Women Are Not Solely Repairers of Relationships

Stereotypical views of society suggest that men and women contain exceedingly different domestic roles. In the book Repair, written by Elizabeth Spelman, the gender roles of repair are brought to the attention of readers. In general, women are not thought of as fixers. As stated by Spelman, a leaky sink or car engine is an objective task for men to repair. Women work with people to repair relationships and households rather than object oriented tasks. I found the several examples Spelman uses to differentiate the types of repair women are responsible for intriguing, especially due to the connection between her thoughts and our culture. She uses the term “domestic femininity” to describe the “common belief” that the sole purpose of women is to be repairers of relationships and households, which is untrue. A specific sex is not better at one type of repair than the other. Instances in which “domestic femininity” biases occur can be found in our history during the time of World War II, today’s commonly used phrases, and renown Disney movies. 
 When reading Repair, readers realize that women are menders of the household and they contain a much larger task than expected.

…the household…is a designated area as the default location for people to fuel up, get washed, clothed, and reclothed; it’s where they’re to receive the daily doses of repair and restoration necessary for them to keep on going physically, mentally, emotionally, to keep on functioning as social animals… (page 32).

A household operates well if it is maintained. Not only is it a place to preform physical actions, but it becomes a haven to repair souls and relationships as well. Most relationships are formed and strengthened in the household. Families return home to rekindle anything that has been undone; broken minds/clouded thoughts, broken hearts, and broken bones. As said previously, the ones assigned by society to repair everything necessary to keep the household operating smoothly are women. When a conflict arises in the household, women are to supply “the daily doses of repair and restoration” to maintain the conflicted person or people physically, emotionally, and mentally stable. A woman carries the burden of the entire families problems on her shoulders. She is to always be emotionally secure on the outside, even if she is dealing with tremendous internal issues, because she would be unable to fulfill her “duty” and help repair others if she was not emotionally secure.

About sixty years ago, during the World War II days, most women did not have careers. They did not further educate themselves at a college level. Women who’s dreams were to have their own career and degrees were “disappointments” to their mothers and families. Women were expected to finish the minimum amount of schooling, find a husband and have children. She was to stay home cooking, cleaning and raising those children for the rest of her life. The husband was always the provider of the family, working excessive hours to put money and food on the table. Television shows during this time often depicted the “typical women”; once her husband came home, dinner was set on the table in front of him and she would ask, “What’s wrong? How was your day? Can I do anything to make it better?” A “good wife” would help her husband unwind and destress from his long, laborious day at work. That is what women were “breed” for. When men were shipped off to war, the jobs assigned for men needed to be taken over. Therefore, women stepped up to the plate and began working as their husbands had. Women preformed “a man’s job” until the soldiers returned home from war. The famous Rosie the Riveter slogan was created where a woman appears flexing her arm with the caption “We Can Do It.” Looking back on this propaganda we realize that it is, in some ways, degrading to women. It seems as though woman can only “do it” because they have to not because they are able. Men away at war were at peace of mind knowing that the American economy would stay stable with their wives at work. However, once the war ended, men tried to force women out of work and back into the home. Most of the time men were allowed to take over the job a woman had been working for years, solely because he was a man.

Although this is a short video from a T.V. show, and some of the information is inaccurate, the video shows the stereotypes of women. The narrator often refers to her as the “homemaker.” In the beginning, the narrator states the husband/father cannot start his day without his coffee, which must be provided by the wife/mother.
Rosie the Riveter

Even today the stigma still stands that women are to tend to their husband’s and children’s needs before their own, they are to repair the family before repairing themselves. When there is a disagreement between a father and child, Spelman states, the common idea is to nominate the mother as a mediator to smooth things over. The mother is to mend the wounds, within the father and child’s relationship, created by the disagreement. In my experience, most situations are the other way around, where the father becomes the mediator for the mother and child. For example, my mother and I once had an argument because I wanted to sleep over a friend’s house. After a period of catty and heated remarks, I called my dad to intervene. My dad often becomes the mediator between my mother and I due to his rational thinking. Although society assigns men to solely objective repairs and women to relationship repairs, the roles are at times reversed. The “typical WWII woman” and the family mediator are both repairers of relationships. As in my personal example, the roles of a relationship repairer are at times assigned to the man of the house.

Spelman insists that mens’ societal roles are only associated with objective repairs, such as fixing a car. In this she is correct, most men do feel the need to know how to construct and repair objects. She is also correct when writing about the lack of acceptance when it comes to women preforming the same objective repairs.

The fact is not that women don’t have to be unhandy. They are not inherently nonmechanical; they have been educationally deprived by their society and then trained to believe that their aptitude is low. What is most needed is authoritative assurance that ‘educationally deprived’ does not mean ‘uneducable,’ and that, in general, the business of making repairs is far easier than most women believe (Spelman.28).

Spelman is trying to explain that women are not incapable of accomplishing “masculine”/objective repairs. It is society that forces women to believe that they are incapable. Most women overthink or overestimate how difficult objective repairs are because they are never taught. We need to reassure women that they have the ability to perform a number of things. A common example of this educational deprivation is found in the phrase “You (throw, kick, run, etc.) like a girl?” The phrase is often used negatively in order to ridicule the person that is completing the task. It is an “…implication that to do something ‘like a girl’ is to do it the wrong way” (theatlantic.com). The phrase insists women’s attempts at certain tasks are valueless and has become extremely degrading to women. Women are associated with the thought of not wanting to get their hands dirty. This is the reason women are not associated with objective, hands-on repairs.When objective repairs arise the household, most believe a man is to tend to them. The attempts of repair by the woman of the house will only further the issue(s). Just because a woman is educationally deprived, does not mean her attempts of masculine repairs/tasks are to be unaccounted for. Objective repairs are possible for women to complete once knowledge of the repair is learned.

Although biases of domestic femininity exist, we are becoming less ignorant and are realizing our flaws as a society. For example, old Disney princesses would often depend a prince to come to their rescue. A handsome night in shining armor ( the princess’s true love) to save them from the life threatening circumstances they had gotten themselves into. The brave prince saves the princess from objective things such as fire breathing dragons. The themes children are taught when they are younger are at times retrieved from movies such as Disney’s. If girls are taught that “true love” is the only way to save a princess from distress and it can only be found by a prince, what else will they believe a prince is to be depended on? It is important to recognize that “true love” can be interpreted into other ideas. That “true love” and damsel in distress could be a broken sink and a woman who never learned how to fix a sink because she was raised to believe she needs a man to fix it for her, it is his “job”. Recently, Disney has reversed their stereotypical perspectives and often shows “true love” as a relationship with family members, close friends, or someone other than a prince. Therefore, girls are taught that dependence on a man for objective tasks is unnecessary.

In one of the most recent Disney movies, Anna sacrifices her own life in order to save her sister Elsa. Anna becomes frozen, and the only way to cure her is with love; love can melt a frozen heart. When elsa hugs her there is true love between the two sisters therefor Anna is unfrozen.
In the original Sleeping Beauty, Aurora is awaken by a prince.
The 2014 Disney movie, Maleficent is a spinoff of the original movie Sleeping Beauty, which was produced in 1959. In the original Sleeping Beauty, Aurora was awaken from her deep sleep by a prince, who gave her “true loves” kiss. In Maleficent, Aurora is awaken by the evil queen that originally casted the spell on her. The evil queen’s love for Aurora grows throughout the movie. I believe it is significant that, in Maleficent, Disney first has a prince try to wake Aurora, but he is unsuccessful. When someone who has seen Aurora grow and has developed the true feeling of love for her (the eval queen) kisses her she awakens. This allows young girls to conclude that true love is not only found in a man, but in people close to you.

I admire Spelman for acknowledging these stereotypical views in her story. She allows female readers to become aware that they are not incapable of any “objective” task, but that it is society that belittles them to believe so. Women should not be thought of as unhandy or only as repairers of relationships. Women are strong, intelligent individuals who can accomplish any objective repair as well as men. Yes, women are often excellent repairers of relationships, but that is not an excuse to assign them to one type of repair. A “good wife”/household repairer should not have to carry the weight of the family on her shoulders, to preform “like a girl” should not be degrading, and princesses or girls should not be taught to rely on a man for help with objective tasks or repair. I believe Spelman raises excellent ideas on the stereotypical views of objective and personal repairs. Allowing readers to realize these biases exist will, in my opinion, put a stop to future “domestic femininity” biases.


I would like to thank my group — Savannah, Ryan, Aarif, and Andrea — for their honest input and constructive criticism. Seda also had a large part in the process of constructing my essay, offering wise advice and proofreading every draft. I appreciate Professor Harris for taking the time to meet with the class individually to discuss papers. This time allowed me to ask any questions I had pertaining to my work and allowed me to turn my thoughts into words. I would also like to thank my parents for paying my tuition and allowing me to further my education in this excellent institution. Their support and encouraging words have helped pushed me to my full potential.

Work Cited

  1. Spelman, Elizabeth V. Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World. Boston: Beacon, 2002. Print.
  2. “James Fallows.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, Aug. 1996. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.
  3. Run Like A Girl Gif
  4. Rosie the Riveter