The Adventures of a Female Gearhead

True story: my sophomore year in college, my friend Jason and I were walking back to my residence hall when we passed two guys attempting to change a tire. I say “attempting” because at that point they’d managed to dig out the owner’s manual and the jack, and were at a loss as to what to do next. When we offered to help, one of the guys looked at Jason and asked, “Do you know what a v-notch is?”
Jason did not, at which point I explained that the v-notch (where the jack is supposed to go) can be found on the underside of the car about 18 inches from the wheel well. This spot is reinforced in order to hold the weight of the car; put the jack somewhere else and you’ll likely rip the side off your car (since we don’t really do uni-body anymore… OK, I’ll stop).
I even ran my hand along the car until I felt the notch, and then I set up the jack myself. At which point the two guys looked at Jason and said, “Thank you!” *Sigh*

It’s a familiar story for any woman who’s interested in something typically considered to be a masculine activity – football, gaming, you name it. And, just as with any male-identified area, a woman has to be better than best. I have sat at pro football games next to men who didn’t have a clue what down it was – but if I don’t have the entire roster of every team in my division memorized, it’s because I’m a girl. I’ve been to races where the men around me didn’t know which driver was which – but if I don’t know who won this race 20 years ago, it’s because I’m a girl. I suck at pool because I suck at pool – but no, it’s because I’m a girl.
But in my experience cars have been the worst. I’m hardly an expert on all things automotive, but I know enough to understand what’s going on in my car. I can change my oil (maybe not on my current car, a Saturn – they’re impossible to work on) and my brake pads. I don’t do jumper cables because I’m afraid of anything electrical – NOT because I’m a woman. But whenever I do anything car-related, it’s like the people in the auto parts store don’t know how to relate to me unless there’s a man with me. (Which is pretty funny when the man in question is my dad, who still thinks he has to pump the gas pedal before cranking his very modern car whenever it’s cold outside.)
I was reminded of this recently, hearing a co-worker tell the very funny story of an elderly woman he knew who didn’t get an oil change for about 20 years. She knew that she needed to add oil, but not that she needed to drain the old gunky oil. So, by the time her engine totally locked up, the solidified oil had to be chipped off of every piece. He was telling this story as a ha-ha – oh, those goofy women and their inability to understand cars! – while conveniently ignoring the fact that the mechanic who rebuilt the engine was also a woman!
My thinking is that being able to change a tire is like knowing how to tread water. If men aren’t the only ones who operate cars, then they shouldn’t be the only ones who are taught how to work on them. It’s a two-sided problem: women who are told that they can’t handle car-knowledge and who are then ridiculed for not having car-knowledge, and men who just aren’t into wheels and motors made to feel invisible. All around, a very f*cked up idea.
Does anyone know of safe places for not just women, but anyone, to learn and exchange ideas about car care? (By “safe” I mean Web sites, etc., where I can ask advice on bleeding brake lines without being told that this knowledge is automatically downloaded onto the Y chromosome, and therefore I cannot possibly understand.)
[Two things, just to vent before I go: A) owning my own Craftsman socket set does NOT make me weird; and, B) that body kit does NOT make your car go any faster. Spend the $$$ on a turbo instead. ]

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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