When I was about 13, my dad interrupted my show Dance Party USA because his knee cap was showing. I – a teenager – was annoyed by the interruption but still went along to the doctor’s office (Dad didn’t make me drive, although he did ask if I could) while he got stitched up. He’d cut into his leg with a chainsaw.
I have a healthy wariness.
So yesterday, when P brought his along to help me clean up the farm a bit and told me he’d show me how to use it, I paid close attention. Turn this, slide the red button up, prime the clear button six times. Be sure the guard is disengaged so the blade doesn’t turn. Then, I watched him do exactly what Dad had taught me earlier in the week (Dad was teaching me – but it seemed he felt best with one small lesson a day – perhaps so that I would be too weak to lift the saw by the time I knew how to use it or perhaps he would be dead so he could avoid the horror.) P put one foot on the saw and tugged hard. He showed me how to lay the blade against the log and drop it through. I cut up a whole tree. It was amazing.
I love using power tools for probably the same reason anyone does – they make me feel powerful, capable of more than I could do on my own.
But I also love them because, in my family and much of the culture that surrounds me, women don’t do such things. Cutting up trees and changing oil is men’s work.
When I was in junior high, my entire family – aunts, uncles, cousins – descended on my grandparents’ house in eastern NC. They had some huge – 50 foot or more – pine trees in the yard, and they had become fearful that those trees would fall on the house in one of the hurricanes that breezed through. We all came down to help. I was so excited about getting to cut down trees and cut up logs . . . and yet, I didn’t get to help with any of that.
It wasn’t a spoken rule, just one of those that was expected, just like it was expected that after cooking a meal big enough to fill a buffet table, the women would do the dishes while the men picked their teeth. Every time I started to head out to help Dad cut, an aunt or Granny would find something that needed to be done inside. They weren’t being malicious – this was just their way.
So when someone helps me to do something that I’ve been raised to think is beyond my skill or that isn’t womanly, I nearly trip over myself at the opportunity. Call it rebellion, if you will. I like to think of it as strength, iconoclasty, and being who I am made to be.
Now, I know how to use a chain saw. I’m wise to its dangers because of Dad’s injury and because of a cultural tradition that says its use is not open to me. To the physical danger, I heed. To the hogwash cultural one, I say, “Move over or I”ll cut you to piece.”
I can’t wait to get my own saw.
What were you taught was work beyond the purview of your gender? How do you respond?