After a portrait session today, I pulled into a service station. I pumped my own gas, which always feels oddly empowering to me. Look at me, taking care of my car. Swiping that card and inserting that pump, even on a hot-hot-hot day in mid-July. All by myself.
I am awesome.
The power steering in my van is going, or is gone, I can’t entirely tell the difference. All I know is that it’s an arm workout just turning out of my driveway and it’s probably something that’s highly dangerous for being out on the road. And so, after totally pumping my own gas, I went into the service station to look for power steering fluid.
Found it, after squinting over three shelves worth of bottles and car related stuff, things I didn’t even know existed. I almost texted my husband just to confirm that I was in the right place. But then, there it was, the one remaining bottle.
I swaggered across the parking lot back to my car, which was sitting out in the blazing hot sun, squeezed between two trucks, one with a man inside, eating his lunch.
I popped the hood, bottle of steering fluid in one hand.
Oh, I got this.
Until, I couldn’t find the latch to actually open it. And then, only until the hood burned the soft inside of my palms and I couldn’t get the stick to hold it up in place for me. And then there was the issue of just how many things there are under the hood and how poorly labeled they all are (or aren’t, at all.)
I stood, one hand being burned by the hood of the car, one hand on my hip, bent over the engine of this van and trying to figure out where on earth to pour this steering fluid. Is this writing in Japanese? I thought this was an American car? What on earth? Why isn’t there a cap with the picture of a steering wheel???
And why, oh, why, is the man in the car beside me just sitting there?
I know that he saw me. I saw him watch me walk back to the van. I saw him looking over at me, as my fingers fumbled to find the metal hook to unlatch so I could get the hood opened in the first place.
But he didn’t budge.
I gave up. I tossed the bottle back in the car and went to pick up my kids from the sitter, grunting as I pulled the steering wheel with the full weight of my upper body.
For a moment, as I tugged on the wheel, I thought of sending up a sarcastic, Hey, Guy, thanks for nothing, wave to the man, eating in his car.
But then, I realized, it is a hot day in July, and he may have been on a very short lunch break and not wanted to get sweaty while helping a stranger out when he could instead, be finishing his sandwich in the air conditioned bliss of his truck.
And, I know, it’s possible that I’ve been spoiled by having helpful, good, men in my life. My father, my husband, my brother and brother-in-laws, even my best friends’ husbands. They’re all the sort of guys who would put down their sub sandwich and help a woman in a gas station parking lot, who was clearly confused by the tangles of tubes and engine type things beneath the hood of her car.
But then, I also considered the possibility that, perhaps, he assumed I didn’t want any help.
This is 2014, after all. And I did just pump my gas over there (like a boss.)
Aren’t women all supposed to be empowered and capable of doing all the things, all the time?
And I wondered, do I even like the idea of being a feminist, being an all-empowered, leave me to it, I got this, sort of feminist?
Just to clarify, please don’t read any of this to say that I don’t appreciate the historical service and function of feminism in our society. I appreciate that the only reason I’m considered in equal standing, is because of the courage and determination of women who took charge of my assuring my rights long before I was even born.
And, when I say that I appreciate their efforts, I am not saying simply that I’m thankful, I’m saying that I understand that it was not an easy battle and that there are some areas where it is still not yet won.
Speaking up for the rights of those who are not represented, is important.
Women are important.
Men are important too.
And good men, men who are raised to be helpful, hands-on, get-out-of-your-car-and-help-the-lady-in-need, men – are exceptionally important. And all too often, they are told otherwise. Masculinity is becoming a bad word.
If equality is the goal of feminism, then we shouldn’t feel the need to change men at the root of what makes them men. That hardly makes things equal. It’s like pulling a Tanya Harding (kneecapping your opponent, for anyone too young to understand the reference.)
And really, men shouldn’t be our opponent at all. They should be our partners.
I want to raise daughters who are confident to do for themselves, and who know that they are capable to do most anything…but also, I want daughters who understand that they don’t have to do everything.
There is freedom in accepting that you can’t do everything.
There is joy in being part of a community where you each serve one another.
I want to raise daughters who don’t see accepting help as a shame or a failure.
And I want to raise sons who offer help without making other’s feel like they are less than.
I came home this afternoon, all these thoughts sloshing around in my brain, when I saw this thoughtful post in my social media feed, written by my strong, confident and well spoken friend, Roisin, explaining how she doesn’t align herself with what she sees as the current feminist movement, and rather how she views femininity:
Here’s how I see femininity: a feminine woman builds those up around her. She doesn’t need an ideology of segregation or demonization of another group of our society to be powerful. A feminine woman is herself unapologetically. She is graceful, compassionate, loving, strong, the backbone of her family and society. The feminine woman knows her own mind and executes her choices according to her self worth and beliefs. She does not need to categorize another person, nor destroy one. She mourns and cries out for injustices carried out against all humans and her fellow woman (i.e., women abused and disfigured under the Islamic practice of sharia law). The feminine woman is empowering because she lives out her life day to day triumphing over the hurts and trials of life.
This sort of feminism, I can get on board with.
Tonight, after my second portrait shoot and a trip to the bank and the grocery store with the kids and the van that was now groaning and taking more and more physical effort at every turn, I pushed the carriage out of Market Basket – and like a scene from a (poorly done, low-budget, who would write this sort of stuff) movie – there pulling into the parking lot, where I stood in the fading pink sunset by the crosswalk, there was my husband in his Ford 500, looking for me, to help me.
I had sent him an off-hand text that the car was getting worse and that I was just stopping for food on my way home from a shoot. He came to my rescue, after his ten hour work day.
In his suit and tie, he popped the hood of the van, found the right cap to unscrew (there WAS a steering wheel on it – it was just covered in grime) and in about two minutes time, he saved my aching arms and wrists from the struggle of steering that cranky beast on the ride home.
My hero. My helper. My partner. My man.
Alex, my nine year old, leaps into action when someone needs something. An old man drops his basket at the grocery store, Alex swoops over and picks it up for him. Entering or leaving any public building, he will linger by the door, holding it open long enough for whoever is behind us to pass. The look on his face, the pride in his eyes, it’s a sense of purpose and self-satisfaction that cannot be obtained any other way. He needs to feel needed, he longs to be useful.
It’s not just passed on from his parking lot hero of a father. It’s in his genetic code. Men need to be useful, they need work to do and tasks to accomplish.
And I’m not going to raise my sons in a way that will crush that spirit, even if it means that they’re going to open doors for women (who are perfectly capable of doing it themselves) or pull over to the roadside to offer assistance to a woman attempting to change her tire (even if it looks like she has it under control.)
I don’t want for them to have to assume that in most situations that women won’t want their help, simply because they are men and, women don’t need help.
Women hunt. Women drive race cars. Women run industries. Women kill their own dang spiders and fill their own bank accounts and pump their own gas. Women have babies, juggle careers, cook the meals, clean the kitchens and still find ways to earn money, keep up Pinterest boards of their latest craft ideas, help coach sports teams, run PTAs and basically do it all.
That is all awesome and inspirational.
Except, for me, I also kind of like the idea we don’t actually need to do it all on our own. I like the idea that we are made for partnerships. We are made with strengths and weaknesses, and to compliment one another.
And, I’ll say it: I like chivalry.
Men of the world, if you ever see me in a parking lot, struggling to figure out how to get the hood of my van to stay up, please, don’t assume that you’ll offend me or that I’ll pepper spray your eyeballs.
Please, offer to help.