A friend of mine recently gave me a wonderful book, When A Woman Takes An Axe To A Wall
by Allegra Bennett. My friend told me that it was about how we as women grow from the challenges we face, and how we can excavate ourselves to find out who we really are and what we really want. I wondered why she was giving me this book. We had only recently met. Was she assuming that I didn’t know where I wanted to go with my life, or my business? I was completely baffled.I decided to read the book so I could figure out why it was given to me.
The author, Allegra Bennett is a fascinating woman. After a 23 year marriage, Allegra was given her house in the divorce settlement. This meant that she also was left to deal with all the issues the old Victorian house had, such as the garbage disposal. Her ex-husband had been the one to go down to the basement and fix the disposal every time it broke down, and she would stand by the sink with a plunger and do her part. After the divorce, her husband wasn’t there to help and she couldn’t afford to call a plumber, so she went down to the basement herself, and low and behold she actually fixed the problem for good. This was something her ex-husband had never managed to do. She felt strong, proud, competent, and powerful. She realized she didn’t have to be afraid of home improvement, and as her quarterly magazine, Renovating Woman touts, if you can frost a cake, vacuum a carpet, or machine-sew a pillowcase, you already know how to grout a tub, sand a floor, or miter cut a mail slot in the front door.
Just a generation or two ago, women went from living in their father’s home to living in their husband’s home. You aren’t supposed to buy a home unless you plan to live there at least five years, so many optimistic women in their twenties assume they should wait until they get married to buy a home. But with so many women outliving their husbands, finding themselves as single mothers after divorce, or putting marriage off until their thirties and choosing to buy a home in their twenties, women home ownership has hit an all time high.
I vividly remember our nation’s bicentennial July 4th, 1976, I spent the day at a huge family BBQ in Memphis, Tennessee. I was 5 years old, but still remember the cheer my mother’s best friend’s daughter who was in her early teens taught me: “Firecracker, Firecracker, Boom, Boom, Boom! Boy’s got the muscles, Teacher’s got the brain, Girl’s got the pretty legs and we won the game! Yeah!” What did that teach me at such an impressionable age? Probably taught me that girls aren’t smart or strong. We are just supposed to be pretty.
So it’s no wonder that I and other women automatically look to men to help us when a car needs to be jump started, or we need to light the grill, or we need to set up a computer or new flat screen television. We just assume men know how to do these things, and we assume that they know more than we do. The book calls this “Knight in Shining Armor Syndrome” when women fail to trust their own judgment and accept the representations of men without question whether or not the answers are supported by expertise or prior knowledge. Men grow up not having the luxury of being able to cry, show emotion, or ask for help. They are forced to put emotions such as fear aside, and use their brain to solve problems. This typically gives them more experience, more confidence, and therefore less fear.
Allegra’s book brought back so many memories for me and what I went through during my divorce. After graduating from college, my college sweetheart and I lived together and later married. I went from having my father and mother provide for me to having a boyfriend, then husband take care of me. He took care of our finances, helped me carry in the groceries, got the car washed and oil changed, and took care of the house. When I divorced at age 30, among other things, I had to learn how to use the tools in the tool box he had left me with the house. Thanks to the lively 70 year old widow next door, I learned how to fend for myself. I learned how to use drills and power screw drivers, to use a pressure washer, and even became bold enough to replace my own headlight after a trip to Pep Boys, rather than pay more to the Volvo dealership. In those years, I bought a car on my own, refinanced my house in my own name,and balanced my checkbook with the help of Quicken. I became independent, more confident, and so much stronger because I didn’t have anyone to turn to. Right now, I’m renting as I’m still fairly new to being self-employed and our economy has been so bad in recent years, but I do hope to own my own home again in a couple of years.
During my divorce, I sometimes wished my father would have stepped in to help me, but he didn’t. It was time for me to grow up. I have never been “Daddy’s Little Girl”. I remember when I was 16 and my car getting a flat tire one night in the rain in a bad area of town. I walked to the gas station to call my father, but he wouldn’t come to my rescue. He knew I was with an Eagle Scout and had faith that I’d learn from this experience, and told me “You’ll figure it out.” I guess I was supposed to watch my friend and learn how to replace a flat with a spare tire, but I think what I learned that rainy night was that I couldn’t count on my father for help. But like Blanche DuBois, I did come to rely on “the kindness of strangers” and men like my husband to help me. It wasn’t until after my divorce in my thirties that I truly became an independent woman.
I’m still not totally clear on why my new friend felt like I needed to read this book, but I’m glad she gave it to me. If you are a new “home own-her”, I highly recommend it. There are so many stories of women who became stronger through their experience owning their own home. One of the most inspiring was the story of Betty Jean Murphy, owner of Savannah Development Co., a real estate developer that specializes in low and middle income housing. “When she looked at the kind of carelessly designed and decorated rental housing that was created for the poor and working poor populations she realized a main ingredient was missing that kept residents from taking care of the place they lived. ” She believes that where you live and how you are treated impact how you live. She creates affordable and beautiful housing — which are not mutually exclusive. She has done this in Savannah, GA and Baltimore, MD.
– Miss A