Making while Female: Old Fears Run Deep
I walk into the wood shop. I'm excited - the space is all about making things and clean (or as clean as a wood shop can be.) The power of possibility is exciting. But as I stare at some of the machines that I am about to use I am flooded with mental images of them malfunctioning.
As an adult, I have learned to take a back seat to these thoughts, but the sheer volume of them this weekend was noteworthy. It's like my brain was throwing up every thought and memory that might possibly convince me not to proceed with my woodworking project because it (my subconscious) was sure I was about to enter into a life-threatening situation.
I remind myself that people use these tools safely everyday, but unfortunately I have another hurdle to overcome:
I unavoidably inherited the views of my mother who raised me as she was raised - as a girl in the 1950's. She constantly feared that my tiny little "girl hands" were lesser than those of boys and surely incompetent. Society started this, and she was unable to hold back in projecting her fears onto me. "No! No! We can't let her do that she might hurt herself."
All this conviction that I was incapable of handling myself without injury was formative. When I got to middle school, we had some classes on a rotating schedule, cooking, sewing, wood shop, computers, etc. The morning my wood shop class started, my mother went on a rant:
"You know, when I was a kid the girls took cooking and sewing and the boys took wood shop, but I guess all students have to take everything nowadays. They have power tools in that wood shop so you have to be careful - those tools are dangerous. You don't want to end up like your grandfather!"
This was a poignant thing to mention because I knew exactly what this "danger" looked like. My grandfather had in fact lost two fingers in a factory machine accident. I went to school fearing the loss of my fingers and refused to use the band saw when my turn came up.
It was as if her "mom brain" was throwing up everything it could to convince me that I should run away from this potentially threatening situation. Oh, the guilt she would feel if she didn't warn me about my female incompetence and I had injured myself.
So, this is why enlisting the knowledge that "people" use these tools safely everyday didn't work. I could watch men demonstrate the use of the tools all day long, but that wouldn't build up confidence in me. I wasn't one of them, I was weaker, smaller, dumber, and (the only one that was actually true) more afraid. The fact that they could be successful was irrelevant.
How to break the chain?
Obviously, none of these fears or even thoughts are true. It's now 2021 and at our conscious minds (at least) are woke. But they are still thoughts that flow through and out of my brain.
My goal (as in many types of exposure therapy) is to replace the old experiences with new and that was what I was there for.
What could happen if we stop acknowledging the imaginary line between male and female capabilities and started showing them equally?
Written by Natasha