I’ve a boast to make

See the shelves in that picture? I built them. From scratch. I cut the planks to length – for only the third time in my life using a saw – measured the heights, nailed them in place, put some more nails in when the first nails looked like they weren’t quite doing the job, bashed my thumb with the hammer, and stuck wood glue down the worst of the gaps.

It’s not perfect. It wobbles a little, a couple of the shelves are slightly slanted, and I need to put one more plank in place tomorrow (I’m too tired tonight to finish) and finish the edges with sandpaper. (Maybe, in the summer, I will varnish it. Probably not, though). But it does the job, or will – probably – and it cost, including tools like the saw, which I had to purchase last weekend, less than an equivalent set of shelves from Ikea, and at least a third less than pre-built cabinetry. (Okay, so the cabinetry has somewhat better structural integrity and shiny pretty finish. But still.)

No one ever taught me how to do this. I decided I want to try. And that meant learning by doing. With all the terror and flaws and potential horrible failure modes that implies. (My mother helped when I needed a second pair of hands, but she didn’t believe I could do it. In fact, her first reaction on learning of my planned attempt: “You can’t do it! You’ll never be able to do it! No!”)

(One would think I was seven, and not coming up on twenty-seven.) (Also, hell, am I really coming up twenty-seven? When I was seven I thought I’d be queen of the universe by twenty.)

The success of this project hasn’t been proved out yet – the proof will come tomorrow, when I hammer in the last shelf-plank and test the others with the weight of books – but it doesn’t seem fragile. There is tensile strength in inch-thick pine and two-inch nails…

Anyway. I don’t want to say that it’s gendered, learning how to build things. But I think my mother’s mental resistance to the idea of my building-competence is at least partly gendered, and I think my lack of experience with banging shit together is also partly gendered: female persons are subtly culturally discouraged from learning to do stuff like Hang Shelves or Build Shelves – not only in formal lessons, but informally. That could just be my impression, though.

In conclusion: I built shelves!

6 thoughts on “I’ve a boast to make

  1. Go you!

    “female persons are subtly culturally discouraged from learning to do stuff like Hang Shelves or Build Shelves”

    Or sometimes overtly. When I was in high school and a younger male cousin of mine was still not yet in grade school, the two of us were leafing through a catalog of toys pre-Christmas. I saw a balsa wood toy carpentry set that looked _awesome_ so I said I wanted it. Cousin promptly told me I couldn’t bc it was for boys. No one else besides me attempted to correct him.

    (The logic of: “But I want it, and I’m a girl, so how can it only be for boys?” failed to sway him.)

  2. It seemed to be mostly kids that said things like that to me. (Or adults that pretended they were joking.) As if all the adults knew they shouldn’t say it, but they still thought it and acted that way – and that’s what the kids picked up on.

  3. Huh. Maybe it was because I had no brothers, but I’m pretty sure I was never discouraged from doing anything constructive when I was young. In fact, my parents would have probably been thrilled if I’d gotten off my lazy butt and built something from scratch. I don’t think I ever heard “that’s only for boys” from anyone in my family, even my grandmother, who was desperate to turn me into “a lady.” (Probably this was because she grew up on a farm during WWI and was in general one of those New England women who were taught that women can do everything and will have to because the men will be out to sea or at war or something.) Anyway, maybe my parents had rather modern (for the time) ideas about childraising, but it was always assumed that I could do whatever I wanted.

  4. No one ever told me “that’s only for boys” either. I did get told, “We’ll get someone else to do that,” a lot, though, with regard to DIY stuff.

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