Monthly Archives: July 2014

Sexism at the Museum

Drink Hammers

IMG_0089 Drink Hammers and Glass Hammers

Thirteen years ago, when the Hammer Museum was getting its start, Carol, who is Dave’s wife, wanted to attract women and children into the museum. So she started up her own collection of hammers. While Dave focused mostly on workhorse hammers, like our 36 pound claw hammer, the maritime hammers, or the railroad hammers, Carol focused on novelty hammers. There’s a large collection of drink hammers in the museum (used at nightclubs to call for applause for the band) as well as a display of glass hammers. There’s also a couple of hammers that were used to break the clay shell off of Beggar’s Chicken (a recipe that calls for baking chicken in 11 pounds of clay).


Her idea worked–while a fair number of visitors are elderly men who previously worked as carpenters, blacksmiths and other hammer-wielding professions, a number of women and children make positive comments about the range of the collection. Everyone makes a connection with at least one hammer.

I have to say though, the fact that we have novelty hammers in order to appeal to women bothers me. I wanted to work at this museum because I like hammers–and not in the theoretical sense–I actually like using them! Aside from that, I would never want a curator of any museum to tell me, “Well, here’s the part of our collection that we think women will like…” It’s a similar reaction when I see floral-patterned hammers at the hardware store, or pink bicycling gear, for that matter.

But I suppose it’s the job of any museum professional to make sure that their institution can appeal to folks of all ages, genders, races, orientations, etc., and to present history in an honest but compelling way.

And sometimes, visitors unwittingly remind me why it’s so important for museums to do this. Yesterday, Emily and I (who are, I would like to point out, the only paid staff at the museum, and we’re two females) were sitting behind the counter when an older woman from Southern Virginia walked up to us and said, sotto voce, in a not un-judgmental tone, “This really seems like more of a man’s thing to me.” Rather than laugh and agree with her so I didn’t have to make further conversation and justify my life decisions to a stranger, I walked her to the front room and talked to her for 10 minutes about all of the hammers that apply to women.

For example! Our Hammer of the Week this week was put out by a company that made “Ball-Bearing Bicycle” shoes, so they manufactured a hammer made of ball bearings to advertise their shoes. The shoes for women were especially uncomfortable-looking, and it was recommended that women wear these shoes while hiking the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail (which they had to do over 40 times in order to bring all of their stuff North for the Gold Rush). Which is just a reminder that women in that era got to hike in heels and dresses–pretty cool, right?

I don’t think I changed this woman’s mind about anything, because she mostly just nodded and then made some disparaging comment about how unimpressive this museum was going to look on my resume (“Well at least you have a job…”). But I felt better.

Two-handled hammers

Not just for women!

We also have a two-handled hammer in our collection, and Emily overheard some man comment that it was a hammer designed for a woman to hammer straighter. And then the other day, a kid (about 10 years old) asked me and Emily where our boss was. She said, “Well what makes you think we couldn’t be the bosses?” The kid got really quiet for a second, and his dad said, “Jimmy, are you being a chauvinist?” To which Jimmy responded, “What’s that?” But yes, Jimmy was implying that he wasn’t expecting a Hammer Museum to be staffed by two women.

It’s true that I might be a little overly sensitive to this sort of thing. What I view as blatant sexism is often (maybe) more innocently intended, and I do need to bear this mind before I jump down people’s throats. Especially when those people are museum visitors.

Of course, a majority of our visitors understand what we’re trying to do here, and I have met some truly awesome individuals. In fact, one woman from Fairbanks was telling me how her mother taught her how to use a hammer as a concealed weapon.

But the occasional sexist comment is a nice, though sometimes annoying, reminder of why I choose to work in this profession. While I don’t expect people to leave a hammer museum with their entire worldview changed, it’s fun to challenge assumptions and persuade people to consider another perspective. And this current runs both ways–I learn quite a bit from visitors, too!


The Darker and Lighter Sides

At the Hammer Museum, one of the exhibits that my boss is working on will showcase the darker and lighter side of hammers. Included in the darker side are objects such as the Sudanese war hammer, the African blood letting hammer (it was a dubious purchase off of eBay, but hey, it’s interesting), the cattle stunner, the pig killer, and the autopsy hammer. The lighter side of hammers includes things like drink hammers (to tap on the glass for a refill), glass hammers, household hammers, hammers shaped like high heels, and hammers for breaking up toffee and candy. You get the point.

This concept can also be applied to spending 3 summer months in Southeast Alaska as a city slicker. There are more ups than downs, but the downs can really get to you if you dwell on them for too long. Unfortunately, a frustrating day at the museum has left me feeling like writing about such things. So here we go. We’ll start with the lighter side.

The Lighter Side:

1) You could spend forever outside here and continue to discover new things. It’s unbelievably beautiful and nature is bountiful.

2) The people are very friendly and warm. You will make new friends quickly.

3) The sunshine is endless. I was biking home from a kayak trip at 1:30 AM and the sun was still visible.

4) The wildlife is plentiful and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Otters, moose (supposedly), bears, eagles, ravens, mountain goats, coyotes (at least in the Yukon), etc.

5) Fresh. Seafood. Like you wouldn’t even believe. We went to a bonfire the other night and someone said, “Hey, does anyone want these crab legs? I caught them on Sunday and just have too many.” He then produced a grocery bag full of dungeoness crab legs and apologized for them not being terribly fresh (he had caught them on Sunday, and it was Tuesday).

6) Quirky small town life is just plain fun. There was a small marching band in the Fourth of July parade that was assembled by a town group, and there’s been a Listener Personal ad on the radio that says, “Someone is looking for as many curly blond wigs as they can find in the next few weeks. Please call xxx-xxxx if you have one that you can lend out.”

7) Tourists are fun. I like them. And they’re generally only in Haines in droves once per week, so it’s more manageable than working in tourism in DC.

8) There are so many people with fantastic stories, and because people are generally less guarded, you’re more likely to hear them.

The Darker Side:

1) Hate to say it, but the rumors about the men have a lot of truth to them. I’ve met quite a few very nice men, but for a town of 2,500, this place has its fair share of creeps. I don’t know if it’s the dearth of women or what, but some seem like they’re just lonely, and others just seem sinister. And perhaps I’m overly sensitive to men talking down to me, but I seem to encounter that a lot (I got asked if I was going to make some pretty earrings at the blacksmithing demonstration and I almost blew my stack). THAT BEING SAID, street harassment is virtually non-existent here. I have not heard, “HEY BABY, I WISH I WAS THAT BICYCLE SEAT” once since I’ve been here.

2) I realize this happens everywhere, but people bicker about the weirdest stuff. Small town life, while quirky, means that the bureaucracy of the local governance is generally magnified and met with disgruntled annoyance, and everyone’s opinions MUST BE HEARD. The local newspaper has headlines that both crack me up and make me shake my head. Though honestly, DC’s not that much better.

3) Everyone knows your business. After I was spotted dancing on the Fourth of July, the barista next door said, “So I hear YOU had a good time last night…”

4) Nature is pretty brutal. While it is beautiful, it seems like if you’re caught off guard, the worst-case scenario is that you die. Just yesterday, on a hike up Mount Ripinsky, the guide was telling us about a man who was snowshoeing up it in white-out conditions, went down the wrong slope, and spent the night tied to a pine tree on the edge of a cliff with his backpack straps (he lived but it took 2 days to rescue him with a helicopter).

5) I have mentioned this a few times, but it’s expensive, especially if you’re seeking comfort or conveniences at all. Not just with the groceries, but getting to and from here is tough because it’s so remote. I’m going to meet my boyfriend on Thursday in Juneau, and I dropped almost $200 on ferry tickets and a place to stay for the night (I figured he probably wouldn’t want to camp after spending 20 hours on planes).

6) Drunk driving. It happens here pretty regularly. Sure, the speed limit in town is something like 20 mph, but it worries me when I start to bike (or walk) on the few roads in and out of town where cars start to go a little faster.

Overall, I really do love it here. It’s grown on me quite a bit since I first arrived, and generally speaking, I don’t miss being in a city. But having no means of escape is a little frustrating, and I could see how spending a long time here could make you feel like you’re in a bubble.

At least it's a pretty bubble.

At least it’s a pretty bubble.

North Summit of Ripinsky. Most beautiful spot I've ever been to.

North Summit of Ripinsky. Most beautiful spot I’ve ever been to.

A Day in the Life at the Hammer Museum: A photo essay

So many tourists on Wednesdays...

So many tourists on Wednesdays…our way of tracking visitors. Very accurate.

Laugh it up.

Laugh it up. (Donations nearly doubled after we put these signs up.)

Sheep sorrel from the front yard

Sheep sorrel from the front yard

Fruit and nut bun from Rusty's Compass!

Fruit and nut bun from The Rusty Compass, the coffee shop next door.

Too much receipt tape

Too much receipt tape

Too much museum

Too much museum

Patented claw hammers (new exhibit)

Patented claw hammers (new exhibit)

Another "high tech" hammer display

Another new “high tech” hammer display

Emily has fun with the camera

Emily has fun with the camera

We opened the blinds to see this outside.

We opened the blinds to see this outside. Alaska, man.

Hammer Museum paper fortune teller

Hammer Museum paper fortune teller

Stage 1

Stage 1–Many different ways to spell “peen.”

Stage 2

Stage 2


Stage 3

Stage 3



Apparently this year is a bad year for bugs. Lucky me. And luckier me, they all seem to think that I am the tastiest human being on the planet–I’m pretty sure that bugs look at me and see a gourmet buffet. I learned today that they call black flies “white socks” here, and that these nasty little creatures are crawlers. Which means that on top of flying and landing on you, they CRAWL UNDER YOUR CLOTHES TO BITE YOU. I got hit by one on the back of my calf, and the racquetball-sized welt is testament to that.

Fortunately, when I’m playing outside at bonfires, my fiddle bow makes for a great insect repellant. If I wave it in the air enough it seems to ward them off for a bit (although this impedes my ability to play with it). And fortunately, many of the plants here seem like they were designed to ward off bugs. There’s a pretty ubiquitous plant called yarrow that you can crush up and rub all over your skin. Plantain helps with inflammation, and devil’s club also works as an anti-inflammatory. (People actually make salves out of it to help with everything from acne to arthritis to headaches).  I don’t seem to be allergic to any of these things…so far.

This is all provided that you’re an idiot and forget your bug spray when you’re going to an evening bonfire (like I did last night). I’m all for natural medicines and whatnot, but when it comes to mosquitoes, midges, black flies, and other annoying pests, I feel that the higher the DEET concentration, the better.

This is what a breakfast buffet looks like to a mosquito.

This is what a breakfast buffet looks like to a mosquito. Also please note the giant shiny bite.