Men at work

Male contractors and hired help continue to populate female fantasies.

Published July 21, 2006 2:38PM (EDT)

Yesterday's New York Times Home & Garden section looked at a long held figure of female fantasy: the contractor. The article -- headlined "The Allure of the Tool Belt" -- is actually pretty hilarious, even if it finally makes you want to barf.

Predictably, the piece is filled with all sorts of glaring stereotypes about "what women want." The premise is basically this: The shirtless, sweaty contractor is working at the home of the desperate housewife who is spending all day with the kids, alone, and her emotionally absent husband won't listen to how she just wants extra counter space to do "her own vegetable canning."

The Times doesn't offer any real statistics as to how many women leave their partners for the hunk with big tools, but it does, whether wittingly or not, offer a portrait of a rarely seen sexualized male. Like the nanny or maid, the contractor has long been a fixture in American pornography. (Asked of Matt Dillon's contractor character in "Beautiful Girls": "What is it about a tool belt that makes a girl come?")

The Times plays up this cultural fantasy -- in keeping with a gendered division of labor, few of the women mentioned in the article seem to have anything to do (except spend money on home renovations), which helps perpetuate the idea of the bored housewife shacking up with the hired help.

Are there any sexualized male professions that subvert gender norms? Or does a woman always have to be wooed by traditionally masculine labor?

By Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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