Last week I popped into a DIY store in Dublin to pick up some shelving. I was looking through different sized brackets and had even brought my own tape measure (I'm hardcore) when I was approached by a male staff member . He couldn't have looked more amazed had I been a talking pony in a dress.
"Well, well!" he chuckled. "Now what would you be looking for in here young lady?" in a tone so patronising I would have cast him a dirty look had I not been quietly delighted to be referred to as 'young lady'. I considered telling him with a wide-eyed look of terror that I was looking for the baking and homewares aisle but I seemed to have taken a wrong turn somewhere, but I held firm. Despite the fact that I had already picked out everything I needed, he explained to me the difference between plasterboard and solid wall rawlplugs in a voice so loud and clear, he could only have presumed that English wasn't my first language.
I sucked it up, paid for my unladylike stash, then hailed a taxi outside only to be greeted with "Well, well! Now what's a young lady like you doing lugging wood around?" Hand on heart, this is no exaggeration (but if we're talking absolute honesty, I may have embellished the taxi driver's use of the double 'well').
This general presumption about traditional gender roles and abilities is not a feminist issue (for the millionth time people, feminism just means equality), nor is it one of chivalry (I am more than happy for a man to hold a door open for me, or give me a hand with something that requires more strength than I have). And I am very aware that a division of labour happens naturally in every home, usually borne out of practicality, but does it really matter who holds the drill and who loads the dryer?
An increasing number of women live alone, and are happy to do so. I was one for many years, and if I had had to call my father every time I needed a plug changed or had a dodgy ballcock (insert Benny Hill gag here), sure I may as well have just moved home.
A well- known DIY superstore conducted a survey a couple of years ago which showed that three quarters of women asked, said they were more than capable of looking after basic DIY and home improvements, the most common reason being that it was "the only way to get anything done". Three in ten said they enjoyed the challenge and a quarter said they wanted to stop asking male friends or relatives for help. Outside the home, the stereotypes don't disappear. Apparently a women bringing a car to a mechanic is still statistically more likely to be charged a higher amount for repairs than her male counterpart, the assumption being that the ladies wouldn't know a fan belt if it hit them in the face (unless of course it matched our handbags).
But spare a thought for the mechanic who reeled off a long list of (mostly invented) things that were wrong with the car to a friend of mine in the UK. She let him speak for a whole five minutes before casually pointing out what was actually wrong and adding that she often had this problem when she used to build rally cars from scratch some years ago. She said you could have heard a spark plug drop. So yes, it is possible to recognise a dipstick and still wear lipstick (now there's a chant for a protest march somewhere). It's not just women who suffer this societal expectation. A male colleague dreads getting into a taxi the day after any major sporting event, because he won't have watched it and doesn't have any interest, but said the palpable suspicion when he says as much always makes for a strangely uncomfortable journey. With a bit of Dutch Courage, he'll often reply to the question "so, did you see the match buddy?" with "Nope. Did you see Fair City pal?" just to set out his stall from the get go.
Of course there are usually more men at major sporting events as there are typically more women at the first day of the sales. And statistically, women still look after the majority of the housework and men are more likely to change the light bulbs (but how many does it take? Sorry, couldn't resist!). But for most of us, we're not trying to make a point, we're just getting things done. Oh, and the shelves went up just fine by the way, but I am waiting for my Dad to come and check them with a spirit level, just in case.