Monday, November 29, 2010

The DIY Bug is Gender Inclusive

Steve Smith (Red Green) had a 1999 Chrysler 300. Curiosity led him to see if he could turn his gas-guzzling sedan into a more energy efficient vehicle. Smith chose the DIY route.

“I built a hydrogen generator and put it under the hood,” Smith said. “I used that to augment the fuel supply and put a little device to fool the car computer so it leans out the gas mixture… It now gets almost 50 miles per gallon.”

At 15, Mag Ruffman attended camp on the “protected shores of Georgian Bay” (as the camp sign read) and eventually signed up for the Councellor-in-Training program. She remembers the minute the DIY bug bit her.

“I put up these hooks up (in the showers) with a hand-crank drill and a screwdriver,” Ruffman recalled. “I made a jewel out of it. That afternoon felt so good.”

With celebrity icons such as Red Green and Mag Ruffman offering instructions on TV, radio and books, the DIY bug has inspired both male and female handywork.

Curiosity and independence are factors that attract people to DIY, but how do men and women approach it differently?

Smith does everything for himself. His fans embrace his comedic acts and take his unique inventions and make them their own.

One of his most popular DIY projects consists of turning a modern designed plunger (with a second collar inside) upside down, sticking it into the ground and using the rubber piece as a beer holder.

“It fits perfectly,” Smith said. “I end up autographing plungers and some guys have made nameplates (for their plungers).”

Before Smith was signing plungers, he enrolled at the University of Waterloo for engineering. He found his calling during his first co-op term.

“I went to work at a place where I was doing everything,” Smith said. “Steam-fitting, machine welding, carpentry, electrical and plumbing, the whole deal.”

Nevertheless men and women learn and approach DIY differently. Ruffman said it used to be biological for women to expect the man of the house to take on the handy work at home. But as more women move into homes and condos on their own, the handy work falls to them.

Ruffman believes women are hard-wired to want comfort because they tend play a mothering role. Therefore, DIY culture demands she adapt and learn to be self-sufficient.

“For women it’s anti-status to do your own stuff. You have to be a bit of a maverick,” she said. “All of a sudden tools are becoming a status item. Many women have come up to me and told me ‘I bought my first drill. I have no idea what to do with it, but I have one.’”

Jennifer Hart meets men and women at trade shows and workshops organized by Lee Valley and Canadian Home Workshop. She takes beginner DIYers through baby steps while simultaneously challenging veteran woodworkers. Although her approach teaching men and women is identical, she notices distinct learning patterns.

“Women will ask way more questions. They don’t have a problem admitting their fear of the project,” Hart said. “Women will take the time to gather as much information as they can because it’s unfamiliar.”

Working with men, however, Hart said they just jump right into the project. If they hit a snag, they deal with it and move on.

“The end result may be the same; it’s just two different methods of getting there,” she said.

Smith recalled a time when a fan shared a story about turning his pull-start lawnmower into a riding mower. He hit a snag, but ended up with a Frankenstein machine.

It all started with the handle on his lawnmower, it kept breaking off. The man bought a riding-mower at a garage sale, but found out that the blade wouldn’t turn, rendering it useless.

“He fashioned a chain out of duct-tape and connected the handle on his push-mower to the back of his riding-mower. Now he tows the push-mower to cut his lawn,” Smith said.

Mag Ruffman helping a fellow lady DIYer at a Home Depot in Vancouver

This example illustrates the fearless men have in their DIY endeavors. It is this fearlessness that gives men somewhat of an advantage over female DIYers.

Ruffman said fear often deters women from DIY projects. She said she enjoys playing the role of a den-mother for a whole generation of women looking to master the home they just bought.

“It’s a frontier available to everybody. It’s a fabulous form of self-expression,” Ruffman said.

For Smith, turning to DIY is more than an expression of gender. It’s his method of avoiding the most horrible feeling a human can feel, helplessness.

“When you feel helpless and you’re in somebody else’s hands and you can’t move forward and that’s very frustrating,” Smith said.

Steve Smith and Mag Ruffman at the Hamilton Marina where they worked on Smith's autobiography together.

Highlights from Red Green Interview

Dedicated fan, doing it the way Red would

So Red, have you done all these projects you talk about?

How much of Red Green is in Steve Smith?

What Red Green does with a Cadillac!!

Steve Smith has his limits

Red's Worst Emotion!

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