Archive for March, 2009


by Ruth Minshull


            In my lifetime, I’ve seen countless new developments in our culture (frozen foods, CDs, aluminum foil, computers, several incarnations of cameras, cell phones, Post-its, iPods, Twitters, Day-Glo hair and road rage, to mention a few).  I’ve seen air travel become common and television become the national babysitter. 

            Of all the changes I’ve seen, however, none has enthralled me more than the women’s movement.

            I never accepted the notion that, because I was female, I should be able to sew a new pocket into a pair of trousers (that is, without stitching the front and back of the pants together).  Many similar holdouts kept me from making an unconditional commitment to housewifery.

            So when I first heard about women’s liberation, I was ready for it.  Freedom at last!  I got rid of my sewing machine, started my own business, took karate lessons and began telling gas station attendants to “Fill him up.”  (That was back when someone did fill your gas tank for you.)

            However, soon after my first giddy delirium of liberation, I realized that I would never really make it as a hard-core, man-hating, hairy-armpit feminist.  While I savored our new opportunities, I wasn’t ready to give up all of my own long-held rights as a woman—particularly the right to be ineffectual in times of certain crises.

            My awakening came the day the plumbing got balky in the upstairs bathroom.  The toilet was stopped up.

            As a strictly conditioned reflex, I immediately called the first man I could think of—my married son.  He said he would be tied up all day, but he’d come over right after work.

            As soon as I hung up, my new feminist pride asserted itself.  Why should I let this problem defeat me?  I needn’t be so helpless.  After all, I’m a Liberated Woman.  Shouldn’t we all be able to solve such petty problems?  I knew men dealt with these matters quite effortlessly by using a gadget called a “snake.”  What could be so hard about that? 

            Empowered by the mantra of my newly-hatched liberation (I can do anything!) I headed for the plumbing supply store. 

            I was the only woman in the place.  But, refusing to be intimidated by the testosterone-laden ambience, I stepped up to the counter and told the man that I needed a snake.

            “How long?”

            “Uh.  How long?” 

            “We have several lengths–up to 50 feet.  How far down is your obstruction?”

            “Oh, quite far, I’d say.  You’d better give me the fifty-foot one.”

            Back home, I lugged my cumbersome purchase up to the bathroom.  The cat and dog showed up to observe.  Mother-Doing-Something-Different was always an event they endowed with solemn significance.

            The huge metal coil lay on the floor, held together by a thick wire with tightly twisted ends.  I tried to untwist the wire but it refused to budge.  Undaunted, I trudged down to the basement where I managed to locate a pair of rusty wire cutters.

            Back upstairs, dog and cat now in close attendance, I used both hands and all my strength to squeeze the blades of the cutters together.

            Finally, the wire snapped.  The monstrous coil sprang to life and began to unroll itself with a resounding Thunk!  Thunk!  Thunk!

            The dog and cat ran for their lives.  I jumped behind the vanity and cowered as the apparatus bounded around the room, clanking against the floor, the bathtub, the sink, the walls.

            It finally came to rest–a convoluted metal serpent that nearly filled the bathroom. 

            Although shaken, I was unwilling to admit defeat.  I shoved one end of the device down the toilet.  Four inches in, it stopped.  I picked up the handle of the thing and began turning it.  Unfortunately, each turn had to travel the entire fifty feet before reaching the business end of the mechanism.  This, of course, started it undulating and thumping all over again.  Before I was able to leap clear of the writhing mass, I received a solid whack on the legs and tumbled backwards into the tub.

            Lying in this humiliating position, I recalled the old saw that it was better to be a live coward than a dead hero.  Furthermore, I concluded, there wasn’t enough space in the bathroom for both me and this scary steel anaconda.  I got up, gingerly stepped over the snarled metal and left.

            My son arrived a few hours later carrying his own snake (which, by the way, looked to be a mere four feet long).  “I bought one of those myself today,” I told him, “but it doesn’t seem to work for me.”

            “Oh?  Where is it?”


            I didn’t hear anything for so long that I finally went up to investigate.  He was leaning against the sink–convulsed with laughter.  When he finally had himself under control, he asked, “What moron sold you this thing?”

            He took it back the next day and demanded a refund.  I don’t know whether it was gallantry or male chauvinism that made him blame the store clerk rather than me; I was too busy nursing my bruised legs, my aching back and my wounded pride to care. Anyway, I’ve always been grateful that I wasn’t forced to hear the exchange between the two of them.

            In the many years since then, I’ve enjoyed observing the shifting attitudes regarding women.  I’ve seen them anchor newscasts, give sports coverage, climb telephone poles, don hard hats, design cars and become pundits in practically every field.  Many women now enter boardrooms (as CEOs) carrying briefcases, rather than shorthand notebooks.

            Yes, we’ve made progress.  Now we get to pump our own gas.  Men can announce, “We’re pregnant” (although women have retained uncontested rights to the leg cramps, labor pains and 2:00 a.m. breast feedings). 

            Liberation, as I have come to see it, should mean a greater freedom of choice for all of us.   Although we may now be allowed to do more things, this doesn’t mean that we must do them all.

            I’m happy to know that, being liberated, I’ll never be shamed into trying to stuff a mushroom or make petits fours. 

            On the other hand, I’ve decided, I’ll never pretend that I know how to fix the plumbing. 

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© 2009 by Ruth Minshull

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