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Getting Over an Owning-Class Background

I was not at the owning-class workshop this year but have spent the weekend having a different sort of class workshop with my husband Allen. We've been working on our house, which is beautiful but decrepit. I decided not to leave him here laboring.

I have felt helpless around tools and mechanical skills all my life, but this weekend I have put up a towel rail and a toilet-paper holder and done various bits of puttying, sanding, painting, and fetching for him. A lot of the time I felt like I wanted to do something else.

Owning-class conditioning insists that if you want a job done you hire someone to do it and then do something else "more important." Female conditioning says you leave all that stuff to men. Until now, I've more or less gone along with this distress. I'm fifty-two years old and I'd never used a power drill before. (Until this minute I would have been too ashamed to tell you this!) While I was using it, Allen said lightheartedly, "We'll make a working-class person out of you yet." This got me immediately discharging shame at being so unhandy, relief at it being out in the open, and excitement that I was actually using a drill to put up a little piece of wood!

I told him later what it had felt like to be so unuseful. He said, "None of us was born knowing this stuff. I just had to learn it because I had to work." All the shame began to melt. I can learn too! It's been a wonderful weekend, and my towel rail feels like a frontier. We thought of an owning-class workshop in which a working person brings a bunch of tools and we raised-owning-class people get to use them and discharge the ineptitude which is covered so often by looking superior or using money to get ourselves out of a fix. Good idea? If owning-class people had to learn to do all the things working-class people have to do, wouldn't that be a breakthrough? Our pretence has to go, our shame has to be discharged, and then we can learn all the things nobody taught us when we were young.

Allen has also been teaching me to handle his boat. That's been great. I still make mistakes, but we're both getting far more relaxed about that. On New Year's Eve we took it down to the Marquesas, about twenty-five miles southwest of here, and I steered it all the way back, navigating from charts. The more we do together, the more aware I become of how I was brought up in ignorance as an owning-class female, and also that it was not my fault.

I'm thinking these days that marriage can be one of the fastest ways to re-emergence: you simply can't hang on to your chronic stuff without being a total pain. We had a wonderful wedding in December, a picnic on an island, where everyone had to do a song or a poem. Then Allen and I took off in his little boat, anchored and had a session in the sunset, and spent the night out on the water in the moonlight.

Ros Brackenbury
Key West, Florida, USA


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00