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Is Woman to Martha Stewart Living as Man is to Home Depot?*



young girl looks intently at something she is reading


There were not a lot of copies of Good Housekeeping in my single-mother headed, early '70s SoHo home. However, my aunt had a lot of them. And I loved them. They promised to answer my yearning to know how to do everything. Perfectly. In my little seven-year-old heart, I knew that there was a salvific sense of wholeness on the other side of "Three Steps to an Organized Closet."

I've always been a feminist. At six I rejected the idea of marriage as a vestigial patriarchal structure designed to subordinate women, although possibly not in that exact language. But possibly. Yet, to this day I can't see the cover of Elle, no matter how airbrushed the emaciated woman on the cover is, or how outrageous the promises of the headlines, without a little thrill of hope, that this time it will change everything.

It is this sense of endless possibility, fundamental, radically transformative change, just out of sight around the corner, that forces me to lash myself to the mast of feminism, lest I be lured in by the siren call of the "Women's Magazines" section at Borders.

Home Depot, however, is another matter. I know salvation is just around that distant cement-floored, metal-scaffolded corner -- if only I could decide on the right home improvement project and commit to it. I have the most spiritual book in the world: Built-In Furniture, by Jim Tolpin. Read the "Product Description"!: "...like no other... possibilities...limitless...no better way...solutions..." How could you not want to do what this book tells you? Sometimes I think I may weep looking at it. Even more compelling is the dream that if you could only find the right instruction manual, absolutely anything could be built with just 2x4s, like an affordable apartment in Manhattan.

I don't think I'm completely gender normative in my relationship to Home Depot and Mikasa variable speed drills, but I know I'm not unique. I suspect, however, that this sense of imminent fulfillment in the grand spaces of Home Depot is more common for men than women. Is this where men dream of finding the one roof-mounted vent that will change their lives forever?

Maybe there are adult women who actually read women's magazines solely for information. A recipe here, an "ask your doctor" there. No big deal. And home-improvers who just need an 8' pressure-treated pine 2x4 (which, by the way, is not actually two inches by four inches: compare actual and nominal dimensions here) with no secret yearning for salvation. But I doubt it. _______________________________________

*Thanks to Sherry B. Ortner for her piece, "Is Woman to Nature as Man Is to Culture?" published in Woman, Culture, and Society, ed. M.Z. Rosaldo & L. Lamphere (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974). I am so sorry that so few will understand how funny my title is.