Not an Odalisque

Princesses Don’t Mow Lawns

with 5 comments

I cried today because I couldn’t start the lawnmower. I don’t know what I did wrong. I put the slidy thing in the right position, beside the lightning bolt, I held down the lever on the handle and I pulled the string many, many times. I discovered on the first pull that the handle on the string hurts my fingers, so I got out a cloth and used it for cushioning. Then I pulled and pulled and pulled. I had three goes today, and during the last one I pulled that string twenty-one times. I think I’ve also pulled a muscle in my right side. The grass isn’t any shorter, though.

It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? I’m twenty-six, I’ve travelled the world, lived alone, got an MA and learned to make passable jams and dresses. I’m a responsible adult. Nevertheless, I can’t mow the lawn.

I’m slightly confused. I recognise I’m not strong or mechanically minded. In fact, when I was fourteen my Design and Technology teacher greeted my mother at parents’ evening with a stricken face and the words, “she’s not thinking of doing DT for GCSE, is she?!” I wonder, though, what proportion of the population is strong and mechanically minded. I don’t have bulging muscles, but I am young and fit. How do older people cut their lawns? I know plenty of middle aged, divorced women who almost wobble when you look at them. Do they live with meadows out the back?

The uncut lawn isn’t the end of the world. At some point my father will come home and do it himself. He’ll be slightly frustrated because he’d asked me to do it, and perhaps he’ll even suspect that I’m feigning weakness to get out of the chore. The matter isn’t helped by the fact that his glamorous girlfriend is a real, honest to god, Independent Woman. When a lass has her own scaffolding, you can pretty much guarantee that she would laugh in the face of lawnmowers. I know that some women escape girly uselessness, I just can’t work out how to do it myself.

I hate it when the misogynists assume that I can’t do things for myself. Being a woman doesn’t mean that I’m weak. It can be even worse, though, when the feminists assume that I’m strong. I’m not. Admitting that I can’t start the lawnmower, or that I struggle to open the garage door, makes me feel like I’m not a proper feminist. I’m not strong enough to be one.

I mentioned in a previous post that I lost my keys a couple of weeks ago, and found myself stranded twenty miles from my locked house. The keys turned up in someone else’s handbag. They had been discovered that very night, as I was searching the dance hall for them. The owner of the handbag wanted to drive back and give them to me. I think a phone call would have done the trick, myself. She did neither, though, because her friend told her, “she’s a strong, independent woman, she’ll be fine.”

I was fine, not because I was strong and independent, but because I had help. I’m not quite sure what “strong” and “independent” meant, in the context, unless they implied “wealthy enough to pay for a hotel and a taxi.” I don’t know when proving we weren’t princesses waiting in towers for knights in shining armour became being totally unreliant on anyone other than ourselves.

Feminists, please give over. Congratulations if you have superpowers, I’m afraid I don’t. All of us, men and women, need help sometimes. Occasionally we even have to be rescued. For now, though, all I want is for someone to show me how to start the lawnmower.

Written by Not an Odalisque

August 16, 2010 at 10:09 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Have you tried googling “starting a lawn mower”? The results seem promising.

    Often the difference is not between those who can and those who cannot, but between who can find out and those who cannot: I am a 35 y.o. man with a degree in engineering—and I do not know how to start a lawn mower. What I do know, is how to find out.

    (I realise that this issue is not the main point of your post. However, seeing that you are very willing to try, it may be something that, in the long term, will help you to succeed where most others will not.)


    August 16, 2010 at 10:41 pm

  2. I think feminism has a problem with assuming all women can’t start lawnmowers and all men can, and also with women who go “Oh! I’m such a silly girl, could a big strong man please help me with this lawnmower, haha”. I don’t think it has any problem with women who go “Wah, I can’t start this lawnmower, can *someone who knows how to use a lawnmower* please help me”.

    But that’s just my experience… I’ve never run into any of those butch lesbian unshaved feminists that think baking, wearing nice clothes, and sucking cock = being a traitor, (although the media assures me practically all feminists are like that).*

    Although, not to be totally tongue in cheek, there are a few out there who think like that. If you’ve run into them, then, that sucks. And I apologise on their behalf, as a feminist, because saying “well either you’re totally capable of doing everything in your life without help or you can do nothing” sounds a lot like the arguments sexist people make against women being able to do stuff … not to mention very similar to a lot of ableist sentiment as well.

    *Although I have run into a few butch lesbian unshaved feminists.


    August 17, 2010 at 12:01 am

  3. Well, I second both Googling (in general, maybe not in this situation, and ‘specially not if you’ve tried it already) and being a person who’s able to ask for help when they need it. In fact, people who CAN’T ask for help when they need it can be downright annoying when they get themselves into massive messes and eventually begrudgingly begin to accept help!

    I’d consider myself super-competent but I think that’s mostly the power of positive thinking. Or deterministic thinking, or something. Possibly just stupidity. I haven’t met a feminist yet that would begrudge anyone else asking for help, male or female, but to be honest I haven’t met many “I’M A FEMINIST!” feminists in real life at all. 😦

    Anyway, I think feminism should be about a woman being able to say, “I am not good at car mechanics” or whatever she wants to say without anyone turning around and saying, “That’s because laydeez suck at [everything/practical things/useful things/science/life]”. That’s all. We don’t need to hold people up to ridiculous standards – just the basics, please!

    Also: Do you want me to try and start your lawnmower for you? I’ll need a cup of tea for the energy. 😀

    Emily Jones

    August 17, 2010 at 6:03 pm

  4. I’m glad I’m not the only one in the doesn’t-have-a-clue-about-lawnmowers club. It was OK in our last place, when all we had was a concrete yard, but it’s a bit more scary when the place we’re currently renting has a 30 yard back garden!


    August 17, 2010 at 9:04 pm

  5. Let me be clear, I did ask for help with the lawnmower. The first time I used it involved extensive googling follow by pleas on Twitter and multiple phone calls to my father, who gave me detailed instructions. That time, I did manage to turn it on, then did the whole garden in the starting gear and, scared to stop in case I couldn’t restart it, didn’t empty the bag of cuttings at all. The second time I dug out the instructions, and wasted a goodly amount of time searching for the mysterious ‘primer button’. So yes, I know how to research and how to ask for help, but am still pretty useless.

    You’ve all been lovely and very reassuring. Emily, I would be very pleased if you would start my lawnmower for me. While we’re on the subject of things I’m not very good at, though, even those who love me dearly agree that I make a terrible cup of tea.


    August 17, 2010 at 11:18 pm

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