This is another entry for the I Hate Patriarchy file:

My partner and I are in the midst of buying a house. As part of this process I have gone to a moderate amount of work to educate myself about the basic mechanics of houses. Learning about why icicles look pretty but are a bad sign, what a stack is, what those things poking out of the roof are, why they’re there, and so on. Identifying soffits and baffles, sump pumps and stacks, grade and drain, and on and on.

Somewhere along the way I realized that I was having to learn this stuff for the first time not just because I have spent my adult life in apartments but because when I did live in a house, my mother didn’t teach me. Because she didn’t know. Because Patriarchy.

I vividly remember her helping me with a class project in middle school that involved some kind of very basic nailing pieces of wood together. I was having trouble with it, and Mom wasn’t very successful either. As she wrestled with it, she grumbled, “I wish I’d taken shop class!”

Back when she was in school, the girls took home economics and the boys took shop. Home economics taught Mom very little, because as the oldest of four (soon to become five) kids, she was already helping run the household. But she remained uninformed about mechanical type matters and that ignorance often made her nervous and even angry.

My grandmother didn’t learn these things either, even in her adult life when she was living in a home alone. So she never taught Mom. I don’t know how much my father knew, but as he was raised without his father, I don’t think he ever had an opportunity to learn, because his mother wouldn’t have known about mechanical matters either.

I’m not talking about advanced handyman stuff here. I’m talking about things like how a septic system works, and how often it has to be maintained, which is necessary knowledge for someone who lives in a home with a septic system. As a result, I wound up dealing with a major septic issue at her house at the same time my mother was in the hospital having surgery. This is the equivalent of not realizing that you have to change the oil in your car, except that with a house there’s about five major systems that you have to think about, and the issues can be more subtle in terms of building up over time.

Mom didn’t maintain her house well, and now I realize that was because she didn’t know how. Admittedly, she could have done more to learn, but the same barriers that prevented her from learning as a child or a young adult still made it difficult as she got older, and it’s hard to realize what you don’t know. As a result, over the last few years and especially the last few months, I’ve had to deal with a series of issues at her house that have been unpleasant.

Her life could have been better if she had known these things. My life could have been much, much easier if she had. But she didn’t, because Patriarchy.

I’m glad it’s easier for me to educate myself about these matters, and that I have the opportunity to overcome the prejudices and blind stupidity that hurt my mother and that have made my life more difficult. But I shouldn’t have had to overcome those barriers.

The longer I live, the more I see the wisdom in the saying that the personal is political. The political certainly is personal: the prejudices have affected me and my family in terms of emotions, health, and finances. Taking back some control, overcoming those barriers in my own personal life, is nothing less than a political act to try to make the future a better place – for myself, for my family, and for everyone.

3 thoughts on “Personal is political: House edition

  1. We have problems with this sort of stuff, but the opposite – because the three generations of single women (myself, my mother, my grandmother) did and do continue to learn about DIY and mechanical stuff, but are we taken seriously? Oh no, we are not. Any knowledge of practical stuff I have is assumed to come from my father, when the only thing in that vein he taught me how to was build a kite. Why is it so suprising for people to learn my Grandma was the one to teach me how to change a fuse?

    1. Bast in a bucket, that’s a real pain in the rear. These stereotypes are more powerful than we think – they don’t go away just because one refuses to conform to them. I’m sorry you have to deal with that.

  2. It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t – if you don’t know about DIY you’re just a stupid girl who only thinks about clothes etc, and if you do know about DIY, sorry, you don’t, because you’re just a stupid girl who only thinks about clothes, etc.

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