Family: Janet Christie’s Mum’s the Word

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Take a mattock to gender stereotypes

Country Girl has dropped in as she’s passing through town and we’re catching up with jobs and health and family chat.

“How’s Youngest getting on?” she says.

“Good. Wants to be a carpenter or joiner.”

“Nice one. She can make a fortune. Job for life. But people can still react a bit strangely to women doing that kind of job,” she says.

Country Girl is a park ranger/gardener/landscaper/former sheep owner and generally very handy at all manner of things formerly classed as men’s work: putting up sheds, tree surgery, lambing.

“Yeah, you’d think people would be used to it now but they can still be very strange,” she says. “I was in the builders’ merchants this week buying a pickaxe…”

At this point I can’t help thinking patios and bodies even though I’ve known Country Girl most of my life and a more amenable individual would be hard to find, must be me projecting…

“...well actually it was a mattock,” she is saying, “broad blade one side instead of a pick head. Better for digging. And anyway, I’ve already got a pickaxe...

“So,” she continues, “I’m paying and I say to the lassie serving – beautifully made up, nails and all that – ‘Right, I’ll go and do some digging now with this,’ and she was APPALLED. ‘That’s terrible!,’ she says, ‘You shouldn’t have to do that!’ She thought it was a shame a woman was going to be digging. I told her, ‘No, I want to, I like digging.’ She couldn’t believe it. Youngest better get used to that kind of thing.”

On her way out she drops into Youngest’s room to congratulate her on her good career sense, and tells her the pickaxe, sorry mattock, story. Youngest, who is reclining on her bed, perfectly made up, nails and all that, laughs.

“So do you think women can do both?” I ask her later after Country Girl has headed off. “Woodwork, and have nails like yours?”

“Course. My woodwork teacher has fake nails, and she wears make-up. Why not?”

Why not indeed.