Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Learned Helplessness

A couple of days ago, I gathered some things into my backpack to get ready to hop on my bike to zip cross-town to a friend's place. We were meeting up for the afternoon with another friend to catch up on stuff. About two-thirds of the way there, I heard a loud "thunk!" and felt my chain go slack. Thankfully, I'd been riding slowly along a side street, having just let a guy and his dog cross in front of me. I hopped off the bike to assess what had happened -- it had just derailed.

I walked the bike the rest of the way and when I arrived, both my host and our friend stepped outside to see what had happened. I asked my host if she had any tools. (See, when I'd packed my bag, I'd taken my bike tool kit out to make room for junk -- a dumb, dumb, dumb thing to do.) She immediately offered to get the guy next door to come over with his tools. "To fix it for you," she added. I told her that I knew how to fix it myself and pointed out that the guy next door was probably enjoying a marathon session of World of Warcraft. She shrugged and fetched her tools and fussed as my other friend and I tinkered with the bike. I was avoiding the inevitable -- having to loosen the back wheel, which could have led to alignment problems and having to tweak and tweak and tweak.

Just as I was about to give in and loosen the wheel, a male friend of my host's came up the driveway. "Hey! Just what we need -- a man! Do you know anything about fixing bikes?" she asked him. My other friend and I exchanged looks and the token man replied "No". My host persisted and asked if he could give me a hand. At this point, I stood up and told my host (again) that not only did I know how to fix my own bike, but also that considering what I'd paid for it and how much I rely on it, the only other person -- male or female -- I'd let touch it with a wrench would be a professional bike mechanic.

The whole episode left me wondering about learned helplessness and why people would try to project it at others. I mean, in this case it seemed to be completely gender-based. An assumption was made by a woman that, as another woman, I needed a man to "fix" a mechanical problem -- even after I'd repeatedly assured her that I was more than able to look after it. I wonder how often people project their own learned helplessness on others in less obvious ways and without verbalizing it -- particularly, how many women are doing this to other women. And I worry about how many women are letting this behaviour hold them back from learning what they need to know to become more self-reliant.


jessy said...

wow. that situation would really frustrate me. argh! i don't like when people (especially women) do that either. and you're right - it's learned helplessness or something - i really don't like it.

last year i was raking leaves and pulling them down the road on a tarp to dump them into our woods (i refuse to put leaves in plastic bags and send them off to the landfill where they won't decompose inside those damn bags). our neighbor stepped out of her home and shouted "where's your husband? he should be helping you!" i told her i was just fine & that dan was busy (he was actually upstairs playing video games. he hates raking leaves - and i hate mowing the lawn. so he mows the lawn a few times a year, and i rake the leaves. we love our exchange!). having her assume that i couldn't/shouldn't be doing this work without the assistance of my spouse really pissed me off.

i have to agree with you; i too believe that many women are letting this hold them back from being able to do more things on their own. i know i keep saying this, but it's very frustrating to me, too! nice job on standing up for yourself & being assertive and persistent - that rocks! :D

Anonymous said...

Please come fix my bike. :P