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Welcome to What Really Grinds My Chisels, an occasional service in which the editors of Popular Woodworking address topics they feel passionate about.
I recently received a press release from a large power tool company titled “Gift ideas for her during the holiday season”. This caught my attention, not because I myself am working on a gift guide, but specifically out of curiosity about what kind of gifts would be “for her”. With some trepidation, I opened the email and was immediately disappointed to see the opening sentence “This holiday season skip the pajamas, slippers and blender …” and from there it just went in. descent.
There wasn’t a single real woodworking tool on the list. Just a handful of lightweight crafting tools, a crown stapler (ideal for adhering fabric to wood, like in upholstery work for chairs and benches!) And electric scissors.
It is not a list of tools for women; is a list of creation tools. Creation tools that can be used by men or women. Where are the tutorials? Where are the saws? The sanders? Why should a gift guide for women rule out these popular tools?
Sexism of course.
Whether it was intentional or not, this problem isn’t limited to this particular manufacturer. A quick look at other tool websites shows vacuum cleaners and glue guns featured almost exclusively with women, while circular saws and angle grinders are photographed with male models. Ditto most of the hand tools. Why, nearly 80 years after Rosie the Riveter, are we still struggling with the notion that even women can enjoy using the same tools as men?
To make matters worse, almost all of the tool industry’s efforts to target women usually involve painting their regular tools (mostly small ones, 18v obviously) pink.
A pink electric tool is not inherently a tool for women. Carpenters like Anne Briggs or Alma Villalobos choose their tools based on quality and skill, not based on the shade of plastic they are made of. It’s time for toolmakers to stop pretending otherwise.
So how can it get better?
The simplest thing to do is to stop considering manufacturers of men and women as separate demographics. No more gender-specific gift guides. No more photography choices of genre-specific tools. No more pink tools.
In the long run, if manufacturers wanted to make real progress in making their tools more inclusive for women, they would focus on issues like ergonomics, where there are real differences in the body of women and men, including hand size, the body’s center of gravity and more. Building “tools for women” should take these factors into consideration.
If we’re totally honest, tool makers aren’t the only culprit here. Women in the woodworking world regularly experience sexism, and although there has been incremental improvement, there is still a long way to go. But this is a topic for a later edition of What really grinds my chisels.
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