• Beth Hoffman

Superwoman (with a Chainsaw)


Beth trimming up hedge trees on a pasture improvement day.

If there had been a category in high school “least likely to use a chain saw,” I might have won it. I was a bit of a prima donna, a partying cheerleader, friends with the popular kids, mouthy and entitled. I played soccer as a kid and almost joined the swim team, until I learned I had to get in the cold water at the town pool at 6:00 in the morning. By the time I reached high school I was much more interested in hanging around with friends than I was in working up a sweat of any kind, and don’t even recall wanting to be outside much. 


My how things change. 


I went on my first camping trip in college. And I think from that moment on, I have wanted to be outdoors. There is something calming about being untethered by walls, to walk, feeling my heart pump, the air enter and exit my body in a rhythmic flow, working hard. Now, sitting at a computer indoors is a nice break from the physical work, but it is not what I want to do with my time, all day every day. 


But chain saws? Learning to use power tools is like the secret ingredient I didn’t know I needed. It makes me feel empowered and strong, an element of control and creativity handed to me in each battery pack. Walking up to our “new” collapsed barn to salvage wood with a saws-all and a circular saw in hand is simply badass. I feel like a sexy superhero – a woman capable and tough, acutely female and ungendered all at once. To be the antithesis of the typical helpless woman, waiting for things to be done for her, a woman in control of the environment around her. 


John took a video of me driving the tractor, and you can see it on my face.

I am ecstatic at

the revelation that I can do this, I can drive something huge and move a 1600 pound hay bale if I want to. But I am also embarrassed by the realization that I ever thought I couldn’t – me, a feminist through and through, the kind of woman who went into the bank two weeks ago to complain when they sent a thank you letter to only John after we opened a joint account. Yes, I knew that they should be thanking me as well. No, I did not know I could run a chain saw. 


Funnily enough, it was John who believed that I could do it.  He just handed me the chainsaw, showed me the basics of safety and how to start the thing. Then he left me to it.  Granted, he still 'mansplains' how to trim trees sometimes even though I've done it for months now. But, in the end, he was the one who knew that I could do it when I didn't know it myself.


It is interesting to see the world now through this new lens. To realize that the reason most women are intimidated by power tools is because none of the equipment is designed with women in mind, they are designed to fit men. The saws-all and circular saw starter mechanisms are made for hands much larger than mine, straining my hands. Gloves in the farm store begin at medium size - otherwise you have to shop in the children’s section (what message does that send to women?). There is not a pair of work pants or jacket at the big hardware store I could dream of wearing and have dexterity of any kind. Boots are too wide at the top for my skinny legs (I end up with nails and burrs inside my boots).  


Perhaps the business argument is that that there are not enough women who care to run a circular saw to make a smaller sized one just for them. But I would like to invite all of the women out there reading this to come and visit next summer and learn the power of the tool.  Let’s train up our ladies to drill their own holes in the wall to hang the family photos, to trim the tree with the broken limb out front, to build the shelves and cut the firewood.  After all, there is a lot in this world that needs to be fixed and we should stop waiting for the men to get around to it.

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