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?

Even the farmer’s wife has a say

Farming may be dominated by the male of the species but a rural lending ad is so overtly patronising to women on the land, it deserves special mention.

A sepia-toned picture of a woman’s hand on a kitchen table with a tea cup is the graphic. Here’s the introductory text (or “copy” in advertising parlance):

It’s not just a kitchen table. It’s where the big discussions take place. Where generations of farmers have sat and pondered the future. Where generations of farmer’s wives have sat and had a say. Cuppas have been poured. Financial statements have been pored over.

Lucky wives being allowed a say!

A seed rep clearly of the same mindset knocked on the back door a couple of years ago, telling me he’d already seen “hubby” at the dairy and he was “just dropping the brochure off at the house to keep it clean”. Despite me asking a series of questions about the grass, he simply refused to discuss it, telling me I didn’t “need to worry” because he’d be back again to chat with my hubby.

Fortunately, these types are the exception rather than the rule but it’s very disappointing to find a major bank with such a backward attitude.