“Women have broken through glass ceilings, we just haven’t learned to fix them,” Sussman and Glakas-Tenet write in their book, which sold so well that they wrote two more do-it-yourself books, including one for women about how to fix their cars.
“For so long, women have been so afraid to take on home repairs, but our message is: This is not the hardest thing you have done. Women take care of our elderly parents, our neighbors, our spouses, our friends. So is that any easier than repairing a garbage disposal?” asked Glakas-Tenet, who along with Sussman, has had a husband in the CIA and lives in the D.C. area.
The pair had the idea for the book because they didn’t like calling their husbands for help while they were abroad, especially about seemingly small problems such as how to fix the toilet. On their book tour, Sussman and Glakas-Tenet hosted home-repair clinics at military bases to help women whose husbands were deployed.
“Our mothers’ generation was more concerned about their daughters being in a stable marriage,” Sussman said. “We no longer worry about that anymore. We want our daughters to above all be independent.”
On college campuses, initiatives such as Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build program have made it “cool and comfortable” for young women to learn construction skills, said Annie Stom, who owns Annie’s Ace Hardware in Petworth. From 2006 to 2011, Stom was the national project director for the Department of Labor’s YouthBuild program, which taught at-risk young people — girls and boys — to build affordable housing while getting their high school diplomas.
“More young women are feeling really empowered and even encouraged to do this stuff,” Stom said.
With her tool belt and her extra-large cup of cold 7-Eleven coffee, Cecilia Moore, 49, is one of Washington’s most well-known handywomen. Men fear her. Women want to be her. They long to know all that this heroine with a hammer knows.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Moore is fixing a leaky water heater and touching up her paint job as she renovates a basement apartment in Mount Pleasant. She wears baggy jeans and a Husky headlamp, carries a power saw and smokes Camel Crush cigarettes. On speed dial is Wench With a Wrench, a.k.a. Kelli Pletsch, 43, of Bowie, whom she calls in on jobs that have plumbing issues.
“She always makes me look good,” said Moore, as she shook up a can of paint. “Plus there’s just so much work now for women in this field. My dream has always been to have a consortium of Janes of all trades, including girl electricians, carpenters and contractors.”
She has been at this job for years and comes from a family that has long worked in home repairs. Lately, she’s noticed more young women taking an interest in choosing her career, so she’s starting a “Handywoman” blog to encourage them.
Changing times notwithstanding, Moore said she had to take the word “Handywoman” off her van.
“Men were calling the number and asking if I had a blonde or brunette for hire,” she said, taking a swig of coffee. “They are foolish. The thing is, there are lot of men who can’t fix a darn thing — but just because they can’t or won’t doesn’t mean they want you to.”