Thursday, June 14, 2012

"Farmer" is not a gender-specific word

I am very comfortable declaring myself to be a "Small Farmer" when folks ask what I do. But, it seems sometimes that the people I'm talking to aren't always convinced that I am really a farmer. I see two potential explanations for this.

1) I haven't made any money yet.
2) I am a woman.

The lovely Susan at the lovely Juniper Moon Farm, wrote a post today defending using the job title "Farmer" to describe women. A small toy company that makes detailed and adorable farm-related toys describes their male figurine as the "Farmer" and the female as the "Farmer's Wife," even though their description of the Farmer's Wife includes:

“Our fun-loving farmer’s wife carefully takes a basket of eggs to the farm store. Afterwards, she has to go help the farmer feed the cows and chickens.”

I can't top Susan's well-written reply to their sloppy, outdated characterization, so I'm excerpting it here. The whole post is certainly worth the read too.

See, she isn’t a farmer. This is the farmer. She’s the Farmer’s Wife. A farmer by Schleich’s definition is a man. Women can be horse carersgroomsstable girls, and stable girls with wheelbarrows. They can even be veterinarians (as can men, apparently). But, in spite of the fact that she shares a full fifty percent of her listed duties with the farmer, this woman is described by your company as the Farmer’s Wife.
I’ve got news for you, gentlemen. Gathering eggs and feeding animals? Those are the jobs of a farmer. ...

Now, you may think that this doesn’t matter much, that the title of a character has nothing to do with the way in which children will utilize it in play, but you are wrong. Words matter. I am telling you this as a woman, a farmer, and — maybe most importantly — as one of your customers. Your title and description of the Farmer’s Wife is offensive. It tells me in no uncertain terms what you think of farmers who happen to be women. More importantly, it tells the little girls who love and play with your toys that the most they can aspire to in the world of agriculture is to be the lucky bride of a farmer.

This issue is important to me (as a woman farmer) but it is also important to you (as a person who presumably eats food). Sharon Astyk of Casaubon's Book, wrote a post in February, "Ending 'Farmer's Wife' Syndrome," where she points out that for the first time in history the majority of new farmers are coming from "off the farm." They are people - like me - who do not come from farming families. In addition, she writes, "...independent women small farmers are the only fast-growing segment of American agriculture - an entity that we all know is going to have to grow fast just to keep up with the aging population of farmers..."

So, if you'd like to eat anything that resembles real food, and not a amalgam of corn syrup and wood chips, stand up and recognize that I am a Farmer.

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