to say "eucastrophe" would be to pronounce eu "f"--as in "f'ing catastrophe." Alternatively you could pronounce it "ev"--as in EvKa catastrophe. Bottom line, f'ing catastrophe or EvKa catastrophe, same thing.

    Hope you're feeling better.

    1. Come on, Jeff, that should be "EvKatastrophe." Please get it right...

    2. You make a good point, Jeff, although such questions asked of one guy by another take on a totally different resonance, I find. Like the recent Facebook furore caused by a woman posting an objection to being told to smile by (male) strangers in the street. Men commented to say they had also been told to smile by passing strangers, but there isn't the same inference, nor often the same consequences.

      It seems to me that guys are allowed to be good or bad at DIY, interested or not interested in cars, riders or non-riders of motorcycles, but a woman with those interests is almost always an object of surprise and sometimes outright disbelief.

      Besides, how can anyone tell your religion on first meeting you? Unless, of course, you were repairing your barn in a state of some undress ...?

      OK, I'll stop going down this road, although I fear I may already be on the way back ...

    3. Like it, EvKa. What a fine bunch of neologisms you and Jeff are producing today!

    4. The one who said it to me knew of what she spoke, as she'd been down that road many times...

  5. Ribs are annoying, so easy to re-injure them and set recovery back. Hope they heal quickly.

    On the quotas issue: I agree that merit should be foremost, as it degrades everyone involved if merit isn't rewarded. But during a recent job hunt I was told that the final 6 applicants were all suitable for the role and they were just trying to (discriminate) make a decision.

    So often we aren't talking about the best person for the job, but the best persons. That means asking people to consider someone other than the white guy is still rewarding effort/talent.

    1. Hi Tyson. Thanks for the good wishes. For some reason my ribs seem to be a weak point on my skeleton, as in the past I've bounced off horses and motorcycles without doing more than soft-tissue damage. Once this lot heal I'm going to have to try to put on some protective muscle, methinks!

      Hmm, deciding who gets a job on such strange criteria is somewhat like having a betting system that relies on always backing the grey in the race, or if there's no grey, the horse with the sheepskin noseband ...

  6. From The Lively Dead, by Peter Dickinson
    ​Bending to adjust the claw of her crowbar against a joist, Lydia saw the man’s feet. The Building Inspector from the Borough Council, she thought come about that beam and high time too. She didn’t turn around because it amuses most men to see a woman struggling with a man’s work, and consequently it amused Lydia to startle them. She heaved firmly on the crowbar and relished the mandrake-screech as the nails came up that vital first quarter-inch.
    Laurie R. King

    1. Love it, Laurie! And if you put something metal under the claw of a crowbar -- like the shaft of a hammer, for instance, it provides less give so more leverage on the average recalcitrant nail.

      (I have a mind for trivia ...)

  7. At times like this, I'm reminded of what my father, son of a very active suffragette, used to whisper to me: "We had a good thing going until we let 'em vote."

    How he managed to live to 94 is beyond me.

    1. LOL Seeley. Actually, one of my occasional responses to such comments is to say, "I hate to break this to you, but we have the vote now and everything ..."