The myth of Mr Fix-It

If you're a man, apparently that means you should be an instant whiz at all things tech.

If you're a man, apparently that means you should be an instant whiz at all things tech.

(Old broken TV image by schmilblick, CC BY 2.0)

According to a survey conducted by Dick Smith, 13 million computers and television sets in Australian homes don't work properly, thanks to a bad installation — and with 75 per cent of the installations performed by men, this means that the blame is to be laid squarely at the feet of the male population.

The press release went on to bemoan the fact that Aussie men seem to have lost their DIY savvy, preferring to sweep problems under a rug than get out their screwdrivers and tinker.

Dick Smith's chief Clever Dick Jason Woodland said in the release, "The results show a very real need for Aussie men to swallow their 'man pride' and call out the experts when they buy a new computer or TV."

The survey also found that:

Men's shoddy installation is causing tension for more than a third (35 per cent) of Australian households, resulting in accusations of tinkering with problem technology products alongside full-blown arguments in some cases. However, despite the research showing how common mistakes are following men's installation, combined with the added threat of an argument with the other half, only 5 per cent of those surveyed have ever relied on a professional installer to ensure their brand new LED TVs and MacBooks are working how they should.

Oh, dear.

Shaming women for not fulfilling stereotyped gender roles is a bad thing, so why is it suddenly OK when it comes to men? This sort of assumption — that any man can and should be able to pry open the back of a machine, diagnose what's wrong and fix it — is both insulting and limiting. And it's this kind of assumption that puts pressure on men to perform in ways that aren't necessarily natural to or of interest to them.

Last time I checked, many Australian households have women in them. In mine, any tech installations are performed by yours truly (and everything runs fine, thank you very much) — but if they weren't, and if I didn't understand it, I certainly wouldn't feel obliged to wrangle with a manual to figure out what to do.

It's not so for men. Men are expected to be able to wield a hammer as easily as breathing, to fix a broken sink and figure out why a router isn't working as if they were born with the knowledge.

Telling men that they are solely responsible for handling anything technical — especially when it goes wrong — sends several messages. First, that men have rigid household roles to which they must conform. Second, that even though men have to conform to this role, they are terrible at it and need help — the "stupid husband" of TV advertising. Third, that women are incapable of anything technological, complicated or not. And then there's the rather cringe-worthy reference to "man pride" — as though men can't possibly cope with the idea that they can't do something. It's so mind-bogglingly contradictory that we don't even know what to do with it.

Not to mention the attitude that sexism when it's pointed at men is somehow magically OK.

It's getting to a point where it's no longer enough to recognise that "girls can do anything" — it needs to be recognised that men, too, have choices; that men can be nurses, teachers, doctors, scientists, caterers, stay-at-home dads. That many men are able to wire up a surround-sound system as easily as you like — just as many men can cook, take care of a sick child, heck, even make sandwiches. And there's nothing wrong with any of it.

While on one hand we need to let women know that yes, they can enter previously male-dominated fields, and they can like maths and science and technology and physical labour, we need to be telling men that it is OK if they don't gravitate towards those things. Anything else is just rank hypocrisy.