The Hire A Hubby business emasculates the men whose houses are being worked on, according to a British academic.
Dr Rosie Cox says male homeowners are made to feel they have "failed in the performance of masculinity".
Cox investigated Hire A Hubby to compare it to female in-home workers but soon found the questions of masculinity and male "duty of care" too interesting to ignore.
Cox said the Hire A Hubbies she interviewed tended to be more "scathing" than their customers and told her they had been hired "in terms which entirely assumed it was the man's duty to do this work and he had failed in some way".
The Hubbies said the men they replaced were either too lazy, worked too long, or did not have the skills to do the jobs.
She quoted one Hubby as saying: "You get a lot of calls on Mondays and Tuesdays because the husband's obviously gone off on the booze or something like that and hasn't done what he's supposed to do."
The failed-husband dynamic was also present when the jobs were being commissioned.
The Hubbies reported it was almost always women who phoned them and if they had to call back, and inadvertently struck the man of the house, there was "intense embarrassment".
The hired Hubbies assumed the real hubbies were embarrassed also "because the Hubby's very existence implies failure on the part of the man".
The results are echoed in a Sunday Star-Times survey in which 73 per cent of people said DIY was still a vital part of being a Kiwi man.
Homeowners who Cox interviewed also saw DIY as "gendered" and some found the name Hire A Hubby insulting.
One man said he would never use the service as the name implied "his role is being usurped".
As a Brit, Cox noticed differences in the New Zealand male psyche.
In the UK, men were more likely to feel positive about hiring a handyman so they could free up time to spend with their kids whereas New Zealand males saw DIY as part of a husband's role in caring for his family and providing a role-model for his children.
Cox recounted a story in which a man showed "incredulity" when his wife suggested he offer to mow a neighbour's lawns - "No way! That would be such an insult to him!" the man told his wife.
The other concept bound up with DIY was "mateyness" when men would get together and undertake a group project and then maybe have some beers and a barbecue. Cox said some of the jobs undertaken in this way - laying the concrete slab for a garage to sit on, for example - were far beyond what average men in the UK would attempt.
Auckland Hire A Hubby Shaun Penprase said time was one of the most commonly cited issues when he was commissioned for a job.
"The wife wants the husband to do something - she's nagged him for months - he's put it off, put it off. You can see his relief when I come in."
Penprase said people's general skill level seemed to be dropping at the same time as houses became neater and tasks became more complex. Hanging a large flat screen TV or securing a toilet roll holder to an expensively tiled bathroom wall were jobs people might not know how to do and required a good finish.
Penprase said women did not usually denigrate their men for not being able to perform tasks but they recognised it was a fraught area. He said he had had women cancel jobs because they wanted him to come when their husband wasn't home but the man was going to be there.
Another main category of work was fix-ups: coming in to fix a job after the husband had "had a go" and messed it up.
"Flat pack furniture in bits and pieces is a big one. We started but . . . "
NOT ALL DIY-CAPABLE
We went to our reader panel to see what you thought about Kiwi men and DIY.
Here's a selection of what you said: "As an older ‘bloke' DIY is in my blood but I guess that some younger people think it is easier to get someone to do it for you."
"A Kiwi bloke is always prepared to give it a go and enjoys the challenge and satisfaction of doing it himself."
"Alas, the DIY Kiwi guy is not so prevalent/active in the new generations – or as accomplished." "As a nation of home owners we take pride in doing jobs around home. Women love a handyman and it is part of a man's expression of masculinity."
"DIY is the most important part of what it means to be a Kiwi, long before pavlova & the acre paradise. It is that DIY gene that built this country!!"
"DIY programmes on TV give people (esp. wives) an unrealistic expectation of what can be achieved in one weekend."
But one of the most frequent comments was: "A Kiwi woman is just as capable of DIY!"
- © Fairfax NZ News
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