Sunday, I’m staring into the abyss—the bottomless well of muck and despair that is my bathroom sink. I’m about to yell at my son for his new hobby (filling the sink to watch it empty) when I realize the drain plug is open; the water just isn’t creating the tidal spout of happiness that indicates it is rushing back to the sea from whence it came. Crap on a cracker, the sink is plugged up.
Thankfully, I am not a completely helpless female when it comes to home repair. My son’s propensity for investigating all things mechanical means I have had to learn how to put doorknobs back on, realign toilet fixtures* and learn how to avert or avenge myriad other small household disasters. I am a woman with tools, hear me roar.
On my knees in the bathroom, I crawl under the cabinet to disconnect the thingamajiggy from the whosie-whatsit that causes the stopper to move up and down.** Then I can pull up the drain plug and see what the problem is. There will now be a brief theatrical reenactment. Those of you with genteel dispositions may want to leave the room.
The Downstairs Bathroom Players Present: The Creature
Woman: “Okay, here we go. I’ll just pull this drain plug out of the way so we can see what we’re looking at…and…oh… Oh my god. Please dear merciful heaven, what is that thing?”
[Runs to phone, dials frantically.]
Woman: “Hello? Is this MacDonald’s Emergency Plumbing? Help! There’s some sort of black, slimy thing living in my sink! Do you do exorcisms? You do? Hurry, please!”
PP: “I understand your bathroom has been possessed?”
Woman: “Yes, it’s in there.”
[Plumber/priest waves holy plunger, recites the plumber’s prayer.]
PP: “In nomine Padres, Domino’s pizza, and spirits of cactus—tequila be thy name—I call you up from the depths of the p-trap. The foul odors of hell reveal your wickedness. I cast you out, demon. Be gone from here and never return.”
Woman: “Is…is it safe to enter?”
PP: “Run, save yourself.”
[Fade to black]
Okay, so maybe I like to exaggerate a bit. But, truthfully, the stuff that came out of the sink was an unholy nightmare—a year’s worth of hair, dirt and soap congealed into a slimy plug that blocked all but a tiny aperture for water to pass through. It looked like the plumbing had caught my cold and was congested with grey phlegm.
As a parent, I have had to learn to take all manner of gross things with equanimity: booger eating, vomit hurling, and fecal fixation. You name it, I’ve handled it. But I’ll admit, I did hurk a bit seeing what was coming out of that pipe. So, here’s where I confess that I am a bit more girly than I really want to be. Dozens of feminists reading this will drop their heads into their hands mortified by this admission, but, if I had a man in my life who came with a set of tools, I’d have been on the phone to him before touching that nasty mess. This brings me to today’s topic: What does it mean to be girly in today’s culture?
When I was young (back when dinosaurs roamed the land), being girly meant more than liking the color pink, wearing make-up and a fondness for chick flicks. It meant that you were weak-wristed when you threw a ball, that you screamed when you saw a mouse and you couldn’t do math. It implied all sorts of helplessness and was a catch-all excuse for avoiding dirty, hard manual labor. When I was eighteen, you could have accused me of being girly and the label would have been appropriate. But then, I joined the Army and I began to see how accepting that definition was a cop-out.
I was on DIC duty one day and it was just about as pleasant as the acronym implies. We were given the task of hauling bags of salt from a truck bed to a shed about ten feet away. The bags weighed about sixty to seventy pounds each. As luck would have it, assigned to DIC duty that day were two men, me, and about ten other women. The sergeant in charge sent one of the guys to go count money at the officers club—a nice, easy task. That left the one guy and eleven women to haul that shit stuff. The guy set to, lugging a crunchy bag on his shoulder and heaving his way to the shed. I could just barely lift one and it wasn’t long before I started to tire. Another woman and I worked with the guy to get the job done…and the rest of the women stood around and didn’t even make a token effort to help us. There were a few
mumbled excuses: “I can’t lift it.” “It’s too heavy.” Two women working together could have helped out; but none of the slackers did…and no one called them on it.*** After that day, I have done my best not to make excuses or blame my limitations on my gender. My failings are my own. But then, so are my victories.
Faced with the terrible prospect of a backed up sink, did I succumb? Did I fold in the face of failure? No! Wearing my pink rubber gloves, and suppressing my gag reflex, I tackled the drain monster. It fought a hard fight, but I took that mother down. No priest or plumber required. Now that’s what I call being girly!
Asterisk bedazzled footnotes:
*I really don’t think saying “I know how to handle a sticky ball-cock” is wise.
**I can fix it, but I can’t always describe it. For those of you who absolutely must know, I was removing the drain plug adjustment arm by unscrewing and taking off the ball valve from the sink trap. There, was that any better? No? I didn’t think it would be.
***In defense of female soldiers, I saw an equal number of women who buckled down and tried to do whatever was set in front of them. I’d like to think I was one of them.