My hands still tingle from clutching the steering wheel. I’m itchy, dusty, sweaty, and smiling. I just shut down the shiny orange tractor and surveyed my work, and I feel proud.
Tractors are loud, powerful and a little bit dangerous. I just spent an hour on our Kioti, shredding over fields and driveways, listening to the roar, feeling the bumps, and loving the rush of power and accomplishment this simple task brings. Why is driving a tractor such a big deal to me? Because it tells me that I have overcome fears and limitations that I have lived with all my life.
Cultural. I grew up in East Texas in the 60’s and 70’s. I observed that women’s power lay not as much in their own strength and ability as in the skill of enlisting the care and attention of men. Remember Scarlett O’Hara? I read Gone with the Wind the summer I was 10, and the lessons weren’t lost on me. If you can’t quite imagine what this looked looked like for my generation, try to get your hands on a copy of The Fascinating Girl or Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Berry Andelin.
Familial. The gender roles in my family were well defined. Overt power was vested in the men. My father and brother hunted and travelled, drove fast, and earned money. They had knives and guns, boats and jeeps. The men would disappear for a week or more and come back unshaven, with a bounty of deer, dove or trophy sailfish. When they were gone Mom and I locked the doors, ate cereal and Colonel Sanders’, and took slow evening drives to see what was blooming in our neighbors’ yards. I loved those days with my Mom, but I acquired the sense that big machines and wild nature belonged in the masculine world.
Personal. I was always fearful. The story is that I was proud of jumping off the Sear’s catalog at age 2 ( about 3 inches). Reportedly, I worked up to that brave act for weeks. It may have been another year before I jumped off the bottom step, and another year before I climbed the whole flight upright instead of scooting backwards on my ruffled butt one stair at a time. One of my earliest memories is clutching the stair rail above me, and slowly ascending on my own two feet. I approached the top third of the stairs with great pride, only to be scooped up by a male friend of my sister’s and carried kicking and screaming the rest of the way. He only meant to help, but I was crushed.
Back to the present
At this point in my life, I can confidently say that I am a strong woman. The past and its lessons are a living part of me, but I operate from a different understanding of what it means to be a woman. Fearfulness is still there, but I know better when to listen to it and when to push through to accomplish my goals. Embracing my own personal power, has allowed me to do more significant things than shredding a field, such as rearing three amazing children and building a successful career. And one thing I learned from the same culture that taught women to disown some of their strength is how to live through loss and adversity and thrive. (Thanks, Mom and Sis.)
Still, operating that tractor this morning with a little bit of fear and a whole lot of gratification gave me the same kind of joyful satisfaction that I must have felt the day I finally arrived at the second floor all by myself.