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Category Archives: Ninja Mechanic

The Question For A Distractingly Sexy Mechanic

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The Question: So. What made you want to become a mechanic?

Possible Responses:

  • Because I like being Distractingly Sexy
  • Because I like fixing things (this response is also known as “here’s the Cliff Notes version of my life after leaving journalism”).

I’m getting pretty adept at answering The Question politely and with more enthusiasm than snark.

The first possible response though comes from this whole fracas started by Nobel Prize laureate Tim Hunt about women in STEM being distracting in the lab and prone to crying when criticized.

It’s funny because he chose to make that statement at the World Conference For Science Journalists — because that’s a group of people you can trust to really get to the meat of a speech in a hurry.

Call Twitter’s reaction and the #distractinglysexy a mockery of his career-ending poor choice of words. In reality though, it just highlights what it’s like for women in male-oriented fields.

For starters, you get asked really personal questions that no one ever asks your male counterparts.

Oh hey Sally Ride. Will 100 tampons be enough for a 7-day mission in space?

Then there’s also the unspoken undercurrent of doubt coming from the person grilling you about how you’re doing your job.

Are you sure you want to get your hands dirty?

This week I was asked and answered The Question when one of our drivers visited the garage for an oil top-off. He got the Cliff Notes version. As a public employee, it’s the best response.

What’s always funny is the moment that leads up to The Question.

Tuesday it was after I scooted under the 14-passenger shorty bus and checked to see why it was a quart low on oil. Newer vehicle. No staining. No major leaks around the oil pan. Oil filter was snug and no drips at the drain plug. Therefore, it probably didn’t get its full 6 qts. at the last oil change. Or the filter is a hungry little sponge. Or there’s something else going on.

Duly noted. Something I’ll monitor and we’re moving along now.

But wait!

Next comes the small talk and The Question because I did an unladylike thing.

It was raining and I didn’t bother to grab my creeper first. Just laid down on the ground and inched over to the oil pan. My creeper is easily 60 ft. away from where he parked. I’m lazy and crossing the garage takes effort and time away from my buses.

Cue The Question.

I know. Being a mechanic does not make me a lady scientist.

I fix things. I only sometimes conduct experiments … and even then it’s just data collection and analysis. So I’m not really a scientist. And I’m not exactly a member of the STEM community. Details.

What it does make me though is a woman, like Patrice Banks, who was also tired of feeling discriminated against because of her sex. Banks started Girls Auto Clinic in Philadelphia to empower other women to have the vocabulary and knowledge to know what’s going on under the hood. However, she mentioned in her B-section article in the Washington Post that a technical high school class full of teenage boys admitted that women are too much of a distraction to work with men.

So maybe the problem isn’t ladies in the lab or in the garage …

Even if Hunt meant no harm with his statement, it’s 20-bloody-15. We shouldn’t be fussing over the undercarriage of who’s in the lab. We should be working on designing viable alternative energy solutions and cures for cancer.

If you’re going to advocate for segregation of the sexes in the lab, why stop there?

Better keep those clerks from working together at the grocery store. Can’t let those wily accountants sit too close together. They might be playing footsie. Better still. Let’s eliminate the possibility of anyone finding a co-worker attractive and learning how to deal with separating their personal life from their professional responsibilities.

I know.

Isolation bubble-suits for everyone.

I’m sure a lady scientist could figure out how to invent one once she’s able to see through her tears.


RSVP Dad On That Baby Shower

Recently, my male coworkers threw me a baby shower.

It was coupled with our monthly staff meeting so it wasn’t any big to-do. Just cake, pizza, me awkwardly being the center of attention, and then back to work. Baby is still 10 weeks away from go-time, but it is nice knowing that they too want to celebrate this new beginning that Mr. Pirate and I are about to embark on.

When I thanked my supervisor for the shindig he commented that I’ve started a new tradition. From now on, he said, we’ll have baby showers for all of the garage babies. Score one more for gender equality y’all.

As a lady mechanic I work in a male-dominated field. I am beyond fortunate that my fellow co-workers don’t treat me as inferior or less capable. My toolbox is pink, but beyond that, I’m just one of the guys.

The fact that my pregnant self has provoked a new tradition regarding celebrating life events is somewhat bittersweet though. We send around an envelope for weddings, retirements and funerals, but this was the first time that any of them had the opportunity to plan a baby shower. Our female administrative assistant confided later that the guys had no idea where to start or what you actually do at a baby shower. The sad part is compounded by the fact that the youngest garage baby (as in, person born while his or her dad was employed at our garage as a mechanic) is 14 months old and the oldest was married last summer.

As a society we want dads to be involved in their children’s lives.

And yet, there is this tendency to push dads to the sidelines when it comes to birth and babies. Products are marketed largely toward the female consumer. Very few restaurants feature a diaper changing station in the men’s room whereas it is a standard item in public women’s bathrooms.

Common workplace practices even shunt dads to the side. I get 12 weeks of maternity leave. Mr. Pirate gets one. As though one week is enough time for him to get acclimated to the presence of a new person in his life.

It isn’t fair.

Hands down I support gender equality. I want to go back to work after kiddo is born in large part because I want to demonstrate to my son or daughter that they really can be whatever they want to be. Male stylist. Lady plumber. Gentleman nurse. Female president. Gender should not dictate what a person can or cannot do.

But gender equality is not a one-way street. I don’t want to advocate for more professional opportunities for women and tell my husband he doesn’t know a thing about babies. For Pete’s sake — I don’t know a thing about babies.

Caring for infants is not some ingrained, natural part of my wiring exclusive to me being the one incubating this child. There are some things I’m apparently just going to know how to do (like the whole pushing thing), but there are other things — such as changing a tiny 8-ish pound baby’s diaper — I am going to have to practice. The same goes for my mister.

So maybe a good place to start when it comes to encouraging gender equality is to include men in the lives of these new people from the get-go. Invite men to baby showers. Advocate for dads to have actual paternity leave. Even, and maybe this is a little too new-age, treat men as though they are an important part of the family equation instead of pretending that their work is done once the bun is in the oven.

It’s just a thought.

No punchbacks

Maybe it’s just me, but by far one of the greatest things about driving a Beetle is the Punch Buggy Game.

I recently traveled to Kansas City with a couple of friends with whom I had never driven in my car before. At our first rest stop just across the Kansas state line, some other people noticed my yellow Beetle. Even through the windshield you can tell the exchange that’s going on.

Person 1: [punches the other person in the shoulder]
Person 2: mouths “Ow”
Person 1: [laughs] “No punchbacks.”

At that point my shotgun realized that she was a passenger in a Beetle and started intermittently hitting me. As a result, inside the Beetle quickly became a no punchbuggy zone.

This delightful schadenfreude phenomenon happens everywhere I go. Not my passengers attempting to wail on their defenseless driver, but other people smacking their companions when they see my car. This isn’t something people out-grow either. You’d think that once people consider themselves adults and start paying their own bills that shouting “Yellow punchbuggy, no punchbacks” would become too juvenile. You’d be wrong.

I’ve witnessed groups of college students pounding on one another as I drive past. Even serious, nicely dressed folks going out to dinner will politely swat at their dinner companions when going out to dinner.

It makes me very happy that the simple presence of my little yellow car can make people drop their inhibitions and resort to feeling like a kid again.

Babies everywhere! or how we tell the time

Well, not really. And not yet. Also, not yet for the pirate and I.

But in our little world there are a fair number of babies on the horizon (Miss Anna Mae, Baby Brown, and Baby Tami-John). Three sets of friends we know are expecting this summer and I’ve begun knitting madly so that maybe their baby hats will done before they are born. This will be a feat as most little people who come into my life don’t get their first knitted item until after they are done incubating.

These are happy and exciting times folks.

In other news:
My dad recently sent me a picture of my poorly remembered youth. I’m on my 82-year-old grandfather’s lap and my sister (9 at the time) is sitting next to him. We’re in the backyard in Brighton and both he and she look so happy.


I look vaguely peeved. Or confused.

It’s a good picture though and I’m happy he sent it to me. Most of the pictures of me as a small person are still in the photo albums at home. This though came from a bunch of slides that my dad recently acquired through the wonders of the technology.

Growing up I often heard of these slides. My family referenced them as others might give directions to Shangri-la.

“The pictures of the Kris Kringle Mart? They’re on the slides. But that was BA.”

BA-Before Ninjamechanic. A time that usually referred to the 9 years or so that my family was incomplete before I finally decided to show up.

They lived in Germany. My sister played golf on the Arsenal. We had a guinea pig. They participated in Volksmarches and our poodle went for bike rides.

Plenty happened after Ninjamechanic hit the scene … We moved to Northern Virginia. My dad and sister built the deck. We almost burned the kitchen down that one time in Indian Princesses.

Grade school. College. Georgia. Pirate-Ninja Wedding. Life stuff.

All just normal everyday things, but all things of which I have seen photographs. I’m a visual learner which I think contributes to my love of photography. You can express things in photographs or snapshots that other mediums sometimes struggle to articulate.

Moments in time that are fragile. Echoes of people who are no longer here and places that are out of reach.

I look forward to seeing what other things Dad digs up as he reclaims the slides. Especially the BA ones.

May the VW be with you

Volkswagen’s Super Bowl commercial for the 2012 Passat rocked my world on so many levels.

Level 1:
-I’m a VW champion/nerd.

Level 2:
-Huzzah for “The Imperial March”!

I didn’t exactly watch the Super Bowl this year. More like, I caught glimpses of it while super bowl-ing.

However — in between sets and achieving a score that would be admirable only in golf — the car commercials definitely caught my attention. Kudos to Chevrolet for debuting the Volt’s spicy little 30-second slot. It’s exciting to finally see them surging forward and giving their electric line some attention.

In class we’re currently discussing the differences between diesels and gasoline engines which made BMW’s diesel commercial relevant. But dang if they didn’t hit below the belt.

Okay, I’ll give them that semi-trucks are often viewed as gross emitters.

Did they really need to single out Mercedes and Volvo though?

Sure, both companies have come a long way from their signature 1980s diesels, particularly since emissions standards have required the automotive industry to sit up and listen. But the Mercedes 300 series happens to be the body style of the 1984 Benz I learned to drive on. Furthermore Volvo’s iconic 240 station wagon is the first image that always comes to mind when I recall my childhood and all the times Mom schlepped us around town.

Way to go BMW. Just label my formative years gross and disgusting. See if I care.

[cough] Bring More Wallet [cough]

Dear 2011: Where is my flying car and my robo maid?

It’s kind of crazy, but we’re living in the future.

We have robot vacuum cleaners and the conversation continues about improving an automobile’s fuel economy. But there are some instances where we might as well still live in 1951.

Like cooking.

Why do we tell men they can’t cook?

It’s as bad as telling little girls they’re not as smart as boys. And yet, it’s something that we continue to reinforce.

We reinforce it with novelty calendars such as “Porn for Women” that depicts buff and/or scantily clad men doing house work.

Last year Quirk Publishing released a cookbook titled “Recipes Every Man Should Know.” It’s a cookbook intended for the man in the bookstore who may otherwise walk past the cooking section. Never mind that there are plenty of male celebrity chefs and foodies (Jamie Oliver, Alton Brown, Wolfgang Puck, Sam Zien, etc.).

What makes me wonder is this: why do we as a society continue to encourage such sexist expectations?

Just by referring to it as “women’s porn” suggests that it’s illicit or inappropriate for men to cook, clean, or do things around the house. Muscular men without their shirts are titillating, sure. But calling it porn implies that it’s still not something to talk about in polite conversation. A cookbook marketed toward men leads me to believe that there’s something inherently feminine about the cookbooks I’ve collected over the years and that honestly makes me a little uncomfortable.

My pirate husband and I tend to eschew gender roles.

I have an interest in cars, so automotive maintenance in our house is my job. Before we were married, he’s the one who went out and bought a sewing machine because he wanted to patch his own clothes and make costumes for DragonCon in Atlanta.

We both enjoy cooking so it’s only natural that it should be something that we both do.

Growing up, it never occurred to me that it should be one gender or the other’s job to cook. Both my parents cooked. My dad makes a mean stir fry and if there’s a pie in the house, it’s because my dad made it. No one beats my mom’s spaghetti and I can’t eat fast food burgers because her hamburger patties are by far the most succulent slabs of meat you’ve ever encountered.

In eighth grade, my friend Jimmy joined the Future Homemakers of America and he was ridiculed for it. He was teased because he enjoyed to bake. I guess that’s just what you do in the eighth grade, tease someone because they’re brave enough to do something in which you might have a hidden interest. Now, some 13 years later he has his own business, Jimmy Cakes, where he makes specialty cakes for all manner of celebrations.

Plenty of folks put as little stock in gender roles as you’d put in Betty Crocker’s recipe for chicken soup (about 4 cups). But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s 2011 and a person’s abilities continue to be judged based on their sex.

It might be the future soon, but we all still have a fair bit of housework to do.

tags: cooking, gender, sexism

Intake 2011…exhaust 2010

This is just to say that Ninjamechanic is going on hiatus from its regular automotive centric programming for part of 2011.

This fall while working 3.5 jobs, I had the opportunity to reflect on what this blog is and where it’s going. It’s all my younger brother’s fault, honestly. He’s a senior philosophy major at university and for his final semesters has taken classes on digital media, digital storytelling and is crafting an independent study on specific video game content and the role of their political undertones. His course load makes me jealous primarily because:

a) those sorts of classes weren’t available when I went there
and b) they’re offered in the English department. My home turf. [grumble gripe]

What this has to do with this blog is that I realized I have no bloody idea what I’m doing with this thing. I don’t update it regularly and I don’t feel as though I have a competent grasp of my authorial voice. As such I’m going to take a step back and spend a bit of time just expanding on my content in an effort to become a better blogger. Consider this Ninjamechanic’s New Year’s resolution.

In 2011 I will:

-Blog more [woe to the Interwebs]
-Finish projects that I start [cue massive family history endeavor]
-Figure out a way to have a physical outlet [belly dancing? akido? yoga with a reference librarian?]
-Obtain my big girl toolbox

So here’s to trying daily to do things better.