A few days ago, I squirmed at the prospect that an electrical circuit in my friends’ home placed in my care for a few weeks could have fried during a power outage. At the same time, I had to laugh. I’m so accustomed to the convoluted but effective method we’ve developed of fixing our off-the grid power systems at home, but when it came to a breaker box full of switches, I was intimidated. So, I gave myself a little get-over-yourself talk and asked one co-worker, then another, and a third.
One of them gave me some helpful advice. My discomfort with the whole situation must have been palpable, because he offered to come help me troubleshoot the problem. A few hours passed, and I couldn’t focus, so I went back to my friends’ place to see what I could do with his advice. Just as he’d suggested, a switch needed to be levered back and forth several times before it fully flipped back into the power-consuming mode designed for a utility load.
While I worked, I found myself saying aloud a refrain I often repeat when faced with the need to solve a problem or fix something. “You are smart enough for this.”
Living in the country, we get used to things not working right, or just generally not going according to the plan. Roads? Ha! Don’t get too used to having those. Pipes? They break. Electricity, water? Sometimes you might have them. Other times not. Make the most of them while they’re in good supply.
The “You Are Smart Enough” refrain may sound silly. In fact, it does to me. But even having had at least 20 years of time to absorb the rural sensibilities required to find and fix our own problems – essentially to adapt – in places like this, the fact remains. The nuts and bolts of mechanical function behind the tools we use, the chemical and biological makeup of our world, the physics of subsistence in the vast mountains and rivers here, and the math of what makes it work or not work are all extra challenging for women much of the time. It’s not that we’re not smart enough. It’s that we’ve witnessed and heard how the world thinks we’re less capable, and we’ve internalized that, often to the point where we’d deny it if asked.
And reminding myself that I’m smart enough helps. So show some love for the women who persevere to figure things out, who are smart enough to ask for help and make it work. And save some love, also, for the men who share what they know without laughing or making fun of these women, and who share in the feeling of pride and victory when these small battles are won by women who feel empowered to fix their own shit on their own. (Shout out to Michael Stearns, in particular.)