Angela of Angie's Aspirations related the other day how she employed a clever bit of subterfuge to buy an item of model railway signalling from a specialist shop that wouldn't normally be patronised by a woman. It worked brilliantly. Her post was significant enough to feature on T-Central. Quite an honour.
This entire subject area seems under-discussed, so here's my own contribution.
Hobbies and interests that developed in the 'old era' are to be not lightly thrown aside once the female life is adopted. If you honestly have a deep interest in such things as classic muscle cars, diesel engine maintenance, boat-building, creative welding, speedway racing, boxing, shark fishing, stamp collecting, and, yes, railway modelling, then why on earth should you give it up? At least, why should you give it up just because it's generally considered 'ungirly' or 'unwomanly'?
You might with good reason have to stop because it's physically beyond you, but then some hands-on hobbies and interests can still be watched as a spectator, even if you aren't actually an active participator.
All this said, you don't want to send out the wrong messages. It's all very well to point at, say, Vicki Butler-Henderson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vicki_Butler-Henderson) on Channel Five's Fifth Gear and say, there's a lovely girl who likes to drive insanely fast in insanely powerful supercars, and yet she looks fabulous in a miniskirt. If you have the same skills, background, personality, physique and allure, well go ahead by all means; but if you're a dumpy middle-aged mumsy type, I'd be cautious. When your femininity is a trifle wobbly, not 100% established, it might be wise not to attract attention, raise eyebrows, and invite close scrutiny. Unless of course you don't give a damn, in which case, all power to you.
I don't consider that I have any especially eyebrow-raising hobbies and interests. But looking around my study/library/computer room (it's technically my second bedroom) I have to admit that it's stuffed full of books and other things that aren't especially girly.
Some items are of course. The paintings hung up in here depict wildlife subjects - birds and animals - that a woman might go for. And Mum's sewing machine catches the eye. Then there are books on cooking, clothes, gardening, home hints, medical matters, personal safety and knitting. And there are books on calligraphy, shorthand, archaeology, ancient history, architecture, astronomy and several dictionaries and other reference works that a woman of education might possess. And in my lounge is a small library of books on art.
Ah, but what about all those books on railways, clocks and watches, technical aspects of photography, war, espionage, codes and cyphers, crime, business ventures, tales of the sea, ships, cars, caravans, cameras and computers? And while women may like travel books, and books on foreign cultures and languages, my bookshelves are groaning rather too heavily with them. And, most incongruous of all, is my vast collection of maps. I've specialised in collecting Ordnance Survey maps of Great Britain since a child, and have by now amassed a most impressive number, in various scales, of most parts of the country, going back into the 1800s. Naturally there are also Irish maps and maps from Europe and elsewhere in the world. It all screams 'male hobby', but there is no way I'm going to hide it all up in the attic, or throw it all away, just to prove that I'm a girl.
One hobby, the main one, is not to be seen at all. All my photos are on the PC, or my laptop, or on various portable hard drives. They are not up on my walls. Even the cameras are out of sight. There's a fancy photo printer and a fancy photo scanner, but you'd not necessarily guess from these that I take 1,000 shots a month and devote a big chunk of my time to shooting, editing, processing, publishing and viewing all those pictures.
Photography is one of those borderline interests for women. Plenty carry a good camera and like to get great shots. But not many women can or want to spend as much time as I do on the results. And while there are women at local photo clubs, and women who have turned professional as (say) wedding photographers, they are heavily outnumbered by men. When a fine sunset looms on the Sussex coast, you'll always see a few girls turn out, but the heavy metal SLRs and the tripods and the equipment-rich backbacks are all toted by a herd of men, who doubtless secure absolutely fine shots, technically brilliant, but not necessarily any better in real-life terms than the pictures snapped by the girls. At least girls can be there, and use their cameras, and not feel out of place.
Mind you, I find that (to my own amusement) I really do like to play up to the general male mega-seriousness at such photo events, as if I'm a rank amateur who can barely do more than press the shutter button. The smallness of my camera helps. They see me take it out of my handbag ('Typical woman!'). I make sure to keep a finger over the red 'Leica' badge, so they don't see that ('Huh! It's just a little point-and-shoot camera, not a proper one'). I get a few shots in with a nonchalant casualness ('She hasn't a clue about composition and careful exposure'). Then I touch up my lipstick, and wander down to the shoreline, behaving in a frivolous, let's-play-with-the-seaweed-and-nice-bits-of-driftwood sort of way that must cause disdainful smiles to writhe on their manly lips. I just take care not to be in their field of view, so that their shots aren't spoiled by an unwanted lay figure.
Oh, I like being a woman so much!