I’m a Farmer (so is my husband)

‘How does it feel to be a farmer’s wife?’

‘It feels great TO BE A FARMER, and ah, I dunno, I’ve been married to Stuart for a bajillion years – feels kinda the same as always to be his wife.’

***

‘I’ll go ask Stuart where to plant this,’ our helper for the day says TO ME and walks away to find him.

***

‘You don’t have the strength or the skills to do what he does.’

***

These are just some of the phrases that have made me despair in these first two months of farming. We came here with a shared vision – to be sustainable, ethical pig farmers. We’d been heading towards this decision for a long time, and once we worked out what we wanted to farm, we spent the year researching pigs – emphasis is on we. We came armed with a reasonable amount of knowledge for city slickers, but also with a huge learning curve ahead of both of us.

I was obviously aware that sexism is an issue in agriculture, I just didn’t consider how it would affect me. As a vocal feminist in academic (and previously secondary education and corporate) spaces, I’m no stranger to sexism in the workplace. But I thought I had a handle on it. Anyone can see from my blog and interactions with me that I (as part of we) have become a farmer – this is the newest phase in my many lives, and I am embracing it wholeheartedly.

So here we are on the farm, learning together. We have a mad menagerie of animals for whom I have largely assumed the leadership. Both of us care for them, but overall, I spend a bit more time feeding them, obsessing about their well being, and drafting a whole farm plan that will guide our paddock rotations and fodder planting schedule. We both spend hours out there working on fences.

Stuart’s dad described this to me as, ‘You’re a planner, and Stuart’s a do-er’. With all due respect, while it’s true that I am more of a planner and Stuart can’t seem to stop doing, I hardly think my planning habits are slowing down my doings, and I am growing the forearms to prove it! Ah, but see, there I go – being defensive. Oh, how I despise being put in this corner.

I have never been anything‘s wife. I’ve always been my own thing who happens to be married.

One of the most exasperating aspects of the seemingly relentless gendering of farmers is the ways in which we do in fact fall into traditional roles. The most obvious one occurs around cooking. I have not given up my role as the primary cook in our house, a role I happen to adore. But it results in me coming in from the paddocks an hour or more before Stuart (and other helpers on the farm) to do meal prep, and consequently less involvement outside, especially when others are here to stay. So visitors witness me inside more, and I feel the need to be there to provide for everyone – compounding both their stereotypes and my frustration.

There are other behaviours that compound the gender roles – Stuart’s background is in building, so of course his skillset while we construct fences, erect new gates, and convert a shipping container into our new bedroom and study is a bit more useful than mine. I therefore defer to him on building matters, which I think is the right thing to do for quality control. 🙂 But this also leads to further assumptions about who is doing what and how much, most of which involve assuming Stuart is a farmer and I’m a homemaker.

Stuart is a lot stronger than me, but in fact very little of the work requires mega-strength, and most can be done by normal strength people such as myself, especially if we work in pairs. Sure, Stuart can lift and carry huge fence posts inhuman distances, but I’d venture to say most farmers actually either couldn’t, or just wouldn’t. They’d use tools rather than brute strength, just as I do.

It’s interesting that nobody ever felt compelled to call me a ‘builder’s wife’ or similar – perhaps partially because our professional identities were distinct? But farming is such a masculine space in Australia – nobody has asked Stuart how it feels to be a farmer’s husband, I can assure you. And it’s such a disenfranchising experience having people fail to see you – in no other profession have people failed to acknowledge me for my work.

Let’s face it, we’re both learning farming skills and we’re both out there building and fixing fences, digging holes, feeding animals, and planting trees and fodder crops. I wouldn’t ask anyone to call me a builder, which I’m not, but I do want the respect of being called a farmer, because I am one.

Published by

Tammi Jonas

The infrequent and imperfect yet impassioned musings of a farmer, meatsmith, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and cultural commentator with a penchant for food and community…

27 thoughts on “I’m a Farmer (so is my husband)”

  1. Tammi, I’ve been enjoying reading your posts and blog entries since you and Stuart began your venture. Being a city girl this one’s fascinating on a couple of levels. It’s a world I know little about.

  2. Farmer wants a wife definately doesn’t help…especially the episode when he made the women cook off to win his affection. Bleergh! If someone asked me to do that he would get a serious case of the runs.LOL.

    Come on down to women on farmers gathering in East Gippsland, no doubt all your frustrations (and joys) will be shared!

  3. Tammacita, maybe a bit of lippy and a ribbon in the hair while prepping the meals would make all the difference!

    PS Reading Omnivores Dilemma. V.Interesting…always saw the Indiana corn fields as a “Garden of Evil”

  4. I, similarly, work together with my husband in a business we conceived together and financed with money from the sale of my house, and I still get, “Are you still working for your husband?” It kills me. I try not to get defensive lest I come across as shrill, but it really bugs me.
    Good luck on a the farm. I am sure you will be a huge success.
    Beth aka Carol Shwanda

  5. Aargh, how frustrating! Mining towns were similarly stereotyped. I’m curious to know whether you’ve got a local CWA ….??? Those old country women can be fab, and they’ve heard it all before. Probably got a few mean scone recipes too.

  6. Hi Tammois-very illuminating perspective and one I’ve honestly not thought about until your post which is surprising considering that I’m a ‘Teachers’ Husband’! ha ha!

  7. *Sigh* Welcome to the country. What you’ve described here is the worst part of living in the country that I’ve noticed since moving back to it. I don’t know why but for some reason these 1950s gender stereotypes persist in many of our communities.

    I only hope that people like you and me can live here and show that yes, it is possible for women to work and contribute to society. Hopefully as we live our lives we can influence others for the better.

    I just stumbled across your blog today. Congrats on starting your own business. I hope it all goes great for you!

  8. Anna! Thanks for leaving a comment! It’s a huge learning curve for us too, even if I was from the country a million years ago. We’d love to have you guys up here – I promise to get you out working hard and not stuck in the kitchen. 😉 xo

  9. That sounds great, Emma. I’ll see if I can make it to a gathering, though it’s a fair hike from where we are outside Daylesford… I definitely need to hang out with some great rural women though!

  10. Neil, you are such a stirrer. But don’t you know that feminists can wear lippy these days? Not that I would. 😉 And I’ll have to poke my nose back into Omnivore’s Dilemma, as well as the need to read Safran’s Eating Animals…

  11. Thanks, Beth – it always helps to hear from others with shared experiences. Between us all, we’ll bust these old stereotypes, even if it takes many many more years, hey?

  12. Oh, Fran, you would *love* the things I’ve heard/ways I’ve been dismissed. It’s mind boggling, but I’m trying to chalk it up as another big learning experience broadening my capacity to understand this big world with all its vagaries. I’ll check out the local CWA – I’m sure we must have one?! Also, let us know when you guys can come up! xo

  13. Haha – yeah, see, I always just think of you as a ‘teacher’s husband’. 😉 I guess my reputation for challenging injustice will continue apace up here in the rural idyll, eh?

  14. Thanks, Jonathan! Yes, I too hope that the country is awash with feminists who will turn this ship around. 😉 We’ll do our bit anyway, right?

    I just checked out your blog too – it looks great, and I can’t wait to read more! Alas, another ‘new farmer’ with things we can learn from! 🙂 And I’ve just worked out you’re @dyerjonathan, duh!

  15. I’m finding it’s becoming rarer and rarer but (as someone pointed out to me on my own blog post venting just this frustration) that it’s a great way of sifting the wheat from the chaff when it comes to suppliers/contractors!

  16. I guess on the plus side, when you set them straight, it gets them thinking. And if there are any girls growing up around there looking for another way of doing things or wanting to be farmers, you can serve as an example.

  17. A familiar story. My life on the farm, raising four kids consisted of milking cow or goat or sheep, gardening in veg patch and orchard, making butter, cheese, bread, jam, chutney, meals, pies, cakes, clothes. I’d also help with stockwork and fencing. Husband was outside. We were farmers, but I was married to a farmer. He has since wandered off, now I have a farm, butcher shop, commercial kitchen. Lots of challenges. There is an incredible strength in rural women, which is often overlooked or taken for granted. Men and women are different. Men are usually physically stronger which is handy on a farm, but not essential. Sounds like you are on an amazing journey, and you’ll thrive, while being a great example to those around you. Nurturing land, people and animals is a very fulfilling existence, and women are great nurturers. Enjoy yourself. Cheers Sandy.

  18. Sharon – thanks for sharing that, it’s a gorgeous photo. I cannot believe the description! Women do a whole bunch of farming, and are ‘farmer’s wives’. Oh, and they ‘added the feminine touch’. Gah! I could understand if the description was written back then, but this is a curator’s contemporary description! I’m going to write to them.

  19. Hi Tammi,

    I don’t know you – I just came across this site via a friend of yours on Facebook.

    This blog just resonated with me so much. I live on acreage in Woodend – I’m not a farmer but I constantly get the “how do you manage the property on your own” comments (I’m a single parent). So clearly this attitude is magnified ten fold for a woman in your situation, which is such a shame. I hope it gets better – all power to you.

    I’ve always worked in male dominated industries, which is bad enough. Lots of ‘payback’ if one complains, so I don’t really. But I push back hard enough so the men (especially management) know they won’t get away with discrimination – though it took me a few years to do it. It worked, though.

    I’m now embarking on building a house – and I’ve been told that’s a sexist industry and builders don’t like dealing with women (or look down on them). I’m hoping it wont be as bad as I’ve been told…..

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