“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a set of plans must be out of her depth.”
Don’t you agree? If not, you may be in the minority in the construction industry.
OK. I’ll admit it. My Aga is purple, my walk-in wardrobe is 22ft long, and I’ve designed a custom-built storage for 50 pairs of shoes:
And I don’t particularly subscribe to the über feminist view that men and woman are absolutely equal in all things. I’m fully prepared to accept that I am not as physically strong as most men in the industry, and that can be a bit problematic when you’ve got to get a tonne of lead up a ladder.
But none of that makes me brainless. In the design, planning, purchasing and project managing of my build I am perfectly competent. Just because I like girly colours and I’ve got a fetish for shoes, that doesn’t mean I’m not capable of running a build project.
So why, in this enlightened age of equality, in the brave new world of #heforshe, why am I so often still greeted with either disbelief, derision, or most annoyingly, condescension?
On one truly memorable occasion, when I turned up at a certain plumbing store in Dundee to get a particular pipe fitting I was asked “Did your husband tell you what size to get?” He was just being funny – just a bit of banter, right? At least, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, I think it was. But I must have had a sense of humour failure that day; I wasn’t amused. There are so many answers I could have given – “No, but my girlfriend did…” Or “Yes, but like most men, he always says things are bigger than they really are…” But I kept my dignity, took my goods and left. And I guess I get the last laugh because I’ve never used that store again!
Well that was a number of years ago and I’d like to think that it was a one-off. To be fair, if I have tradesmen come to the site I usually get a very positive reaction. In fact, I’ve had a number of men tell me that they wouldn’t have dared take on a project like mine, which I’ll admit is gratifying.
But if I’m not on site, ie. if the evidence isn’t right in front of them, a lot of men seem to have difficulty comprehending that I can hold a serious conversation about a building project. Over the course of my build I have installed the external drainage and soakaway, slated the roof, plumbed in bathrooms, built all the internal walls, constructed staircases, tiled, painted, wired…. I’ve attempted most things. (I even tried my hand at plastering but am happy to admit it was a disaster. That is one skill that eludes me!)
So why am I not taken seriously?
The worst offenders are the exhibitors at the Self-build shows. I went to one of these shows with my parents once, and almost without exception all of the exhibitors I stopped to talk to insisted on talking, initially at least, to my dad. Now whilst my dad has frequently donned his overalls to help me out on site, he is actually a firm believer that DIY stands for Don’t Involve Yourself, and he certainly hadn’t mugged up on home automation or green energy, or any of the other things I’ve considered for my project.
It’s even worse if I go to an exhibition on my own. As I stand politely waiting for someone to become available to talk to me, I find myself ignored in favour of couples who wander up after me. A woman on her own? She must be lost. “The knitting exhibition’s next door, love.” Ha ha, very funny.
Actually it’s incredibly frustrating. But think on this boys. My barn is a fair size. It has consumed more than 10,000 roof slates, over 2,000 floor slates, about 400 sheets of plasterboard and I don’t know how many miles of wood for framing, battening and stud walls. Not to mention 6 sets of French doors and 30 windows. I’ve installed a 6,000 litre rainwater collection tank, and a GSHP large enough to heat the whole place and provide all the hot water for four bathrooms. Then there’s the underfloor heating system to go with the GSHP and the fixtures, fittings, tiles, and pipework for said bathrooms. And I’m about to install enough solar panels on the roof to boil an ocean… Hey, I’m a girl remember – so I do love a good shopping list!
The point is, as a consumer, with a fair amount to buy, I have a choice. And it amounts to a fair whack of cash that I’m spending. So in a world of increasing competition and diminishing margins, can you really afford to be so condescending to a single girl in possession of a set of plans? To quote a very relevant line from a very girly film “Big mistake. Huge. I have to go shopping now….”
I would love to hear from any other female self-builders and whether they have had similar experiences, or is it just something about me that screams GULLIBLE DUMB BLONDE on the loose?! (Though in truth, I’m more mucky mouse than blonde).