|So, this girlfriend calls me – as a matter of urgency – yesterday, asking if I already had a topic for the column. I admitted, at that point, I had only the germ of an idea and gave her a précis of it. She brushed it aside rather disparagingly, telling me she had something I needed to write about. “Gisele,” she said, with the air of someone who has made a great discovery, “you are wrong. A woman must have a man in the house….”|
Now, one of the best T-shirt slogans I’ve ever seen read: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” But “must” being a strong word – as compelling as “shall” in legal terms – I had to ask why a man in residence is a necessity. The sister was kind enough to explain: You see, not too long ago, she had had a constant dripping from her Corian kitchen sink, and, after having it changed for a concrete one, was told by a male friend that the washer simply had been on the wrong side. Then, there was something to do with her son’s bathroom, and then yet another problem somewhere else that caused a flood. And, twice more, she learned that these were minor issues which, only on account of her ignorance, had become major. Hence, she concluded triumphantly, a woman needs a man in the house.
Well, having spent most of my life in houses with men – father, brothers, brothers-in-law, boyfriend, husband (though, of course, not all at once) – I cannot recall their presence ever preventing a single leak or mechanical malfunction. In fact, I distinctly remember trying to rescue my CPU from a virtual pond (quite forgetting that water conducts electricity) because of a certain feller’s failure to call in a pardner to get a pipe changed. And, long ago, I told you that my mother routinely hired workmen to do all sorts of jobs around the house while my contractor father was lost in his Reader’s Digest or out playing draughts…. .
Anyway, I have a gay friend who also insists that women need men. Her reasoning is that, at some point, a sister is going to have a flat tire, and who better to call than a supposedly strong pair of hands? However, I have known men who, armed with that so-called innate capacity to repair things, have taken equipment apart and, after putting it back together again and pronouncing it fixed, discovered three or four “mystery” pieces still on the work bench.
True, there are also fellers out there who came out of their mother’s womb with a wrench in hand; fellers who really can listen to an engine cough and give a diagnosis; and those who, just because it’s a long weekend, will decide to build a pergola on Friday night and have it ready for entertaining by Carnival Tuesday. Those are mighty good men to have around, indeed – though not necessarily on a long-term basis. After all, when nothing is leaking, clogged up, or stalling, what, exactly, will they be doing?
To be strictly fair, I think it’s kind of demeaning that a woman would want to keep a feller around only for his trades, his skills, and the time and money it would save her. I see that as a form of “un-manning,” if I may be permitted to invent a word. If all he is good for is to come and put up the shutters, disconnect the spouting, and cut back the neem tree because there’s a hurricane coming, then what are you going to do with him when the storm hits and you and he are battened down together? Unless, of course, the plan is to have him bail water, as well… .
You know, it was just last week that a good friend, on a visit, brought me a gift he said no woman should be without: a pair of screwdrivers, one regular and one Phillip’s. But, personally, I love a feller who is good with his hands. Still, what good to me, or any sister, is a man who is nothing more than a walking toolbox? If he is to take up residence under the same roof, I would want him to be just as good with his head and his heart. In addition to being able to figure out how much gauze it takes to replace the screen, he must know how to figure that it’s too hot a day for me to be toiling over a stove. In the same way he can listen to a motor turn over and know just what the problem is, he must be able to listen to me, without interrupting, when I need to unburden. And just as quickly as he can estimate what a job will cost in materials and labour, he must be able to deduce that he’s spent enough time with the golf or the dominoes and that it’s high time he spent down time with me.
Maybe in our mother’s or grandmother’s day, when all labour was back-breaking and women didn’t control their own purse, a sister needed to have a man in the house. But in these days of Angie’s list and GPS, a smart woman needs only to turn to the Yellow Pages or Google to have her household needs addressed. The tradesman comes and does the job and leaves with cheque in hand, and the single sister resumes her quiet life without size 14 shoes lying around, without toothpaste on the mirror, without wet towels on the bed. And with the number of female-headed households around and growing, I think it’s less a sign of family breakdown and more a case of “sisters are doing it for themselves,” as Aretha sings.
Anyway, hear this: By the end of the conversation with my girlfriend at the top, she was complaining about a feller I’ve already written about, who has just picked up with yet another woman. “I don’t know how his wife stands him,” she complained. “I don’t know why she keeps him around.”
I couldn’t help but answer: “Maybe because he’s good with the plumbing… .”