The farmer’s wife

A really disturbing media story about a male-only farm succession plan set Twitter alight today. It’s so incredible I’ve been wondering if it’s a hoax but, then, maybe not. There are some pretty strange characters in any corner of society, so I guess it is possible there is a deluded beef farmer out there who thinks he’s a sheik.

Most of the comment on Twitter has been expressions of disbelief, which is reassuring, but quite a few people have drawn parallels with their own upbringings and perhaps I should not be surprised at all. In fact, Australian family farms are generally passed on from father to son.

While there’s a dearth of research on the topic, a 1996 University of New England study on farm inheritance found:

“Farmers approach succession within a distinct rural ideology where farming is seen as man’s vocation, with great value placed on self-reliance, independence and hard work. Central to this ideology is the concept of patriarchy whereby women are inherently viewed as dependents, being either the wife or daughter of a farmer (Poiner 1990, 33-52). Marriage has been the usual point of entry into farming for women. Although daughters are often required to participate in the work routine on farms, they are not often encouraged to think beyond the possibility of marrying a farmer, and to consider farming as a career (Nalson and Craig 1987). Patriarchy also entails the exclusion of daughters from inheritance of land (Voyce 1994).”

“The majority of respondents entered farming with some form of assistance from their parents (or the parents of their spouse). This usually involved parents bringing the respondent into the existing farm business or parents leaving land to respondents, or helping them to purchase land. We found that daughters are not, as a rule, involved in farm businesses. The proportion of families where daughters are working on the farm, are partners in the farm business or share in the ownership of land is less than ten per cent. We also found that sons are more likely to inherit land from their parents, and be helped by their parents to enter farming, than are daughters. This has the potential to cause ill feeling. As one respondent wrote:

“‘My parents are giving their farm to my oldest brother to maintain it as a viable business. This effectively disinherits me and my sister and other brother. This is not fair, but my father wants to keep the farm intact and in the family. There is very little by way of compensation. This is a common scenario in the rural community.’

“Of course, interest and commitment to farming varies among women. Some embrace the opportunity to farm with great enthusiasm and play an active role in the family enterprise. Others reject the notion of farming as a career. These women may continue with a career outside farming or confine their activities as far as possible to those equivalent to an urban woman in unpaid domestic work (Nalson and Craig 1987). Whether women are free to exercise their choice between these alternatives is debatable.”

I’d like to think that we have come a long way in the 16 years since this research was conducted but I’m certain we still have a long way to go. The local dairy expo still advertises a “Women’s Pavilion” full of crafts and preserves (well away from the machinery displays). Our own milk co-op thinks it’s funny to portray women on farms as fluffy accessories. Major banks publish ads trumpeting that even the farmer’s wife has a say in the business.

Perhaps these are examples of out-of-touch advertisers playing on dated stereotypes. Perhaps it reflects current reality. Either way, isn’t it time we told them we’ve had enough?

15 thoughts on “The farmer’s wife

  1. Wow! That is appalling to me at least. Here at our dairy my husband and I co-manage and believe me it is a team effort. Salesmen who won’t talk to me are shown the door in no uncertain terms. Both daughters are heavily involved as is our son. We mate cows by committee, all chip in with ideas when we are decision-making. To me that is how it should be if they want to be.


    • It’s hard to comprehend the mindset that people can be automatically discounted as farmers on the basis of their sex. It’s even harder to understand foisting such generalisations on your children. I agree. Outrageous. Ridiculous. Cruel.


  2. Its still rife in the farming community – I have had some men and sales people completely ignore me, whilst the smart ones – especially the semen reps know to talk to me now. I may be from the city, but in 4 short years I have grasped quite an understanding of the industry and I am quite hands on.

    We are not at the stage of passing the farm down to our children yet – but you know what the first step would be – discuss it with the children and work something out that’s going to benefit them all, and keep them happy!


    • Sadly, I have had some reps ignore me too but only a couple of notable exceptions from the rule. Most farm suppliers are incredibly good to work with – even while I am chasing a toddler. I’ve had bad experiences in corporate-land too, so I know this attitude is not limited to ag.


  3. Just read the article in the paper Marian. Jaw dropping! The females on the farm are kept out of the business decision making and succession. At least they are useful for running messages into town! And with an industry sector that will only survive by retaining and encouraging the best and the brightest, some still think that instantly reducing the pool of future farmers by 50% on the basis of gender is a good idea? What?,!??????


  4. It’s pretty retarded, OK it’s idiotic, but there may be an alternative explanation that is reverse sexist – there may be an assumption that the women can get a decent education and a decent job that the dumb sons can’t. 100 years ago there was a belief that women weren’t worth educating, now there seems to be the opposite belief.

    Of course, I would want to run a 24000 hectare operation without an Ag science degree!


  5. Look at the way we treat our children. Do we expect the same from our sons as we do our daughters or do WE perpetuate old behaviors by worshiping our boys? I believe it’s up to mothers to be strong role models for their daughters and by doing so teach their girls to expect equality.


      • ‘Enough’ will be when all mothers provide strong role models. Sadly, my generation(baby boomers) still tend to perpetuate the problem. I feel it will take two or three generations to truly achieve equality. It is not something you can regulate by law, it needs to be bred ie. evolution. That is why I believe it is mothers who can make these changes.


  6. Much as my girls drive me mad sometimes (they are still available as free labour on your farm Marian, anytime!), I really worry for them – knowing what business is like, even today, they are behind the eight ball compared to men. It’s not just on farms, it is everywhere.

    With respect to Kaye, the best mothers, the strongest female role models are no match for the boy’s club mentality in business; the group-think, the subtle ways in which female candidates for jobs are denied, the hidden hurdles are all there still. The answer is not stronger women, it is better educated men.

    And my pet ‘country’ peeve – the CWA. Talk about entrenching stereotypes. “Ladies bring a plate” *sarc*…


    • That’s been my experience in other workplaces, too, Ian but there is a difference: in corporate Australia, sexism is practised almost subconciously. In rural Australia, it’s perfectly fine to label whole communities of women as “farmers’ wives”. Can’t imagine anyone referring to female accountants as “accountants’ wives”, even if their husbands are accountants!


  7. I have very little respect for the men who make succession plans based on sex. However it would seem in this case that the women are compliant?

    I can’t help wondering if there is some archaic religion playing it’s part in this example of sexist succession planning – even more extreme than no women priests?

    I refuse to be the catering/tea/coffee lady at our field days & sale. Often to the chargrin of the men folk, but they get the message. Loud & Clear!!!


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