This Is How I Found The Confidence To DIY Despite Mansplaining
As a chronically-bored DIYer and first-time homeowner, I spend an abhorrent amount of time at home improvement stores. It’s both a necessity and a hobby, as I’m renovating our 1980s home room-by-room with my husband Chance, in front of nearly 200,000 strangers on the internet.
During my many visits to the holy land (read: hardware store), my presentation varies from fresh-from-brunch cutie to mid-project troll prepared for battle. And not so shockingly, the way I look significantly impacts my experience in the store.
Male employees and even male customers offer me unsolicited advice at much higher rates when I’ve done my hair and makeup. On days I feel especially cute, I prepare myself for mansplaining.
In the lumber department, a man asked me “if I knew what I was here for,” while I calculated how many panels I’d need to beadboard my hallway. Another time, a man couldn’t help but interject with his preferred brand of sink faucets while I looked for parts to fix my existing one. Once while holding a copper pipe, a man, unprompted, began to explain “oxidation” to me.
But the worst one happened late last year:
I stepped up to the counter, placing a quart of shellac-based primer, a few roller brushes, and a few paint brushes in front of the employee behind the counter. He was a tall, slender man, probably 50 years old. I recognized him from my many visits to this hardware store — and while it wasn’t my preferred store, it was the closest to my house.
“Oh I’m sure you don’t need this, ma’am,” he said.
I was fumbling through my wallet at this point and certain I had misheard him, so I distractedly asked, “Huh?”
“This shellac-based primer. This is not for crafts or interior painting, this is serious stuff.”
Oh, he did say that.
Softly and still a little puzzled, I responded, “yeah, thanks, I know,” thinking that would be the end of it. After all, I was paying him money in return for this primer he was certain I did not need.
At that moment, my husband met me at the checkout, so he caught the tail-end of this question from the cashier:
“Can I ask why you think you need this kind of primer?”
Stumbling through the English language I barely got these vowels and consonants out, “I… I’m uh I’m painting a piece of IKEA furniture and uh um I need shellac primer for that.”
“Yeah you can just use regular primer, you do not need this. This is what I mean.”
To which I stammered, grabbed my husband’s arm, and shoved him into my place, sharply instructing him to “just buy this s*** please — I can’t.” I began to walk outside, muttering “I know it’s shocking but I know what I’m doing.”
Of course, I was infuriated at this man. At his assumptions and unbelievable confidence in himself. But mostly I was mad at myself.
Because this wasn’t the first time I’d been lost for words at the hands of a condescending man. And every time it happens, I promise myself I’ll do better next time.
I was filled with the raging guilt of not being composed enough in the moment to respond to this man with the tongue-lashing he so deserved. Like I had tragically failed my feminist test and would never be rewarded the badge of honor.
This moment is a uniquely female experience: In the wake of someone else’s wrongdoing, we pick up the shame and criminality that comes with “letting him get away with it.”
It seems I’m not the only woman in the world who has been harassed by mansplainers at the home improvement store. In fact, plenty of women online confide in me that they’ve stopped going all together just to avoid these unprompted exchanges. I’d be lying if the idea of just sending my husband had never crossed my mind. Sometimes it feels easier.
But in the three years since we began DIY home renovation projects on our home, I have found something that sets my soul on fire. A true passion. For me, finding the hidden potential in a space, dreaming about what it could be, and then bringing it to life is a high I will never stop chasing. Mansplainers be damned!
Instead of avoiding the home improvement store, I hope to show women how I’m imperfectly doing it anyway. I don’t always have the feminist-approved comeback and I think that’s ok. I’m unlearning the need to even engage with these men. It’s freed me of my fears and the undeserved shame that came with them.
After the shellac primer debacle, my husband met me at the car and immediately hugged me. He apologized first for the patriarchy and next for not saying something to the man.
We chatted through a few scenarios and how I’d want to handle them in the future. He listened and validated me. He even admitted to not knowing answers to any of the questions the male cashier was pressing me for. This tidbit made me laugh and feel grateful for this partner.
Before he put the car in drive, he said “However you handle it, at the moment, is the right way to have handled it.”
This permission was exactly what I needed and it’s something I preach to women time and time again. That thing they think you can’t do? Do it anyway. Take up space. And leave the guilt and overthinking to the mansplainers. You just might find what sets your soul on fire.