Jump-starting

15Jan09

On Tuesday morning, my car battery was completely flat.

It’s an old car, passed down through a whole bunch of people who only owned it for a couple of years, so I imagine the battery isn’t in great condition. Monday was a public holiday and I didn’t drive anywhere. And the last week or so has been unusually cold for this area. What I’m trying to say is that there were a whole lot of reasons why it could have gone flat.

What bothered me was not that the battery was flat (these things happen). What bothered me was that I couldn’t bring myself to ask for help with solving the problem.

Which is ridiculous. I can’t jump-start the car on my own. I need another car. As I don’t own multiple cars, I need another person, and preferably another set of jump leads (mine having suffered several careless owners) too.

But I can’t shake the feeling that asking someone to help is an admittance of weakness.

The thing is, it is a weakness. I’m not good with cars, or motorbikes, or even your common-or-garden bicycle. I do everything that falls under the heading of “general maintenance”, and I can tell when something’s wrong.

But when it is, I take the vehicle to someone who’s trained to deal with the problem. There’s a whole list of vehicular-related things that I know the theory of, and could do in a pinch. Like oil changes, and filter changes, and punctures (for a bicycle, anyway). But I’d rather have someone who does things like that every day do it for me. Because I don’t do it every day, and so it would take much much longer (and I value my time quite highly these days), and there’s a chance I could do something wrong (or, more likely, cause myself problems in a completely different area). I value my time and I value skills, and for me it comes down to this: it makes more sense, practically and financially, for a mechanic to fix my car than for me to do it myself.

And it’s not like I have no practical skills. I’ve never caused myself a software problem that I couldn’t fix. I’m also pretty good at fixing computer hardware – I built my first PC from scratch, and have no qualms about opening desktops up to get at the innards. I know basic first aid, and CPR (though I should take a refresher course). I can rewire a plug, and hang pictures, and I can put up flatpack furniture better than anyone else I know (probably due to my unusually good spatial awareness). I can cook pretty well, and mend clothes that aren’t too badly ripped. I’m even good with power tools.

There are lots of people who would regard themselves as being worse than average at all these task, and wouldn’t hesitate to ask a trained professional to do for them. So why am I hesitant to ask for help with my car?

The answer, of course, is that being bad with cars is a stereotypically female trait. And I feel like a bad feminist for “buying into it”. Even though I know that a feminist worldview allows me to be skilled and interested in whatever I’m skilled and interested in, and bad at and uninterested in whatever I’m bad at and uninterested in (though it would prefer I phrase it better), and it doesn’t really matter into which category car maintenance falls into. And even though I know that my not knowing about cars shouldn’t imply anything other than, well, my interests lie elsewhere.

I still feel, somewhere inside me, the need to ‘prove’ that I’m as good as the stereotypical man in everything. And I hate that. I have my own strengths and my own weaknesses, and I shouldn’t feel the need to define myself with reference to anyone else.

At least I’m heading in the right direction (once my car battery is charged).

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One Response to “Jump-starting”

  1. Well, then there’s the flip side of a lot of men who know jackshit about cars pretending they know how to fix stuff, which ends up leading to more problems. Better to ask for help and look weak, regardless of what gender you are.


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