I hope you’re watching me, my daughters.
I hope you see me mowing the lawn—pushing that mower with strength, power and determination. Although it’s probably not safe, sometimes I mow the lawn barefooted to allow the earth to energize me. I hope you understand that I am not mowing the lawn because someone told me to. I am not mowing because it’s my job. I’m not mowing necessarily because it’s fun, either—although I must admit there is a certain degree of satisfaction I receive from seeing the perfectly imperfect stripes in the grass, at a uniform length, which makes our flower garden appear to stand taller with confidence. I mow because I am quietly making a statement.
When we moved into this neighborhood, a new neighbor addressed your father as Dr. Walls—dismissing the notion that your mother could in fact be the PhD in the family. (I was.) That is one small example of how we, as women, constantly contend with and must push against a society that tries to carve out our future for us by placing barriers in sneaky places.
Mowing the lawn is just one of many ways in which I display my capabilities, my independence. You see, there are many women who don’t know how to use a lawnmower. They may have been “relieved” of this duty during their childhood—in exchange for washing dishes or folding laundry—or are perhaps not allowed to mow their lawns because it is a job that their husbands own and manage. Traditionally, yard work has been regarded as men’s work, and women have been kept inside to care for the home and the children.
Women have been kept inside. Inside, out of sight and away from the centers of influence where decisions are made. And so I hope you’re watching me, my little loves, as I take charge of our perfectly imperfect lawn, in my own way and when I choose. I hope the neighborhood sees me, too. I hope the other younger girls in our neighborhood see me mowing the lawn and remember the image of a strong woman, a strong working mother, who has the power to decide which way the stripes go. I hope they see a strong woman sweating, not wearing any make-up, enjoying the satisfaction of hard work. I hope they all see me—a woman doing “men’s work” without asking for permission.
Your father enjoys mowing the lawn. I know this and yet still I will grab the mower from time to time and complete the task, because I might have the time, because I can and because I know there will be no repercussions for my actions.
Mowing the lawn is, in a way, my silent protest against patriarchy—which is still alive and well no matter how many people tell you that women and men have equal rights. We are still fighting an uphill battle.
When you were small, I was so very intentional about purchasing gender neutral clothes or trying at the very least to shop in the “girls” and “boys” sections so that your wardrobe would look more like a rainbow and less like a bubble gum and ruffle explosion. It was hard, and it still is hard, for me to create a world for you that does not push you into a corner, destined to put your needs last at the expense of your own well-being.
I look forward to the day I can teach you how to mow the lawn. Hopefully by then you will have come to learn how very strong you are, and you will not need me to mow the lawn for you anymore. Until then I will press on—for me, for you and for this society that continues to communicate messages to young girls that they need to be a certain way and wear certain things, that limits their every move via tight clothes or lower wages or something much much worse. I stand proud with a sweaty brow and dirty feet, realizing that mowing the lawn is not enough, but it is one thing I can do to push a little bit harder on the status quo.
I hope you’re watching me, my daughters, as I intentionally “do gender” while mowing this perfectly imperfect lawn. My way.