Last week a friend of mine bragged on her social media about acquiring a shiny new mint-green scroll saw. Before I could derail her moment and bemoan my failure to replace my long lost cordless Dremel, a slew of comments popped up voicing safety concerns and personal testimonies of complete inadequacy with tools. My covetousness was quickly replaced by another lost thing, my annoyance with women who claim to not be tool inclined.
One winter I worked in a bead shop in Alaska, wherein every day I heard women bemoan their tool-using deficiency. Yes, just women, as only about five men came into the shop during my employment and not a one whined that, “Oh I just couldn’t use a wire snipper!”, though one guy did mock our adorable mini anvil designed for detailed hammering work. Women, on the other hand—you know the ones who can use their bare hands to install contact lenses and feminine hygiene products into the most sensitive regions of the body—who can use forks, various brushes, and often even drive cars and run complicated machines such as clothes and dish washers, many of them claim they could never use a drill, which is basically a hair dryer with a thing on the end that you point away from you. I thought we were the DIY generation? This is not gendered genetic coding folks, it is an internalized sexist fallacy. In the interest of furthering advanced fine motor skills for grown people, herein is a sampling of the possibilities available to women who want to tool.
Zahrah Habibullah, Melbourne, Australia
Profession or major occupation: Photographer/Jeweller
Favorite tool: Torch
How long have you been working with a torch? A few years.
What do you do with your tool? I use the torch to heat up and soften metals I am working with, to manipulate the textures on metal and to mix different metals together. I have always been fascinated by the ability to make fluid what is solid, so using tools for melting metals is at the top of the list of my favourite processes.
Is there another, bigger, better or fancier tool you long to own? Not at this time, I feel like I still don’t know the possibilities with the torch/flame as there is much technique to learn about the application and intensity of heat on differing surfaces.
Sumayyah Talibah, Michigan, U.S.A.
Profession or major occupation: When not plotting to take over the literary world, I live a double life as a bead artist and jewelry maker.
Favorite tool: It is difficult to choose only one, but I would have to say that my favorite tool is a pair of serrated chain nose pliers.
How long have you been working with serrated chain nose pliers? I was dragged kicking and screaming into the shiny world of bead art about three years ago.
What do you do with your tool? Chain nose pliers are good for bending wire, connecting loops of wire, and opening and closing small pieces, like ear wires and crimp covers.
Is there another, bigger, better or fancier tool you long to own? I’ve always wanted a butane torch. I would love to get into welding and metalsmithing on a small scale.
Aaminah Shakur, West Michigan, USA
Profession or major occupation: Artist, poet, and doula.
Favorite tool: A brayer.
How long have you been working with a brayer?: I have only used a quality brayer a few times and very briefly. Owning one has been on my wishlist for at least 3 years. When I first taught myself to do acrylic transfers, which I used to transfer poems onto my paintings and iconic book covers onto collages, I wanted a brayer so badly because I was struggling with pressing the paper down with my hands instead. I saw other potential uses for a brayer as well and had a chance to borrow one from a partner for a bit but discovered that the one they had (and now I understand why they never used it) was not strong enough to hold up to the way I needed it to. The roller kept slipping out of its plastic handle because of the pressure I exerted on it. Then I began to dream about what kind of brayer I wish I had…
What do you do with your tool?: I use my brayer to lay flat collage work, putting together zines, to adhere acrylic transfers, and will soon use it for printmaking and paint printing onto fabric as well.
Is there another, bigger, better or fancier tool you long to own?: So, this brayer actually is my fantasy tool! I suppose over time I might see a need for this in multiple sizes, but otherwise this is just perfect to me! Someday I might find myself looking for a heavier stone one, which would be awesome with printmaking.
Fatima Killeen, Canberra, Australia
Profession or major occupation: Visual artist (Painter & printmaker)
Favorite tool: Printing Press
How long have you been working with a printing press? Close to 20 years
What do you do with your tool? I make collographs & etching prints.
Is there another, bigger, better or fancier tool you long to own? A Table saw for cutting large pieces of timber. [Go ahead and reread that last bit]
At this point I would like to address the collective grumblings out there: “Well these are creative people, and I’m just not creative.” One of these women insists that she is not creative and another is still coming to grips with using that word to describe herself. Let’s also address the fallacy of tech types. I admit that I totally hate learning new technology, but I do it, mostly because I would have to return to my paper route gig if I didn’t. Still, in 2014 I would expect that anyone with a high school education has the tech savvy equivalent to a young Bill Gates, yet we hear plenty of women bemoan “I don’t know how to use Photoshop/Excel Spreadsheets/Wordpress.” Maybe picking up a pink keyboard could be of help to these ladies.
LaYinka Sanni, London, UK
Profession or major occupation: Editor and EFL teacher
Favorite tool: Audacity
How long have you been working with Audacity? For about 3 years on and off.
What do you do with your tool? I use it to edit audio files from recorded online events I conduct, [LaYinka is being modest here. She recently began hosting live international, women-only literary salons. Very awesome stuff.] as well as use it to record audio versions of my poetry and short stories. Segmenting mini audio samples from a large file is simple to do with Audacity, and I can also clean up unwanted noises and clicks to produce smooth sound files.
Is there another, bigger, better or fancier tool you long to own?
I would absolutely love to own Adobe’s Audition. I first came across it when I worked as a freelance narrator for a media company in Cairo, and fell in love with the seamless operation and ease of use. There was no major learning curve with the software, so I see it as a massive upgrade from Audacity, but that upgrade comes with a hefty price tag.
A friend of mine pointed to the picture of Fatima in her dust mask and commented “Rosie the Riveter.” Exactly, I thought. Rosie didn’t happen in a vacuum called 1942. Women the world over have always used tools in various occupational settings, and perhaps that is part of the tool aversion. Maybe tool using is considered a lower class (or manly!) kind of thing for women to do and we just don’t want to be associated with that as we lightly draw our liquid eyeliner wand just above the lash line. Please continue (as if you could quit) to fill your homes and life with the stuff our tools make, but I urge you to try on some tools yourself. The Classic Hammer makes an excellent start, offering endless possibilities for both creating and destructing. As a bonus you can get an awesome vintage suede or shiny vegan belt for your new beloveds, maybe you’ll even want to make one yourself. Your tool selfies are VERY welcome in the comments!