Yesterday I got a flat tire.
I didn’t get it from driving over a nail or from a leak in my “valve stem” (apparently one of the top five causes of flat tires). No miscreants showed up in the dead of night and let the air out of my wheels.
Nope – I pulled in too close to the curb and scraped up against its corner, ripping a horizontal slit in my tire wall about a third of the length of my index finger.
In the hours that followed, I was utterly useless. I didn’t know if I had a spare. (I didn’t.) I didn’t know how to use the little…temporary-inflation-sealant kit that I didn’t know had been in my trunk this whole time. I didn’t know who to call to find the tire I needed, or how to install it, or how much it should cost. Oh, and all this happened because I couldn’t park my car.
I was depressed, and for a while I couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t because my car was out of action – the damage wouldn’t be prohibitively expensive, no one was hurt and I could live without my car for half a day. Why did I feel like such a failure?
Then I realized it was because I felt like a bad woman. Like: If I’m supposed to be all independent and self-reliant, why am I still pouting and peering while my male friends inspect the tire I punctured with a bad parking job? Shouldn’t I be rolling up my sleeves and being all, I’ve got this? Do I need to turn in one of my feminist cards now?
It was then that I came to realize society has created two ideals for women to emulate. The first is a familiar adversary: the Victoria’s Secret model, perennially pretty, able to cook, clean, sew. Over time, being a strong woman has increasingly meant steering away from her: “I am no Rachael Ray! I keep sweaters in my stove!”
But there’s another “ideal woman” out there: in movies, on TV, in ads. She’s more cunning, but equally harmful and with the same roots. She’s the “strong, independent woman,” who pulls up in her motorcycle to rock music, shoots a gun with perfect aim, drinks everyone under the table – oh, and changes a tire without a man’s help.
It’s as if women are now being pulled in two directions. In one direction is the “traditional, home-keeping woman,” which means chilling out in the kitchen. In the other direction is “strong woman,” which means holding your own at the pool table and being able to, I don’t know, kick box. (RAWR MANLY THINGS!) (God forbid they get TOO manly and start doing things like roller derby or playing rugby, because that’s like, lesbian-y and weird.)
The “ideal strong woman” is insidious because it’s easy to be a feminist and reject the former. It’s harder to be a feminist and reject the idea that you should never let a man do anything for you. That’s why I felt like a bad feminist when I had to stand aside looking confused as hell while my tire gradually took on the appearance of a used balloon.
I talked to a friend about it today and she said this: “Being a strong woman isn’t about how you perform these individual tasks. It’s about how you bring yourself to the world.” That resonated with me. Being a feminist doesn’t mean ensuring I know how to perform every task out there traditionally performed by a man. It doesn’t mean rejecting my boyfriend’s help with fixing my car because that help makes me inferior. It just means embracing who I am (a lightweight, afraid of guns and terrible at pool) and expecting equal treatment for that.
Sure, now that I’m driving by myself more often, I should probably learn how to change a tire. But so should lots of men that probably know as little about it as I do. And hey, I know a whole lot about other things. So I’ll hold on to that feminist card for now.