Friday, May 29, 2009

Men & Women: An Observation

A lady (non-ww) pointed toward the relief carving on the presenter's 18th c. sideboard and asked, "Is that hard to do?"

There was a low chuckle from the all-male (but for me) crowd, and the speaker looked at the woman, speechless. What a loaded question. She added, "I mean, do you need to have artistic talent?"

After some thought and a few false starts, he answered, "Just try it and see." That's a perfect answer for men. As a woman, that was not what she was looking for.

I want to point out that the presenter did the best he could to answer her question on the fly and added that it is a skill that can be learned. He in no way was being disrespectful of her, nor were any of the men in attendance.

There are always exceptions, and I'm generalizing, but: Women lack confidence.

When faced with something they've never done before, men tend to fearlessly "try it and see." Whereas women usually ask themselves "Can I do that? Can I figure it out on my own? Will I screw up? Who can I ask for help?"

Add to that: Women don't like to make mistakes. (I know that men don't either, but they don't seem to be as petrified about it.) Could be that women don't like to waste material. Could be they don't want to waste their time, when often (and again I'm generalizing) they have less free time than their husbands. That's because women sometimes take on too much, care too much about what the house looks like, and worry too much about everything.

After the presentation, a friend introduced me to the lady and told her that I do some carving. I'm a beginner at carving I explained, but in my opinion, copying an existing design is more technical than artistic. It's more about layout, following the rules of grain direction, and learning to use the tools properly. If you're going to carve original designs, then that requires some artistic skill. I added, "If you have a desire to learn something, you will learn it."

She said that she knits and does other crafts—that she likes to work with her hands. "Then you can do this," I said.

She wanted someone to tell her that she has what it takes to try something new. With women, a little encouragement goes a long way.

This post is in no way meant to be a cut on men or women. I admire both genders for their strengths and weaknesses—for everything they have to bring to the table.


JERM said...

I can somewhat agree with that generalization. My wife and I do not follow the generalization and are the complete opposite. Must be why it takes me so long to finish a project, fear of screwing it up.

Bill Stankus said...

Here's a generalization: Men might have more confidence - but it is often misplaced. Many men assume they can do things (such as using tools and woodworking) but their enthusiasm doesn't always translate into anything of consequence. Pretense also comes to mind.

Women tend to be better students. Women will read user's manuals and will follow saftey guidelines. And, if they have interest or not in woodworking, they won't waste time determining whether to continue with it or to drop it. Men will dally, with the assumption they will eventually 'get it'.

Another generalization - with regards to hobby woodworking - there's a 'good ol' boys' feel to many of the clubs and gatherings. Some variation of Norm seems to be the fashion statement.

Randy said...

Hello Kari,

My name is Randy Arnold, and I've been following your blog for a pretty long time. Your blog is one of my favorites, and I always look forward to the next post.

I especially enjoyed this post, and I agree.

The message that you left with the non-ww lady is that "you can do anything that you want to," a message that I strongly agree with. While we all have our various means of getting there, with patience, determination and practice, we can achieve any goal that we set our mind to. It's nice to be reminded of that every once-in-awhile.

Thank you again for such a great blog!


A.J. Hamler said...

Ah, Kari... Been many years since I was a radio talk-show host, but you've awakened a not-quite-dormant desire to respond to such wonderful bait. (g)

You have to be careful with generalizations, especially those that are gender-based. All your men-are-like-this generalizations do apply to me perfectly -- I try new things fearlessly and I'm not petrified about making mistakes, just as you say. (You didn't mention it, but I also never ask for directions when traveling.) However, those traits also apply to my grown daughter because I raised her to believe that when it comes to accomplishing things, there is no difference between men and women.

On the other hand, I absolutely detest wasting both time and material. I care what the house looks like, which is why I do at least half the housework, and because I often take on too much I have less free time than my wife. I've already planned out tonight's dinner, since I do all our cooking, and if I ever find the time I'm going to use that three yards of fabric I bought several weeks ago to sew a new shirt for my reenacting.

Physical limitations aside, I've always firmly believed that ANY person can do ANY thing. A generalization? Absolutely, but it's one I'm comfortable with.

Shame on those chuckling men for not recognizing a desire in that woman to want to learn how to do woodworking. And good for you for encouraging her!

Oops... just heard the buzzer on the washing machine. Gotta go put that stuff in the dryer.


Sean Hellman said...

" Just try it and see" is not much of an answer, shame on him. Your answer to this lady is just right and is the one I try to give in my own words when people ask me similar questions.
A lot of woman love woodwork, and love to give it a go, this is partly so because they were not allowed to do it at school, because it was a boys subject!
Woman listen better, on the whole, and in that sense are easy to communicate with and teach. Men are stronger and therefore can work faster and tend to be more confident with tools.
I prefer to see individuals rather than men and woman, we are all unique and different.

The Village Carpenter said...

Oops, I'd better clarify: the men were not laughing at the lady. They were just thinking "how on earth can you answer THAT?"

Also, the presenter really did his best to reply to a question that has no answer.

I didn't mean to imply that any of the guys were being unkind. My bad.


Jerm, I know a few guys who also fear screwing up a project. My generalization might be way off.

Bill, you always have interesting insights into the male/female differences, especially through your teaching. However, I happen to like flannel. ; )

Randy, thank you! On another note, it seems to me that many women think that men are going to give them a hard time if they show an interest in ww. But it's been my experience that they are always encouraging.

A.J., your wife=one lucky lady!! And for that matter, so is your daughter. My dad taught me the same lessons and I'm grateful.

Sean, you're right--I have met a number of women who have a pent up desire to work with wood because they never had the opportunity.

Anonymous said...

I think self-confidence is usually individual, and when gender based its absence detestable. And I get upset when I see it's shortage seriously impact a persons life.

My little sister was always short in self-confidence. To this day she approaches some tasks - including "women's work" - in a self-critical, confidence starved manner. Cooking, cleaning and more she is weak at (in her mind). Luckily, she excels in her chosen profession - medical research - and in her role as the single parent of a profoundly retarded child. I've often tried to puzzle out her frequent lack of self confidence and have never been able to understand it. It's crazy - she is extraordinary - and while everyone around her knows it she is often clearly convinced of the opposite!

A few years ago, our daughter, now a freshman in high school, announced she was 'no good' in math... because she's a girl. She's a cheerful and bright teen, with good grades, college level reading scores - and a deep interest in architecture. Even tutoring by a 'role mode' 20 something young lady has not improved our daughters 'math confidence', nor has almost straight A's. Somewhere she became convinced math (and science) are 'boys' subjects. It's heart-breaking to watch her consider ratcheting back her dreams for a belief without any basis in reality.

To be honest I was always a bit of a sexist, in my knee-jerk reactions if not my more thoughtful responses - but this has turned me into an advocate for every type of equality, and more.

So this is a long winded way of saying I'm very glad you gave that carving-curious lady the encouragement EVERYONE deserves! We should all help others live out our dreams, big and small, period.

Barb Siddiqui said...

I am new to your blog, Kari, and it is a great one! Interesting observations, and I agree, basically, that most women seem less confident with woodworking. I suppose much of it depends on how we were raised, as has been mentioned.

One answer to such questions I've found useful is to stress that any form of woodworking is a learned skill, not an inherited talent, if there is such a thing. I hope the woman you talked to will be bold enough to get in there and research how to do it.

And I had to smile at your picture of the men stunned speechless by her question. It was, after all, a rather big question.
I'm enjoying your blog. Thanks for it! -BarbS

Mike said...

When showing off our craft, we tend to show off the stuff that was really hard to do, because we're proud of it. That's why sometimes a beginner is a better teacher than an expert.

"This is what I can do after 20 years of work!" doesn't make me want to try something, but "Look what I made on my third try!" does.

Rob Porcaro said...

Hi Kari,

While recognizing that tendencies do exist in various groups of people (or groups of anything), and that such tendencies can be interesting/charming/annoying/instructive, who needs a generalization when you've got a specific, real, unique individual at hand?

Nonetheless, it's fair to comment or even speculate on genuine group tendencies as you have done here, Kari. The danger lies in losing sight of the individual's qualities for the sake of a generalization, an error which you've humanely avoided.

Maybe that's much of the appeal of woodworking. Having spent years learning the properties of many species of wood, what most fascinates me is the beauty of the unique board before me.

Thanks for the thoughtful post Kari.

The Great Ethan Allen said...

Wow a lot of long posts, To be honest, I was kinda proud of the "men generalization". It's true for me on most things anyway. "I can do that" has gotten me in tons of trouble before! Things I should have told my self "no you can't" and listened to my wife. 1 fixing the car, 2 building certain furniture items, 3 doing laundry. I agree that my wife would rather read a library of books or take a class before ever touching tool to wood. But I tend to charge in and make more fire wood ( less now than before) A great post! It is true that females ask for directions when men would rather not and get lost. Aren't the differances great!

Metalworker Mike said...

TGEA brings up an important point - the differences are part of what makes having different sexes worthwhile in the first place, and differences in gender behaviour is found in all kinds of species of animals on this planet, including our own species. Not everyone fits the generalizations, but I think the vast majority of us fit most of them.

Confidence arises from successful repetition of a process, or a similar process. I fix big machines for a living. I'm an industrial mechanic. If somebody has a broken toaster oven I know I have a really good chance of being able to diagnose the problem, even though I've never opened one up before, and can only assume what might be in there. Similarly, an automotive mechanic would have a good chance of figuring out what ails a motorcycle or even a stationary diesel industrial plant.
Your knitting lady would likely be fearless in the face of learning a new skill that is somewhat similar, like crocheting or tapestry. Familiarity with water-colour painting would increase ones confidence for trying oil painting.

By broadening our horizons through experimenting with many disparate tasks, it gives us more and more range for our confidence.
Perhaps that is where the whole generalized behaviour started - guys are more likely to be 'dabblers' in many odd things, because many odd things are considered 'guy stuff' in our culture, and girls are, perhaps, encouraged into a narrower range of pursuits.

This is a decidedly interesting conversation. There have been a lot of great points brought up.

Gary Roberts said...

Kari... without a doubt you are spot on. I've been reviewing a number of turn of the 19th C books on carving. All are intended for the manual arts crowd. In particular, there is a focus on women in the manual arts movement. Somehow, we have lost that focus. We look at art nouveau and arte moderne designs and seem to think they were all done be men. In fact, a great many of the carvers and designers were women. The authors of the books, with one exception, are all men... but that followed through on the preference of the day to support men over women as authors.

Roger Davis said...

With regard to women as carvers, note the brilliant work of Nora Hall.

The Village Carpenter said...

Thank you for all the thoughtful insights!

Anon, that upsets me, too, when I meet underconfident women. I wish there were a quick answer and means to bolster them. But there is usually so much baggage/learned behavior that there is no easy way to help. It's especially important for young girls to build their self esteem and learn to respect themselves before, as you say, they forego their dreams due to lack of confidence.

Woodbloke said...

Hi Kari - interesting post. My experience as an ex-woodwork teacher (11-16 year olds and adults at night school) is that girls (and women) have as much enthusiasm for this area of work as the fellas and I could often distinguish little difference between their respective talents and enthusiasms. I'm not sure what the situation is like now in the US of A, but in the UK there are plenty of females doing great stuff in the woodworking world and also loads of ladies at colleges doing furniture making a quick perusal of F&C will testify - Rob

acanthuscarver said...


Your entire post takes me back to my post about political correctness on my blog. I'm sure your presenter wasn't thinking in terms of male or female when he tried to formulate an answer.

As a presenter at a variety of different woodworking venues it's hard to answer such a wide open question. Really, there's no way to tell if it'll be hard for someone you've just met to do or not. For some people different aspects of woodworking come easier than they do to others. That's not to say that someone can't do something given enough patience and drive. It's merely that some folks just have more natural ability than others. For some, they will achieve great things with what appears to be little or no effort while others struggle to produce even a satisfactory result. The best way to succeed at something is to (sorry Nike) just do it.

And if you think that men handle "diving in" a bit better than women, come observe one of my classes sometime. You'll see men who have a complete lack of confidence...until they've tried it (with some help from me) and succeeded. Nothing breeds success like success itself.

In a crowd, guys tend to freeze up much more than women. Guys are worried they'll do something that makes them look stupid (you've seen my presentations and you know that's not the case with me). Women just want to learn "how" and tend to care less what the rest of the room thinks.

Your poor presenter, however, had to deal with an unanswerable question in front of a group, on the fly. And, given those circumstances, how can one answer such a subjective question personally or adequately?

The Village Carpenter said...

Chuck, I couldn't agree more with the difficulty in answering that woman's question. I'm afraid I didn't explain myself very well. (Not the first time THAT'S happened!)

The presenter did the very best he could a question that includes so many variables and really, cannot be answered.

That's interesting about the men in your class. I have also seen how men clam up when they don't know something—I think they must not want to look foolish. Whereas, we women don't worry so much about revealing if we don't understand something.

Wesley B. Tanner said...


Recently Popular Woodworking announced at conference on Woodworking in America for August. After reading about it I thought I'd better take a look at the list of presenters before I sent in my registration fee. Upon reaching the page I was presented with 11 white men over the age of 50. Now, I have the greatest respect for these gentlemen. Indeed, as the web site boasts, "Their precision, authority and insight have made them key figures in the woodworking world, and they’ll ... share their unsurpassed wisdom and expert techniques with you." No doubt, but can't this selection by any definition be somewhat narrow? When there are so many women active in woodworking, how could this happen? When I asked one the staff at Woodworking recently her response was a stunned look, and the comment that no one had thought of it. And I suppose that's the problem, no one's thinking about it. I'd like to suggest that one of the reasons so much of contemporary woodworking design look the same is a narrowness of the culture. The question is how to expand it. And so far we've only discussed women, what about the rest of the wonderfully diverse population of these United States?


Metalworker Mike said...

In the wood-turning world, a favoured presenter is Cindy Drozda - a lady who specializes in small boxes with finials. She is a lot of power in a small package.

Hank Jones said...
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Kari Hultman said...
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