The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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December 29, 2012

Why women are now into power tools

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

I suspect female carpentry may also speak to a cultural shift in the way we see our own bodies, part of a larger trend toward what cultural historian Maud Lavin considers a more physical, action-oriented type of American woman. In her book "Push Comes to Shove," Lavin documents the rise of "positive representations of aggressive women," in realms as far-ranging as movies, sports and Riot Grrrl music. As The New York Times pointed out recently, Hollywood in 2012 provided a particularly good example of this trend, with a sword-wielding Snow White, a skilled archer in "Brave's" Merida, and, of course, the warrior Katniss Everdeen. These are not merely heroines, but heroines whose strong bodies are as essential to their victories as their wits. If Katniss wanted a new sideboard, would she really ask Peeta to build it for her?

Lately, I've started to reconsider the mental block I have against power tools, which is, let's face it, the same kind of gender-driven helplessness that leads some men to claim they don't "know how" to change a child's diaper. For years, when my husband was building things, including that picnic table, a flight of stairs and a closet, I've been happy to know as little as possible about the process. He's also started talking about building a bench for our living room that would double as toy storage for our toddler daughter.

The other night, when we were talking about activities we'd like to do together on free evenings, Dan suggested that perhaps I'd like to build that bench with him.

My first reaction was mild annoyance. I thought of all the time it would take, all the mistakes we'd make in measuring and cutting. Buying the darned thing would be so much easier. But then I paused. I considered the time I'd spend with him and the pleasure I've recently discovered in establishing mild competencies in new areas — sparring in karate class, riding a bike again after years of not riding. If Ana White could do it, I thought.

I said yes.

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Copeland is a writer in New York and a regular Slate contributor. She was previously a Washington Post reporter and editor for 11 years. She can be reached at libbycopeland@gmail.com.

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