If I had a hammer… It wouldn’t be pink

I just moved house, which has been something of an adventure. There has been a lot heavy lifting. There has been a lot of arranging and re-arranging of furniture. There has been much yelling of fake Swedish curse words (Splürg! Snafflebörgen!) because IKEA instructions are so damn hard to follow. And there has been much hardware. When you’re moving into a new house, you need tools to do stuff like fixing furniture and hanging pictures and so on. So, I went out to buy tools. Specifically, I went to buy a hammer and nails so that I could hang this amazing poster on my bedroom wall.

Unsurprisingly, I’m not the only lady who’s ever needed to buy a hammer. I know this because there is, it turns out, an entire market out there for lady tools, (yes, I realize that sounds like a euphemism for vibrators). There is a whole market out there for people just like me; young ladies moving into their first apartments and buying their first ever set of tools. How do I know they’re for ladies? Well, they’re pink, and some of them have flowers on them. And some of them are just flat-out called “women’s tool kits.”

We’ve talked a lot at Feministing about the practice gendering otherwise gender neutral products by slapping a pink coat of paint on them – everything from computers to Ouija boards. Just paint it pink and ta da! you have a product designed especially for women! It’s problematic, to say the least, to assume that a woman would need different tools than a man, or to assume that if we did, painting a tool pink would be enough to meet those specific needs. Similarly, the automatic equation of pink with “for girls” means that pink things will be categorically off-limits to boys and men who don’t want to be teased, mocked or otherwise punished for crossing gender boundaries.

But a tool kit, unlike a laptop or iPod, is a very gendered product
indeed; home repair and construction, traditionally, are men’s
activities just as cooking and sewing are women’s activities. On a
personal level, while I’m certainly not the first woman to need a
hammer, it’s no coincidence that I haven’t needed one until now, at age
22 when I’m setting up my first home. Until now there’s always been a
man around – my dad, a boyfriend, some dude in my dorm – who owns and
knows how to operate tools.

But now, my roommate and I are on our own, and despite the
frustration of repeatedly coming across tool kits that reveal an
assumption that we ladies would never want to buy even a necessary item
unless it might look at home next to our Barbie Dream Campers, we’re
enjoying the adventure. The two of us are now the proud owners of a
growing tool kit. There are nails and pliers and screwdrivers, and even
a power drill that we haven’t actually used yet but that we sometimes
get out just to play with it and hear it go “whiirrrrr!”

And as for hammer-hunting, my search ended the moment I found this:
hammer with blue handle and a cardboard tag with a picture of Ms.Fix-It

I give you the Ms. Fix-It hammer, complete with a mascot, Ms.
Fix-It. Check her out. Ms. Fix-It is wearing a red bandanna (surely a
nod to Rosie the Riveter), jeans and a flannel shirt, a toolbelt and a
smile. She’s totally psyched to go knock in some nails. There’s no pink
to be seen, no sign of a need to make the product “girlier” so it will
appeal to women.

This hammer also doesn’t come with patronizing copy like, “makes
anyone handy” or “designed for small repairs around the home,” like so
many of the others do. In fact, the only thing that indicates that it’s
being marketed to women at all is the name. And it looks like Ms.
Fix-It – I presume she’s unmarried, or didn’t take her husband’s
surname – is a big old feminist. Having spent most of last night
banging holes in my wall to hang photos, I can attest that the thing
certainly works just fine. So now I have my hammer, for hanging
pictures, putting up blinds and, of course, smashing the patriarchy.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • ccotting

    my ex-g/f and I used to comment on this ridiculousness all the time! She is a theatre technician… and while she was well-respected in her undergrad theatre shop by professors and other students (except for the usual sexist asshats), you should see the looks she got when going into Home Depot or Lowe’s and buying “serious” tools… you know, anything requiring electricity or batteries that isn’t a drill. I am glad that both companies have committed to hiring more women and promoting more commercials with women actively buying tools, performing home repairs, and generally kicking ass. But that doesn’t mean their employees are equally enlightened.
    There is one benefit to the women’s tool sets — and it has nothing to do with the color. For some marketing reason, reasonably-priced sets of tools marketed to men are often only available for the holidays — when you can get a great Black and Decker power tool set, for example, for $75. I guess people don’t buy these sets the rest of the year, because the prices tend to be more expensive. Damn holiday marketing. But for some reason, women’s sets tend to be pretty cheap, and you see them year-round. For example, my mom bought me a “women’s” flowery hammer when I moved out of the house (she is…. not so much of a feminist). The hammer is actually pretty great — unscrew the bottom, and inside, Russian doll-style, are a set of screwdrivers in descending sizes. I haven’t seen this design anywhere else; maybe because I haven’t looked. But I’ve seen women’s sets for $30 for a great beginner home-repair kit — of course, all in pink. The gender dichotomy is ridiculous, but I can live with the pink for the price. I’m guessing most men won’t buy the pink sets; maybe their sets cost more because men are willing to pay more for non-pink tools. (Or because women’s sets tend to have less power tools, like saws?) No idea. And granted, I have little statistical proof for this theory — just anecdotal evidence. :)
    Best of luck on your new place!!

  • kaija

    Amen to the trials and tribulations of moving house and the myriad of small and large fix-it jobs that ensue (I adore the fake Swedish cursing, BTW)!
    So cool that a useful household tool like a hammer is marketed in a functional way that doesn’t play to stereotypes…that company is to be commended.
    Hammers come in different “weights”, the most common being “16 oz”. Depending on the type of job and the person doing it, a heavier hammer may be helpful (more work to swing, but that weight coming down has more force) or a lighter hammer might feel better (less work to swing repeatedly) or be less damaging to a nice wood finish. I would recommend a lighter weight hammer to those who are not experience/skilled with tools or just need to do a few things here and there. Color is completely optional :)

  • onlynow

    I’m not sure why we need Ms. Fixit to sell hammers to women, let alone the pinkification. A hammer’s a hammer, dude. Just go to Sears or Lowes or Ace and buy one already! Those spaces may seem alien at first, (especially if you’ve been relying on the males in your life to do the hammering for you all your life), but you’ll get used to it fast enough.
    Congrats on your new pad btw.

  • Michelle J

    I cannot express the joy and satisfaction I got out of caulking my shower and counter in the bathroom, hanging drywall, spackling, sanding, taping, and painting my condo. All on my own, and I did a damn good job! I din’t have to ask my fiance how to do it, or pay some big man to come do it for me. I now feel sooo at home at Home Depot it’s scarry!
    Oh, and did I mention that I did these things when I moved into the condo my fiance was already living in? I even got to show him how to caulk :)

  • Becca Stareyes

    This might be a dumb question, but don’t most people, aside from hobbyists*, buy their first tool box with their first place outside the dorms? I mean, the first set I owned was at age 21 when I got my first apartment — and I didn’t even think about it until Mom pointed out that I should have a hammer and screwdrivers since I had a bunch of do-it-yourself furniture.
    (I later bought a set of small screwdrivers when I needed to replace a hard-drive, so I suppose I might have bought those earlier if I had decided to do my last computer-repair job myself instead of asking Dad.)
    * Granted, hobbies that use power tools that are not sewing machines/other fabric-related machines or kitchen appliances tend to be considered ‘boy hobbies’.

  • AMM

    1. FWIW, I have heard it said that there are enough physical differences between the Average Woman and the Average Man that it would make sense to design certain tools slightly differently for women than for men. I’m not sure whether this applies to hammers, and I’m not sure whether the kind of tools you get at the average Home Depot are all that ergonomically adapted to either gender.
    2. Pink tools: a long time ago, my older brother talked about a friend of his who spray-painted his tools pink to make it less likely that someone would walk off with them. The theory being that no self-respecting male would be caught dead with anything Pi-i-i-nk (you’ll just have to imagine the look of revulsion when he says it) in his posession.
    So if you’re worried that your boyfriend/son/male acquaintances will run off with your tools, it would make sense to buy pink ones. Just sayin’….

  • ktncro

    1) i love this story. congrats on your new pad, your new and growing tool kit, your outrage, and your impressive list of faux-swedish curses (more please!)
    2) here’s to smashing the patriarchy *raises coffee cup*
    3) you just made me put on “hammer” – the pete seeger song, as covered by emma’s revolution – two way cool radical feminist life partners who also can sing like no one’s business.

  • asparke

    It seems to me that you are the one assigning gender to the tools. Sure women are probably the main ones buying those pink or flowery hammers, but it seems that by giving pink the power of being exclusively a “woman” color, you are doing the same thing as the marketers out there. Know what I mean?
    And then to finally be satisfied when you find a tool that has done something similar (with a picture of a female instead of a color) it seems that you are doing less to blur the lines of gender, and more to encourage divide.

  • sarsly

    Congrats on the new place!
    On hammers, and tools in general… I guess I’ve been very lucky to be raised in a generally progressive household. Across four Christmases my siblings and I each received a set of tools for our own. (I own a saw. Rock on, Mum & Da.) They’re all identical to each other, aside from my little sister getting a red box instead of a yellow one (but that’s only because the yellow ones were apparently non-existent when Da went to buy her toolbox).
    I get totally confused when I see things like tools marketed specifically “for women”. They’re bloody tools — or whatever the thing being marketed in pink is. (Then again, I am getting ready to enter a career field that is WAY male-dominated. Maybe I just don’t “get it”.)

  • mzza

    at first I thought all the important points were covered, but then I saw this:
    someone should forward her this post.

  • Melinda

    *What*? No, there’s no physical difference between men and women that would account for different hammer design. Or any other hand or power tools that I can think of. Women have shorter torsos, longer legs, and shorter arms than men.
    As nearly as I can tell, it’s a ploy to get women to pay more for shoddier merch. Here in rural Alaska, women who aren’t handy are often regarded as kind of useless, and you don’t spot a lot (any) of pink or undersized tools (wow, that does not look quite right). You do occasionally see pink 4-wheelers, pink fishing poles, and pink rifle stocks in the stores in Fairbanks but I haven’t seen anybody actually use one.
    Your older brother’s friend sounds excellent.

  • Comrade Kevin

    To be honest, I really do not have much in the way of home repair skills. I enjoy living in an apartment where one calls the landlord and a worker comes by to fix whatever is in need.
    This always caused problems with my own father, who could just about fix everything. His consternation with my lack of skills led him to say a few cruel things over the years, particularly the assumption that I must be a “feminine man”.
    But perhaps I can borrow your Patriarchy smashing hammer when I need it? I promise to return it just the way it was lent to me.

  • dondo.myopenid.com

    If there is anything I can think of that is completely gender independent (ignoring societal biases), it’s tools. Yes, women tend to be smaller than men, but many men are fairly small, which speaks to a need for hammers with different weights. And lo!
    I can’t help but think that by purchasing a hammer marketed to women — regardless of the market segment the marketers successfully pigeon-holed you into — you are capitulating to the idea that there is an innate difference between men and women, rather than resisting it. There are lots of well written books and articles describing how to purchase tools, how to fix things, and so on. The only thing standing between you and whatever you want to fix is your willingness to do a little research. For example, I’m not sure how serious you are about doing it yourself, but if you’re getting into anything remotely involved, this book is tremendous:
    Armed with nothing more than inexperience, that book, and a will to take a hammer to a wall (the teardown phase of a major project is HUGE fun!) …I completely renovated my kitchen.
    Congratulations and good luck!

  • JPlum

    Staple guns. A few years ago they finally started making sensible ones that you could use one handed (i.e., you pressed on the stapling part, not the other end). I got one for my Dad (I buy him cool tools, in memory of my girlhood when we would do stuff involving tools, and hardware stores).
    The staple guns came in two sizes. My Dad can use the larger one one-handed, but I can’t-my hands are too small. Wouldn’t be a problem, except that the bigger one will do brad nails, and round staples (excellent for cables). The smaller one just does flat staples.
    So, yeah, sometimes tools designed for big man-hands don’t actually work for ladies, or even men with smaller hands.

  • morning-radio

    I was going to mention the fact that most “lady hammers” I see, pink or otherwise, are smaller than a standard hammer. I’m no expert, but from some set construction and Habitat for Humanity experience, I would think those tiny hammers would be frustrating. I know when I first started I was hesitant to let the weight of the hammer do its job, but at least with my standard-size hammer the weight was doing something. I keep picturing the frustration of not being able to sink the nail in on the first couple swings, just tapping away at it…
    Anyway, I think everyone ought to have a little gender-neutral home-ec class: learn to reattach a button, balance a checkbook, and swing a hammer. And stop assuming that the guy in your dorm knows anything more than you do about using the hammer he probably just got for graduation.

  • NoticingTheGap
  • Mandy

    When I graduated from high school, one of my cousins got me a tool kit, saying it was one of the most useful gifts she’d gotten for graduation when she was my age. It was your standard tool kit with all the basics, with neon orange and black handles – not a shred of pink in sight. It’s been one of the best gifts I’ve received ever! Continuing the tradition, I got one for my little sister when she turned 18. I think everyone should at least be able to do their own basic repairs, even if through trial and error.

  • NoticingTheGap
  • ScienceAndTheCity

    I think it’s not just women that don’t own tool kits until age 22. I don’t remember any of the guys that I went to college with having tools there – you just don’t need them until you have your own place, mostly. I remember when I moved into my first apartment and went to Sears to get my first set of (definitely not pink) tools. I think I picked out the most serious-looking ones as backlash against my friends’ pink sets.
    I also want to give a shout-out to Ms. Fix-It. At the Duane Reade (pharmacy) near my apartment, all of the apartment maintenance odds and ends (nails, duct tape, etc.) are Ms. Fix-It brand. It’s refreshing to me to see that for once the generic brand of fix-it stuff, presumably for women and men both since they don’t have another brand, features a woman on the label!

  • odanu

    I used to buy “lady tools” for the specific reason that my husband wouldn’t steal them…. until he discovered that his co-workers wouldn’t steal them either (he works HVAC). So now, HE uses lady tools, and I don’t bother. He got me a screw gun for Mother’s day last year, no pink in sight.

  • odanu

    oh, I should add, that I am aware that it is misogyny that makes the pinkness/floweryness of “lady tools” useful in the not being “borrowed” department. That I didn’t in my original comment might be chocked up to heavy doses of painkiller.

  • Nik

    I unashamedly love my flowered tools.

  • j7sue2

    There is – just possibly – a case for spanners for women being made longer, to provide more leverage, as – on average – women are not as strong as men. That said – if you’ve ever tried to undo a roadwheel nut that’s been put on with an air spanner. I used to use long ring spanners and jump on them (78kilos or so). Now I have a mobile phone
    As a trans woman – When I hire tools, I get these patronising explanations of how they work. Last time it was an SDS drill (useful for making holes in concrete). Makes me smile, even though it is irritating.

  • kaija

    Agreed…making something smaller and pink doesn’t make it the right tool for the job! Incidentally, I’ve seen some unhandy guys struggling with a big hammer due to the “bigger=better” assumption.
    I definitely second your idea about a basic home skills class. I can cook and fix things, but I can’t sew for beans…it would helpful to know some basics.
    But here’s where a good partnership and nongendered skill-sharing comes in handy. Last weekend I installed our new A/C unit and my bf sewed my ballet shoes and fixed the clasp on a dress for me. Yay enlightenment! :)

  • yvonne

    I recently had to buy my first tool kit for work. (Yep, I’ve taken up a “blokey” job, complete with tool belt.)
    Within two minutes of walking into the store I had a guy comment “It’s so nice to see a lady picking out her tools . . . it looks much better than a guy in the sewing department”.
    When it came time to pick a hammer, there was a choice of about 20 brands. The variety was great, except, a hammer as big as my forearm is clearly too big for me (and I’m not little). So I asked the attendant if they had anything smaller. He handed me one which looked more appropriate for building doll’s houses than my work. Apparently there were no sizes in between the two.
    I had the same dilemma when picking out a tool belt, they all ended up around my ankles.
    And lastly, there was the patronizing attendant who wanted to know what I was building, and did I need any advice on how to go about it (because of course the lady doesn’t have a clue how to use a screwdriver!) Needless to say, he looked suitably shocked when I (politely) pointed out that the tools were for work and hence, I knew what to do with them.