In the good old days of about 50 years ago it was accepted that men understood about cars – real men anyway. Girls knew things like how to iron a shirt and the difference between plain and self-raising flour. The best ones could sew on a button as well and were handy for push starting if you were stuck with a flat battery, but I can’t remember much more in terms of specialist knowledge. For men mutual respect and masculinity derived from understanding the pathology of the internal combustion engine. A strange knocking noise would be discussed at the bar with attention focused on when it happened – under power and it was a big end, on the overrun and it was a little end. Or it might have been the other way round. Carburetters (spellcheck says not but I’m sure it used to be –er) were updraught or downdraught, single choke or twin choke and a pain to adjust. We knew about loose tappets and slipping clutches, pre-ignition and blown gaskets. It was fundamental stuff that came not from any formal education but from necessity. You had to get to work, take your girlfriend out and have time for the pub and there was not enough money to pay anyone else to fix it (a high risk course of action anyway in those days). Inevitably the occasional weekend had to be sacrificed to serious work (I once changed a camshaft on a Triumph Vitesse) and it had to be represented to your girlfriend as a sort of virility demonstration and evidence of marital suitability if you had plans in that direction.
No more. Apart from being much more reliable the modern car is barely susceptible to owner maintenance, largely because of the way it is almost entirely controlled and kept healthy by electronics, and nobody worth talking to in the pub understands electronics, nor are electronics susceptible to owner maintenance. What the modern young person does understand though is the benefits and manifestations of electronics. The shortest route to being an outcast, useless for any kind of social intercourse (and thus probably the other sort as well) is to be unable to grasp, intuitively for there are no instruction books or Haynes manuals, how to connect with everyone via Snapchat, Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. You must upload your photos and irreplaceable documents to the cloud as easily as you would blow your nose, download apps and their updates in your sleep and understand the difference between Netflix and iTunes (if indeed there is any) in the same way we knew the relative benefits of crossply and radial tyres. The ability to read a wiring diagram has been replaced by knowing how to connect things to wi-fi, without the need for wiring, how to use your computer as a TV and feed the TV from the computer.
In all this no gender distinction exists. My granddaughter hooked me up to Instagram in about half a minute flat and my wife scorns my inability to find the right button on the Sky remote. In this welcome equality how does a chap assert his masculinity among his like?