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Tools for Women

The owner of the company, Barbara Kavovit, a successful construction contractor, started the series in order to empower women.

By Novella Carpenter

I've been truck shopping. No, not like a Chevy Luv. Not even like a Ford F350. Bigger. A tanker truck. GVW (gross vehicle weight, don't you know?) of 28,000 pounds and bigger--a rig for hauling biodiesel for a business that I own with four other women. So I've been going to heavy-duty truck lots, hanging out with men named Mel and learning the basics of a 10-speed manual transmission. After popping up the cab in order to inspect the engine, Mel and I were washing our hands in the mechanics' area when I noticed a series of three bathroom doors nearby. They all read, "Men." I had to go down the hall, around the corner, and use the bathroom for the secretaries, which featured silk flowers and air freshener.

A few days later, I'm standing in line at the hardware store, and I come across a "women's tool set." It features a flower pattern on the handle of the hammer and the screwdriver--and a flowery tool box to boot. Made in China, and a generic brand, the kit was probably trying to shadow the popular barbara k! tool sets, which feature smaller-sized tools made for women and carry the motto "If I can do it, so can you!"

The owner of the company, Barbara Kavovit, a successful construction contractor, started the series in order to empower women. Her website--www.barbarak.com--explains that "my true desire is to inspire women to become more self-reliant and confident in their own abilities ... All it takes is a little motivation, a little know-how, and the right 'tools' for every woman to achieve a more independent lifestyle. Hopefully, I can provide a bit of all three!"

I hope so, too, especially because a new line of barbara k! automotive tools is forthcoming, and I think it is important that women can fix their own cars. There's the Roadside Safety set, which features a safety flag, flashlight, jumper cables, tire gauge, gloves, poncho, ice scraper, SOS banner, light sticks, a funnel and a how-to guide--all for $30. Though I wish she had added a couple of tools to the kit (how about a wrench and some pliers?), for $30, this is a pretty good deal.

I guess you could buy the barbara k! Auto Multi-Tool, which is a stainless-steel tool that resembles a Swiss Army knife but includes must-haves like a universal wrench, Phillips and flathead screwdrivers, long-nose pliers, a saw and file and a pocket-knife blade--then add it to your safety set.

Barbara K's tools are all guaranteed for life. Another part of their appeal is the booklike carrying case that is included with the sets. Per the website, I visited some of the chains that are supposed to carry the barbara k! tool kits. None in my area had them, one guy told me, in response to my description of her line as tools for women: "Nope, we only have tools for men."

I'm learning that the car industry, the petroleum industry and, of course, the maintenance industry are male-dominated fields. What would Mel think of me if I walked in with a barbara k! tool set under my arm to look at a truck? I think he'd think it was cute. And there's nothing wrong with that: If Barbara K can get women to use tools and empower themselves, then great. But I see this trend as a calming device, a separate-but-not-equal situation. Men who might be intimidated by a woman welding (and knowing how to use) a Snap-On 18-volt impact wrench wouldn't feel the same way if she pulled out a smaller, baby-blue version of the same tool.

Maybe I'm just being cynical. At a women-led fuel-filter-changing workshop I attended recently, one of the attendees knew her mechanic would charge her $100 to change the fuel filter, and so she thought she'd try it herself instead. Using a set of clamps, pliers and a screwdriver, we removed and changed the fuel filter. Looking on appreciatively, another woman in the class said, "It is so cool that we're all women here, learning how to fix our cars." I couldn't agree more.

Email Novella at [email protected].

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From the May 25-June 1, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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