Amelia Earhart, Queen Elizabeth I, Wilma Mankiller, Sandra Day O’Connor – each was a woman who excelled in a position that, up until her time, was dominated and often aggressively guarded by men as being off-limits to those of, as it was once called, the fairer sex.
While being the first woman to break into a male-dominated field earns real estate in the history books, there’s no reason women today can’t take small steps to take charge of and earn independence in their own lives. Creating a comprehensive financial plan, warding off an attacker, changing the oil in the car or rewiring an historic home – none of these jobs need land on a honey-do list.
A woman’s intelligence isn’t always given its due in the decidedly male-dominated world that is the auto repair shop.
“When I went to shop for a car, it bothered me that I was talked down to,” says Julie Dermody, marketing director at Keystone Chevrolet in Sand Springs.
“I’m a trucker’s daughter; I knew my way around a vehicle. I wasn’t intimidated. I felt patronized. Any woman can feel that way when she walks into a dealership.”
For women in the same boat, Keystone Chevrolet offers the quarterly “What Women Auto Know” course. The evening courses run two to three hours and are “very in-depth – we ask that the women wear grubbies. We make them get into it,” Dermody says.
“What we wanted to provide is a way for ladies to know more about their cars so that they feel comfortable when seeing a mechanic,” Dermody says. “No one likes to be taken advantage of.”
The next course is scheduled for June 9. The cost of enrollment is $20.
“The class is taught by a female ASE-certified mechanic. She is so knowledgeable, and the fact that she’s a mechanic seems to make women more comfortable asking questions. As I like to say, in those classes, it’s just us girls,” Dermody says.
The number one lesson that is taught in the class, Dermody says, is to not neglect vehicle maintenance.
“That $40 oil change done on time saves thousands in future repairs,” agrees Lonnie Vaughan, executive director of the Tulsa-based nonprofit Car Care Clinic Inc.
Car Care Clinic hosts monthly events at which they ask that individuals low on funds but in need of car repairs buy necessary parts, and then they provide the labor at no cost. A single mom is a common face at the clinics.
“Women shouldn’t be afraid to raise the hood of a car and ask questions. You don’t need to know how to do a brake job. Instead, figure out how to check your oil and your fluids. It’s something that, after women do it, they’re glad they did. It’s empowering,” Vaughan says.
Next come the tires and making sure that the air pressure inside is appropriate for a particular car.
“Not only will it save you money in gas, but it will also help you to get better wear on your tires,” Vaughan says.
Each of us – man or woman – is ultimately in charge of our own protection.
Good thing the first rule of self-defense isn’t strength or size. According to Brandon Bennett, lead instructor at Relentless Martial Arts in Tulsa, awareness is the best weapon against an attacker.
“Here’s an exercise: Pretend you’re a mugger,” Bennett says. “If I were a mugger and I was going to mug someone like me, how would I do it?”
Bennett says spots to study are what he calls transitional areas – places like parking lots, walkways and coat rooms where there are large numbers of people but no crowds or congregating.
“If the drunk guy who doesn’t want to take no for an answer approaches you while you’re at a party, that’s not such a big deal. But if he corners you in the coat room, that can be scary,” Bennett says.
“What you learn by pretending to be a mugger is who you would target and why. What you’ll find is that criminals target individuals who are fixated on a task – talking on their cell phones, looking for their keys,” Bennett says. “These behaviors tell an attacker that you’re vulnerable.”
Don’t worry about investing in various self-defense gadgets, Bennett says, especially if the only place that something like handheld mace will ever see is the bottom of a purse.
“If that mace is on your keychain and not in your hand, it’s not going to be of use to you,” Bennett says. “You’re not going to have time to dig it out once an attacker makes his move. The number one thing that works is mindset.”
Bennett advises both men and women in his martial arts courses to commit to exercise and maintaining physical fitness.
“Someone who is in shape is less of a target,” Bennett says.
Resisting is important when it comes to defusing a threatening situation, too, Bennett says, though “resisting doesn’t always mean fighting against an attacker.
“Maybe it’s giving up a billfold or a purse to avoid being abducted and transported to a secondary crime scene. An attacker wants one of three things: Your property, your body or your life. Decide ahead of time: What are you willing to surrender?”
The days of even the simplest home repair requiring the services of a contractor are safely behind us.
Thanks to the free workshops like the ones offered at The Home Depot – held under the banner Do It Herself, they put home maintenance and repair squarely into the hands of the busy, modern woman – the honey-do list could experience the same fate.
The courses are designed to help women refresh and revitalize anything that will help to make a home more appealing, as well as to boost resale value, says Mitchell Johnson, manager of operations at The Home Depot store at 9808 E. 71st St. in Tulsa.
“This isn’t how to change a light bulb – these are full-scale projects we tackle in these classes,” Johnson says.
Past projects have featured how-tos on plumbing and lighting; the most recent class was a full bathroom remodel, including how to install toilets, bathtubs, floors and fixtures.
“The Home Depot was founded during a recession,” Johnson says. “People couldn’t afford to hire contractors to come in and fix things, add value to their homes – they had to figure out how to do those things themselves. We provided information and created DIY classes. The Do It Herself workshops are our way of getting back to that.”
Add the fact that women make the majority of household purchase decisions, and “this is simply what our customers want,” Johnson says.
About 100 women register for each class, Johnson says, and the products used during the courses are offered to participants at a discount.
“So many women come to our class and say, ‘I understand the larger scope of this project, but I’ve gotten to this certain point and I’m not sure what to do.’ It’s the little questions that we’re answering. Women know what they’re doing,” Johnson says.
Census information reveals that the average age of widowhood is 55. Add to that fact that, also according to the Census, divorce rates range from 36 to 50 percent.
One look at just those two statistics and it quickly stops making sense for a woman to leave her financial life solely in the hands of the men in her life.
“Women need to be just as aware as men of family finances, and all plans should be made as partners, not by one or the other,” says John Cary, financial advisor, senior vice president and financial planning specialist at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Tulsa.
“If one of them dies suddenly, that’s the worst time in the world to try to figure these things out. But, I’ve seen it happen a lot.”
The first step to becoming acquainted with personal finances is to gather the appropriate documents, says Jane Mudgett, financial advisor and financial planning specialist at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Tulsa.
“I like to call it what you own and what you owe,” Mudgett says. “Your mortgage, your assets, your 401(k) – it’s your personal net worth.”
“Many women don’t know what bills need to be paid each month, or how much money it takes to run the household,” says JoAnn Schaub, senior vice president and manager, institutional wealth management at BOK Financial.
“They don’t know what their assets or investments or debts are. But women need to know what they are and where to find them.”
Determining how cash flows through a household leads to the development of a budget, which doesn’t always have to be hard and fast – a budget range is okay too, Mudgett says.
“Maybe you can work your budget into what you’re already doing,” Mudgett says. “It may be that you’re spending too much money, but maybe not. You never know until you put a plan together.”
The key to guarding against financial crisis is an emergency fund stocked with three to six months of income, says both Schaub and Mudgett.
Then, “if you have a financial adviser, make sure you’re meeting with him or her,” Schaub says. “Don’t rely on a family member for this, which is what most people do. It’s better to go to someone who’s a professional and who’s independent.”
The bright side for women who are diving headlong into an intimidating area of their lives? There’s no need to learn everything at once.
“It’s easy to start to think that you’ll never learn everything you need to know,” says Schaub. “But you can rely on professionals you trust. Leave the details to them. You want to have that general knowledge so you can oversee what they’re doing. You’ll build your knowledge over time. It’s a process. The more you ask questions, the more you’ll know.”
If the size of the travel and tourism industry is any indication, life just can’t be lived to its fullest in one place and one place only. After all, how could a $582 billion industry be wrong?
It’s not, and women, it’s time to give in to that wanderlust, says Marybeth Bond, editor-author of 11 books, including 50 Best Girlfriend Getaways in North America, as well as the blog www.gutsytraveler.com.
“I never regretted any trip I took, no matter how inconvenient, expensive or unnecessary it seemed in the planning stage,” Bond says. “I only regretted the trips I didn’t take.”
Bond says remembering that the rewards far outweigh the minimal risks of traveling can ease first-trip jitters.
“The fear and discomfort with traveling alone diminishes with time and experience,” Bond says. “Don’t let fear keep you at home. Every year, try doing something on your bucket list.”
“The first time is the hardest. But one small risk leads to larger risks until you have made leaps in confidence and you are a competent traveler. More and more women are taking that first step every day,” Bond says, adding that Baby Boomer women are increasingly traveling alone or with other women.
As when any time the urge for adventure strikes, don’t throw caution to the wind when it’s time to hit the road. The best advice for single travelers, says Frank Evans, the marketing director at Southern Journeys, a travel agency with locations in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, is to know before you go.
“As much as you possibly can, get familiar with the area before you take your trip,” Evans says. “I mean more than just the big attractions – the subway is a good thing to know about, if there is one where you’re going.”
Especially on a first trip to a new destination, it might not be the best idea to do as the locals do.
“When you’re traveling alone, especially to another country, it’s best to stay near the tourist areas,” Evans says.
Traveling singles should keep a tight lip when talking with friends made on the road, Evans says.
“Especially don’t be too specific about where you’re staying,” Evans says. “Have your luggage marked with your ID so that it can be recognized.”
Travel is one of the fastest ways for anyone, man or woman, to boost his or her self-worth, Bond says.
“Many gutsy women are traveling, and many more need only a word or two of encouragement to get out the door.”
Following the advice of seasoned travelers will “confirm your own instincts and inspire new ideas about traveling the world. You will not be the only woman traveling – there are many like-minded, courageous women out there,” Bond says.