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Feminist Research
Housing and Feminism
Self Build Housing


	Case Studies

Personal Background
Training and Technical
Land Policies
Institutional Support
Shelter and Service
Planning and Design
Building Materials


Case Studies of Women's Self Build Housing

Personal Background
The respondents of this project reported a variety of reasons for taking the self build option. These ranged from the desire to have shelter for self and kids, to having the security of home ownership, or simply living in a house that more closely met their needs. These needs covered varied concerns such as the impact of lifestyle on the environment, to aesthetic standards. One woman said, "when I first got married I had a dream about five acres and a mudbrick house, the marriage didn't last, but the dream stayed with me."

Most spoke in glowing terms of the results of their experiences as self builders; "definitely the happiest time of my life", "rewarding, enriching", "one of the most positive things I've done in my life". There were comments about negative aspects of building too; "a lot of struggle but worth it" and "it's taken most of my spare time for 20 years", "physically damaging at times working all by hand with few power tools". Frustration over the length of time required to build was mentioned by almost every woman.

All of the women said they had gained new knowledge or skill that they will continue to use to different degrees, from "handyman jobs" to working as a qualified carpenter. Several spoke of the new insight they gained, particularly the demystification of construction processes, referring to building as a sort of arcane knowledge that had been held by men. One of these women said that building is in actual fact "just so much common sense and hard work". There seemed to be a general sense of satisfaction in the words of one woman who said "I've learnt to do a lot of things I didn't think I could." On a similar theme,

"I learned lots of things about construction and have given lots of support encouragement and practical advice to other women who have done things from extensions to re-doing their verandahs. It's given me the knowledge that any woman can do it."

"I could design and build for anyone if I wanted, and advise other women on how to do their own house building."

The women reported that their building experiences have contributed to their personal growth. They spoke of developing self confidence and becoming assertive, of being able to do whatever they wanted or felt was necessary through research, learning and application. One woman spoke of her sense of being free of the sense that women are taught that they are not practical. Another said,

"I still struggle with confidence but the house is a reminder that I can do it. Lack of confidence part of female upbringing."

There were several areas in which the respondents felt they had been disadvantaged in their lives. Some reported discrimination on the basis of sex in gaining employment and access to a technical education and on the basis of sexuality in gaining employment; stating that these experiences caused great disappointment and disadvantage. One woman said that being a women she had to work harder to prove herself was also been a disadvantage. Another that the lack of technical education had implications later when male providers of information and technical materials did not take her seriously and didn't give information to her "like they might to a man".

The economic disadvantage women face was felt by this group. Over half the respondents were single parents and were significantly affected by a "restricted financial position".

"My husband left when I was two months pregnant, this changed the course of my life, I was then on the single parent trip and poverty."

One woman said that as "a survivor of domestic violence" she found she had little confidence in her abilities. Another respondent reported being similarly affected. Marital breakdown was another cause of disadvantage, with one women saying that her husband left her with a lot of debts, and at an age when there are few opportunities for a woman to re-enter the workforce.

Several of the respondents said that just being a woman was a disadvantage "in a sexist society, a woman hating society". One went on to say that sexism has not stopped her doing things just made it a lot harder.

There have been times however, for most of the women, when being a woman has helped in this home building adventure. One respondent said being a woman has helped her produce what she wanted, because of the lack of technical knowledge and expertise she didn't feel bound by convention and took a more lateral approach. Another comment was that as a woman,

"I've probably thought more about the aesthetics, and the siting, and relating the two; and how these then relate to my lifestyle."

"Being a woman has had positive influence. The novelty of two women building meant that boys seemed more willing to help. We got heaps of bargains at mills and second hand timber shops."

Another woman talked of rejecting patriarchal society, saying that this rejection helped her to "find alternatives rather than just accepting the status quo". These comments indicate that at least some of the women responding to this project have been part of the development of new roles, new aesthetics and perhaps new technologies of women.

For all of the women concerned self build housing represents a move away from women's socially sanctioned role of dependence.

"In terms of the house, because of the community situation, we have been compelled to try to do everything, there are no guys here so there is no let out, no letting the men take care of things."

Most of the respondents referred to their female socialisation as problematic. It often made it hard for themselves and others to see them as builders. One woman pointed to the women's movement as a factor in her endeavours as "before 'women's lib'...women just didn't do things like this".

Building a house was a political act for these women, it was about going beyond societaly imposed limits, breaking out of the kitchen and finding their strength. It was about extending their knowledge into taboo areas and attempting to change what being a woman meant.

"Because of the girls upbringing we had at the time you couldn't even ask to do woodwork or anything. Even my Dad, who was a carpenter, didn't teach me anything, because I was a girl."

"This is the negative part of being a woman. We never got any of this at school, never any practice at being builders, we weren't allowed to do technical drawing at school, you weren't encouraged to go out and build forts as kids if you were a young girl."

In attempting to succeed in the subversive act of building all of the women came across some opposition or resistance. This opposition may not have been consciously exerted by the person concerned but it was keenly felt by the woman herself.

"I went to a building supplier to get my timber. When I asked for a quote the salesman said 'oh you wont need all this'. I assured him I was building a house. He said, 'you won't need all this for a cubby house.' He had no conception that a woman could build a real house."

Being female influenced these self-builder in terms of their abilities and other's perceptions of them. This has had positive and negative outcomes. Often the novelty value was often to the builders advantage. After the initial reaction "a lot of the older locals started to take me very seriously and became supportive".

"Being female we had little confidence as self builders, I noticed this especially when we started and were laying out our site. We couldn't find the aspect we wanted, two of us with a compass, both uni graduates and we couldn't use it. This was our first stumbling block. Even though we done a lot of reading and talking it through we didn't trust ourselves. We got someone to check on our work. Most of the boys who came to help us on specific things wouldn't really listen to us, but by the time we got to the second storey we were more assertive and confident in ourselves to actually put our views and say this is the way we want it done."

Building as a woman, conscious of the problems women face in the world presents another set of concerns. Not only do the women need to act within what may be seen as a male arena but to avoid replicating what may be seen as problematic within that arena, to go beyond the current situation with it's limits on women. This program proved to be a difficult one

"Being a feminist visionary meant my plans were probably not too practical or easy to realise."

All of the respondents felt that they saw themselves differently since building the house. The new visions were of "a strong capable woman, who will have a go at any thing", "a capable builder".

"It jiggled a lot of my stereotypes and empowered me and gave confidence."

"This has changed not only my perceptions but myself. I used to be more bookish but now I am more practical. Now a flat tyre is only a minor hiccup not the major drama it once was."

Most of the women saw a marked change in the way they others saw them after building a house.

"A lot of respect from the locals because we'd actually done it and done a good job. When men that you don't know realise that you've built a house or houses it makes them step back and have a bit more respect and actually listen to you."

"My Dad found it surprising to see his daughter doing this, but now he has left his tools to me."

"Now people give me more respect and even admire me."

"When my old school friends and I all turned fifty we had a big reunion and they thought I was extremely 'adventurous', a lot of them ask me for advice now."

Building a house has proved to be an act of great significance for the women taking part in this research. The evidence suggests that as a result these women have enhanced their self image as women, seeing themselves and women generally in more positive ways. These women have demonstrated their capabilities as self builders and generally their communities' appear to have been impressed.