Don’t call me a “female farmer”

I’m just a farmer. Not an “invisible farmer”, not a “woman in ag”, just a farmer. Being able to prime a pump and drain a sump does not make me exceptional either. Just another farmer.

I’m not sure, really, why there are so many women-in-ag groups. Their existence suggests the female form is somehow a problem when it comes to twisting wire into a figure 8 knot or developing a new plot. It’s not.

All my life, I’ve watched women farmers at work. My grandmother, mother, neighbours and friends. There’s nothing new – or second-rate – about female farmers.

Nor does being capable with my hands make me any less of a woman. I can totter in stillettos and slosh around in Skellerups. Big deal. So do thousands of other farmers.

Yet today is the International Day of Rural Women and, this week, the Melbourne Museum opened a display it says is the first official documentation of women’s contribution to Australian agriculture.

What am I missing? Why do women flock to special female-only groups and why do so few of us turn up to broader industry events?

What do you think? Are female-only ag forums important to make women feel comfortable expressing ourselves or do they simply reinforce a perception that we’re somehow not able to perform in mixed company?

I’m just not sure.

15 thoughts on “Don’t call me a “female farmer”

  1. Unfortunately gender issues remain a huge issue across societies from Presidents in North America to East Africa to film makers:-( Google “gender issues in agriculture “ and you will find plenty of studies and work trying to raise the profile of female land workers, farmers etc.

    You and others like you will remain a beacon of hope to many others who are trying to make their way in the world. Your wish to be gender neutral I am afraid will not be granted anytime soon.

    There are too many issues still to be resolved with gender politics in general let alone in agriculture. Of necessity there still remains the need for women to come together to discuss how they operate in society and how they can change it. Men have a lot of work to do too.

    Male language all too often dominates the structure of discussions, the practical approach to solving issues. There is another voice and it should be heard. It will take several more generations before you will be called farmer.

    In the meantime take a deep breath and plough your furrow! And thanks for raising this issue it needs airing.

    • Thanks Tim,
      I understand what you’re saying but do wonder if we can break down barriers by creating new ones.

      It’s hard to imagine that women will be accepted as equals while we separate ourselves from mixed forums.

      There are arguments for and against, which I think need to be had if we’re to move forward.

  2. Interesting insight Marian from a woman who is both capable with her hands and feet As a female farmer who avoided milking cows, driving tractors and building fences perhaps I found it hard to find my tribe. If female only ag forums help other women find their tribe then I say kudos to them

  3. I have often wondered if running 2 sessions of a workshop would overcome this. Is the issue for some families that “someone needs to stay on the farm in case of a problem”? Does this stop women and young people participating if only the “boss farmer” gets the time off?

    • That’s a good thought, Julie. Only thing is, it doesn’t explain the rise of the women-only event.
      Maybe a rethink of the conventional format is in order?

      • I think that the creation of “womens groups” with childcare etc, was an attempt to make it easier for women to attend events. The usual attendee would have to stay back if he wasn’t invited.
        Also I have attended some of these events where the focus was more on running the business admin, and less of the hands on. Most attempts where I live have fizzled out quickly where the farm women are the ones doing the driving. Most are too busy with their own lives to keep up the momentum of a group.

        What changes in format would you suggest for “traditional” farmer events? Our internet around here is pretty patchy, so webinars don’t work. Also I like being able to get people together- a lot of the real learning occurs over lunch, and is often off -topic, but still worthwhile.

        • Thanks JulieD, lots of food for thought here
          The improvement of our rural internet would be awesome, not only for education and health, but business as a whole
          I truly do love the idea of chat over a meal, networking outside scheduled conference timetable, there is much to learn and to meet people

          Thanks for thought provoking reply

  4. I love this blog
    I wish Ag forums were for all Ag people, cause I sincerely believe all would benefit.
    I have sat in a Woman’s Ag forum, thinking of how beneficial this would have been for the men folk, not that men aren’t allowed to attend, but they have the name “women” in the forum name.
    Do we have the international men in Ag day?
    Do we have an award for the best man farmer?
    I believe we are all in this together and there are men farmers out there doing it solo too, on farm by themselves.
    I’m proud to be a woman in farming, as is my daughter, as was my Mother and Grandmother. I am proud I have lots of other females farming friends, doing great stuff in farming too. I am proud I know of males backing all these women, including myself and my daughter. Farming and family seem to go together, for decades. Many an Aunt farmed by herself, as did the Uncles, but they were all part of a family, or adopted family. They had a tribe to be part of.
    Of course there were men about that didn’t agree with females in the hands on farm work, there still are and no doubt in the future there still will be. I believe this will be in all occupations, it is the attitude we use to handle these few, that makes all the difference.
    But as Marian said, females have been farming for decades, if not by themselves as part of a team.
    Great if there is forums to help, but let the help be equal. Let there be more team work than there is division.
    Imagine if there was a Men’s Ag Forum?
    Women hold some great positions in Ag, as do our males, we should be proud of all of them and hope there are working as a team to benefit Ag in general.
    There is so much division in our lives it would be great if Ag worked together, to show others, considering we are the ones in the business of feeding our fellow man.
    I feel farming has so many more bigger issues and if we don’t join together, a united voice, we could be sold out …… bigger businesses, duopoly, seem to find it easier and cheaper to purchase offshore produce and can we rely on our Govt people to keep our businesses safe?

    My apologies Marion, for making this political and going off topic, but I truly enjoyed your blog and I dearly wish for a more united Ag.

  5. Thanks for sharing, Marian. This is a great topic to discuss. Back in the day, I was part of a group called ‘mothers and midwives action’, and, even though I didn’t have a home birth, I could see that many women wanted the option, and out of this commitment, our group took on hosting the homebirth conference in Melbourne that year. Options are important. Some women feel more comfortable in ‘women only’ groups. Sometimes I do, but other times, it great to have everyone along. It doesn’t have to be either/or, something I have to constantly remind myself. I even heard on the radio last week that the Freemasons now run a meeting in the day, with wives of members welcome to join in. Let’s keeping mixing it up.

  6. The fact that women only groups still exist means they are still needed and this situation is still evolving .
    The women groups need to make a big thing of getting attendees to commit to turning up at the open groups, so that things can evolve further.

    The success of the women only groups will eventually be measured by how quickly they can make themselves ( the groups redundant. 🙂

  7. Pingback: Rural round-up | Homepaddock

  8. You have 2 arms, 2 legs and a working brain…and you work on the land….your a farmer and not a bad one at that I hear. Oh wait! What is that I hear? Your a f-f-f-e-e-male? Oh hell! Now what we do.

    Seriously it is such a naff debate promulgated by small mindedness that it numbs the senses reading about it.

    If people in work focused on what is best to achieve the desired output or result then gender should not even cross the mind.

  9. I do hear what you’re saying but because females working on the farm when married are often referred to as a farmer’s wife, there’s one impetus for the rise in “women in ag” and “female farmer” labels. I’m one of the founders for a women in farming group in Ireland and we have had criticism that we’re putting up barriers, from people who haven’t joined, those who have joined are really enjoyed the networking and the practical help). From surveys, it shows that women can be underconfident in farming – in things like going to the mart and in doing some farm jobs too. Millions have been invested in “women in business” groups and clinics and training but female farmers missed out on that. It’s been proved that women in business are more successful when they get the networking and the mentoring – hence, that’s one good reason to have women in farming groups and events.

  10. Many good thoughts and comments. The same can be said for AFLW, Women’s Cricket, etc.

    To me, Marian is a farmer that happens to be femaie. But many, I suspect, see Marian (or Michelle, or Wendy) as a female farmer. The difference in viewpoint (and associated language) may be subtle but the ramifications are far-reaching and long-lasting.

    Too often, we focus much attention upon others (in this instance, the female as a farmer) instead of ourselves. We create opportunities for them to gain empowerment, to become assertive, to “rise up”. I think approach has huge limitations. Instead, we need to refocus our efforts on ourselves, the holders of these viewpoints. Let’s look in the mirror. The way we speak, the way we behave, our thoughts, our views, must be challenged and called to account. And mostly, the “we” and the “us” are the men and boys of this world. We blokes have much to answer for and have a long way to go.

    Marian, the (farm) skills you possess, should not be viewed through the gender lens. If you farm then you’re a farmer.

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