Men, Women, And Fear Of Power Tools
Bruce W. Maki,
My mother has always been a handy and capable person. About
ten years ago she ran a small business in a turn-of-the-century
home she had purchased by herself. While visiting her home one
summer she gave me a basic Black and Decker circular saw. It
wasn't a gift; she had bought the saw for herself but was
not comfortable using it. I checked the saw over and cleaned
it up but it still made a lot of noise. It made me a little nervous
at first but I got used to it. I have been using it ever since.
Three years ago I devoted a couple of hundred hours to a volunteer
project, helping to build a transition house for a domestic violence
shelter. On Saturdays a lot of volunteers showed up, many of
them women. The guys working on the project were anything but
male chauvinists. Yet when it came to doing the more dangerous
work, like installing shingles on the second-story roof or cutting
lumber with power saws, most (but not all) of the ladies were
rather... let's say... bashful.
And last fall, while working a part-time job for a major tool
and hardware retail chain, our whole department, half of whom
were women, went to a special tool training seminar. They had
a room set up with all of the store's power tools and woodworking
machines, so employees could try them and speak from experience
when they talked to customers. I was shocked at the near complete
reluctance of the women to even touch the miter saws, table saws
and pneumatic nailers. So I coaxed a couple of female co-workers
to try them out, explaining how safe the machines were if the
wood was held firmly and their hands were kept in the proper
I'll admit that I have experienced moments of fear and
intimidation when climbing ladders or using noisy, dangerous
power tools. I'd bet that a lot of other men react the same
way. I've seen guys who acted reluctant to use some tools.
But males rarely verbalize any fear of common "guy things"
like power tools.
That in itself, I believe, is a fundamental difference between
men and women - the willingness to express fear.
Suppose a man took a job as a carpenter's helper, or
even just spent an afternoon helping his friends build a deck.
Suppose part of his job was cutting lumber. Suppose the only
tool available was a circular saw. Observers may never notice
it, but I'd wager that plenty of men feel at least a slight
amount of fear when using a circular saw. I've worked with
circular saws for years and sometimes I still experience a slight reservation
to using them.
But I don't let that stop me.
My reasoning ability overpowers my fear. There are millions
of circular saws in use. They have been in widespread use for
half a century. They are carefully designed and engineered for
the highest degree of safety. They have to be; the manufacturers
would certainly be sued if they did not take the utmost of care
When used properly, with necessary protective devices like
safety glasses, circular saws pose a small but highly acceptable
risk. Knowing the risks of any power tool is important. Anybody
that thinks a circular saw will jump out of their hand and attack
them is either totally unaware, paranoid delusional or in need
of drug rehabilitation. The two greatest risks from a circular
saw, in my opinion, are the danger of flying particles and the
tendency of saws to kick back when the blade gets pinched.
The question remains: why are women so much more reluctant than
men to use power saws? I'm not an expert in psychology,
but I have made a few (hopefully objective) observations in my
Women willingly express fear. There's nothing wrong with
that... unless it prevents them from accomplishing their goals
or limits their potential.
Men may be afraid of some things, like power tools, but you'll
rarely see it. I stated that I have observed in some guys a slight
reluctance to use power tools. But I have never seem a man outright
refuse to use a tool or climb a ladder. Rather than be called
a wimp by their peers, guys will overcome their fear, "leave
their comfort zone" as some would say, and just do the scary
task. And after using the saw or climbing the shaky ladder they
realize... that wasn't so bad.
Maybe I will be branded a sexist because
of writing an article like this. Contrary to what some feminists
may feel by reading this, I strongly advocate that women
have equal opportunity in everything. I have read numerous accounts
of significant differences in male and female brains. But I don't
believe that can explain the female reluctance to operate risky
equipment. Certainly many women do use these tools, I have met
successful female carpenters and construction workers. What I
think is the culprit is the socialization process that girls
undergo as they mature. It's acceptable for girls to be
afraid of slightly scary things. As much as we seem to loathe
the peer pressure and intimidation that boys inflict upon each
other, it does serve some useful purposes, such as coaxing males
out of their comfort zones and trying things that are a little
risky, "pushing the envelope" as we say.
Now I hope you don't misread my message here and think
that I'm advocating that we all take up sky diving or base
jumping or any of those dangerous "extreme sports"
in vogue today. What I'm advocating is that people understand
themselves, that they use reasoning to overpower fear when appropriate.
If millions of others have done it, and the manufacturers of
the tools or products are still in business, then there must
be a safe way to do it. Find that safe way and stick to it.
And one more thing. Women so often complain that men won't
express their feelings. Maybe some things are better left unsaid.
one woman's reply to this editorial.
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