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Wenches, wrenches, and tool phobia

File:2008-04-14 Chrome-Vanadium Wrenches.jpg“Show up at 5:30 pm and be sure to bring your wrench.” That was an email from someone I row with about getting the boats ready for transport for the regatta this weekend. My wrench? I don’t own a wrench. What kind of wrench? I actually do have a pedal wrench but that’s probably not what she means. Mild panic ensues.

I emailed back with wrench questions and got a reasonable reply.

“All rowers need to have two 7/16th wrenches for derigging. I can lend you a set.”

Note to self: buy wrenches.

I’m pretty okay with this wrench business. De-rigging boats isn’t entirely new to me. I’ve watched my partner get his laser ready for travel numerous times.

I regularly used a wrench at the velodrome when I didn’t have pedals on my track bike and I’d come with my own pedals from my road bike. Changing bike pedals is a skill worth knowing. It’s a five minute job and takes only one tool.  Read here or here for how.

I’ve also disassembled and helped reassemble my road bike for transport. Taking things apart and putting them back together again doesn’t scare me even though I’m not particularly talented at it.

I do know that many women, and some men too, find this aspect of “sports that require tools” daunting. Bike maintenance is daunting for some of us but if you own a road bike you need to know how to do some of it. You can’t go to the shop for everything.

If you didn’t grow up being taught how to take things apart and put them together again, or playing with toys that do this, it can be intimidating. My partner’s degree of comfort with this far outstrips my own. And my own skill, such as it is, largely comes from what he’s taught me.

He spent part of his childhood on a farm with a machine shop. They didn’t just fix things. Sometimes they even made their own parts to do so. He takes cars apart, ditto fridges, dishwashers, furnaces, you name it. He looks for the smallest broken piece to repair. Recently with our hot tub, “Would you believe, they wouldn’t sell me the valve. They only sell whole replacement jets but it’s just the valve that’s broken.” Next stop, ebay.

So I don’t even aspire to that level of skill and comfort with tools, though I’m happy, very happy, to have it around.

But I do like the idea of being responsible for my own things, knowing how to put wheels on my bike, swap pedals, and now how to derig and rerig a rowing shell.

Where’d the name “wenches with wrenches” come from? I first heard it as the name of women’s bike repair co-op in Toronto: *”Wenches with Wrenches is an original CBN program offering bike repairs for women by women in downtown Toronto. Launched in 2002, the objective is to make basic bicycle repair skills accessible to women who can then share their knowledge and their confidence with others in the community.”

There are also Wenches with Wrenches in rowing too.

This weekend I’ll be at the Head of the Welland Regatta. Wish us luck!

5 thoughts on “Wenches, wrenches, and tool phobia

  1. You hit the nail on the head here (so to speak). “If you didn’t grow up being taught how to take things apart and put them together again, or playing with toys that do this, it can be intimidating.” Even after 40 years of feminism, in many respects we women are still on the cusp of integrating behaviors and activities that most men take for granted.

    Even though my dad worked with wood as a hobby and was a skilled cabinet maker, he never offered to pass those skills to me or my sister. A shame, because my sister in particular had real interest in such things. And we knew not to ask. It was off limits to girls. This attitude was reinforced when I went to public high school in the States in the 1960’s. Girls were prohibited from taking shop class. We had to take cooking and sewing. It was mandatory, no exceptions!

    So I grew up thinking, I’m not very good with tools, or even worse, I’m stupid with tools. No, we’re not inept or stupid. We were actively discouraged from such learning at an age when skills are absorbed and mastered organically.

    As you demonstrate in your post, the more we operate outside the narrow confines of a stultifying sex role, the more we challenge and overcome feelings of inadequacy. And the more ways we find to be active and have fun. Good luck in the regatta.

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