Independent single women: How do you confront your physical weakness?

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a lawnmower from my neighbor. He had seen me hacking at the grass with my weed-eater for the past eight weekends, so he decided to give me first dibs on his old one before putting it up on Craigslist.

He intuited that I’d never used a lawnmower before, so he gave me a tutorial. Later in the day, he caught me trying to start the thing the wrong way and gave me a refresher course. The lesson stuck that time and I was able to do my front and backyards. Yay me.

This morning, I was stoked about taking the lawnmower out for another spin. I filled up the tank (after a long time of trying to figure out the mechanics of the gas can…maybe one day I’ll remember to read the instructions first!), rolled up my sleeves, pressed the priming thingie three times, and pulled and pulled and pulled and PULLED and it just wouldn’t start. Not to be discouraged, I picked up my weed-eater (which is electric) and hacked down the weeds against my fence. Maybe the lawnmower just needed a few more minutes to get used to the outdoors again. Then I returned to it optimistically.

I pulled and pulled and pulled and PULLED. Then I got a glass of water, wiped my brow, googled the operation manual to see if there was anything I’d missed, and pulled and pulled and PULLED some more.

“Hey, you need help?”

It was the neighbor I’d bought the mower from. As embarrassed as I was to be caught in the middle of incompetency, I was also quite relieved. He gave the cord one tug and it started.

“I’ve got a girly arm!” I said with more humor than I actually felt.*

I don’t want to bother my neighbor or anyone else with something as stupid as this. I hate being so weak. I hate perpetuating the stereotype that women are helpless. And I hate that there could possibly be an appliance that is off-limits to me just because I’m not physically strong. For the next two weeks, I’m going to be lifting weights. I’m going to get all Sarah Conner. That lawnmower better watch out! See, I’m still optimistic but part of me is afraid I’m always going to have to ask for help with this.

Women in similar situations, do you ever feel like this? I mean, feeling embarrassed and kinda pissed off when you realize that you’re too weak to do certain things, and feeling weird about it too?

*What I wanted to tell the guy is that I’ve got a girly right arm. My left arm is actually a lot stronger, as is the entire left side of my body. So maybe if the lawnmower’s design was reversed, I’d be better at starting it.

I lift weights. (real weights, not 20 reps of 15lbs on a machine)

I carry my own dog food bags out to the car, lift my own carry-on to the bin on planes and open my own jars. There’s no reason, other than societal conditioning, that women shouldn’t be strong and have muscles.

I train. And even then, I know I weak. I fractured my right arm some years ago, and my left side compensated, but it is still not the same.

But perhaps you can try it on your left arm, even if it is uncomfortable, since that is your stronger arm. Trying to get me to open some jars with the left hand would be very hard, but I could do it with my right hand.

I’ve learned to accept my limitations (I’m also short). Strangely, starting the lawnmower, back when I had to use it, was never a huge deal, although it did take longer than the guys to get it right.

I’ve always felt being a strong person must feel like a superpower. Whenever I move, it utterly awes me to see people easily lifting things that would be literally impossible for me to even approach.

Pull starters are tricky & sometimes an engine will need the choke set just so and need to be primed just so to start it. Pulling it hard / fast enough to bend steel isn’t necessarily the way to start it. (You can also spray ether into the carburetor).

Also, the yellow pages have places listed which can tune up your machine, new plugs, new oil, lube the mechanism, see if the rubber gaskets are tight.

This one isn’t just societal. Women have different hormones than men, which lead to various developmental differences, one of which is that men tend to be larger and stronger, especially in the upper body. Working out will still help, of course, and some women will be stronger than some men, but a man who works out will still be stronger than a woman who works out the same amount.

And despite being male, I’m one of those who happens to be pretty weak, too. But a lot of things that people think of as requiring strength don’t actually. Starting a lawnmower is more about technique than it is about strength. Do it enough, and you’ll get the hang of it.

Although it takes a certain amount of strength to get the mower going, it’s more about the quickness of the pull. Trying using more of your whole body to pull it, not just your arm. Lean forward a bit, then pull QUICKLY while moving backwards at the same time.

You can buy a mower with an electric starter, too. :wink: Amazon, where else?

A few years back, my baby sister–an independent and very competent woman --/was horrified to discover she was not strong enough to change a flat on her SUV. She knew how; she just didn’t have to the muscle. Briefly furious, she immediately equipped herself with mechanical accoutrements and practiced until she was competent to do all that sort of shit alone.

I was very proud. Now if I could just get her to practice on her revolver more, I’d be completely happy.

Also if you’ve got a small lawn you might consider an electric mower. They are wimpier than a gas mower, and you’ve got to drag the cord around with you, but for small lots they’re a lot more convenient and lower maintenance.

Not that this answers your actual question.

I’ve always been the wimpy kid, and so it’s weird as an adult to be around my wife and her mother and friends and lift the bags and tote the bales like I’m a tough guy. I’ve learned to take, “Careful, that bag is really heavy!” with a grain of salt. Thing is I know I’m not a tough guy. I’m a sedentary cubicle worker. Testosterone is a hell of a drug.

I didn’t say as strong as a man who works out, but you’re right that strength, of course, varies by the individual. There is no reason, however, that a woman can’t get strong enough to do many things/chores more easily.

I’m not single but I am independent. I am also not too strong. And the lawn mower starting thing is, truly about technique, as is opening certain jars (plus I have tricks).

My current lawn mower, though, is so easy. It’s battery powered. All I have to do is push a button. Plus, no gas ever! And it’s quiet.

However, dealing with the spiders. Uh, no. What I will do is just smash them. It’s up to the men in my family to catch them in a paper towel and relocate them outside. So if there’s a man around the spider can live (unless it’s really big!) but if it’s just me, that spider is gonna die. So men have their uses…

Buy a goat.

I’m a woman who lives alone. I am humongous. Lots of muscle under lots of fat. So I don’t generally have to worry about not being strong enough to do household stuff. People call me to help them move furniture and stuff. On the flipside, I don’t get asked on any dates :slight_smile:

monstro I can totally see you adding weights and/or push-ups in to your daily routine and losing that “girly arms” thing within 6 months.

But like others have said, being able to start an engine with a cord is no way a matter of strength. It’s a matter of speed, and a matter of the stupid thing feeling like working right.

What’s the deal with your weed trimmer? Is it electric? No cord to pull?

The dude may have sold you the lawn mower because he found it was hard to start! And he got it to start in one pull because you primed the heck out of it for him.

Oh yeah and get yourself some furniture slides. They make you feel like the Incredible Hulk.

[old Boy Scout campfire skit] I guess it just needed a big jerk! [/oBScs]

Lifting weights is certainly a good start, but that just won’t be enough. You need to lift longer, on the order of months or years, and you need to lift like the men do, with heavy free weights (as MoonMoon mentioned). And even then, your composition of hormones will make it difficult to gain mass. Good luck, and remember that strength training is a long-term lifestyle change.

More specifically, it is about using the core muscles–the abdominis to pull or push, and the obliques to stabilize–while using the legs to maintain a firm grounding. As long as you can extend the arm under load, arm strength really doesn’t play into it much. Think of it more like swinging a golf club or a baseball bat than pulling a static load.

For the kind of functional strength the o.p. needs to develop, intensive free weight training is probably not nearly as useful as suspended bodyweight or kettlebell training. The o.p. doesn’t need to be strong in the sense of deadlifting or pressing heavy weight on barbells; she needs the functional strength (and although she doesn’t indicate, also endurance) to perform real world activities like starting a lawnmower or throwing a 50 lb bag of sand over her shoulder. A lot of this is just as much coordination as raw strength. Of course, you can develop the necessary strength with olympic-style weightlifting, but a four day a week workout with kettlebells (not the piddling 9 lbm bells, something more like this) doing a combination of swings and pressing movements will build strength remarkably quickly (although not in just a couple of weeks) as would using suspended rings or a TRX.

No woman with a normal hormone balance is going to be able to pack on muscle like a male bodybuilder or develop the strength of a comparably sized man, but there is no reason an adult woman in normal health–even one of small stature–can’t lift and carry a 50 lbm bag or pull-start a functional single cylinder engine.


These. It truly isn’t a matter of strength. I’m small and short and have always been able to start a mower - get the thing tuned up, and then practice. That’s all it takes.

I’ve long since accepted the fact that there are some things I am just not going to be able to do because of physical limitations. It’s a waste of time to be upset about it. It bothers me far more when I can’t figure out things mentally - I hate feeling stupid/incompetent. And it sounds like you might have felt a bit like that too. But this IS something you can do!

You get used to it. When I was younger, high school and college, I was as strong as a horse. I quit lifting weights in my early 20s because I thought it would be ridiculous if I became any larger/more muscular. Yes, it felt very very good, all the time. The downside was that I felt stereotyped in college, I had trouble fitting in with the other engineering students and it was a big problem- I didn’t become an engineer at all. I got into weightlifting at 13 in the hope of becoming someone my dad would think twice about hitting. The moral- don’t beat your kids, folks!

To the OP- listen to Stranger. Also consider yoga. They aren’t going to convert you to Hinduism, it is just exercise that hits strength, balance, flexibility and coordination all at once, plus mind-body connectivity to boot. Stick with it (or any thought-out exercise program) and you’ll get where you want to be.

Thanks for the advice, folks. I’m gathering that it is not a matter of strength but coordination, which actually makes the thing feel more daunting. My strength is Herculean compared to my motor skills (a fact that doesn’t have anything to do with me being a “girl”. And I’m starting to realize that my weak arm isn’t particularly “girly” either. So I shouldn’t be laying the blame on my gender. This is a weak, clumsy person situation, not a women thing.)

I might have to develop some kind of hack in addition to lifting weights. Like, maybe I need to get a clamp to hold down the safety handle so that I can pull the cord with my good arm.

In that case, you might want to look into TryB’s suggestion of yoga - it will develop both strength and coordination. Pilates would work too - I’ve done the mat exercises and have liked it a lot.