Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Deconstructing Labels: Not a Feminist, Not a Farmer

I want to be clear from the start that I actually do not fancy myself a feminist. I was raised with a generation of women who were told they could do anything and that they deserved the same opportunity and pay as men for their undertakings. I take equality for men and women completely for granted. Does this make me someone who fights for women's rights? No, it doesn't. I just wake up and do what women in my culture do and I'm blessed to have the freedoms I do in the country I live in. I wish I fought more for the rights of women in the world. But that is another story...

In an attempt to find myself in the roles and labels created for women today, I played around with titles for this blog that would most reflect my values. Much to my own shock and delight, I found myself relating to these slightly controversial and archaic terms. Many folks seem to see a 'farmer's wife' as someone who has multiple kids swinging off her apron strings while she slaves over the stove all day. In between washing her laundry in the sink on a washboard and getting water in buckets from the well outside she is darning 18 pairs of socks. She makes soap and bread and pickles and jams and lines her cupboards with hundreds of labeled jars every year in preparation for the winter ahead. She is possibly subservient. She makes no decisions around the business of the farm and she likely won't inherit any land should something happen to her husband or father. Further, she does not get credit for any of the work she does even outside of the household chores, though she is the sole caretaker of all 'small' livestock jobs, including milking the cows. This is just considered the women's work. Nothing to note there. These are not the farmer's wives I know.

"Farmer’s wife" is actually a redundant term. Chances are if you live on a farm and are married to someone who lives there with you, you have contributed greatly to the functioning of this farm. Sometimes just supporting a farmer by placing home-cooked meals in front of him/her is plenty. Sometimes running after his children, clothing and feeding them is enough as well. But likely there is even more involvement than that.

So far, I hope you are asking yourself what kind of turkey writes a blog about everything they don't think they are.

Well let's go farther. If I am not a farmer's wife, would I consider myself a farmer? Although I spend countless hours in every week producing food for my family from our farm for the meal of the day as well as the winter ahead, I do not distribute food to my community. I am not a provider of food outside of my own four walls. My husband does this and I often contribute to his endeavours. We also go as a family to the farmer's market on Saturdays in the city and I often do the mid-week deliveries to stores and restaurants. While I do a good enough job with the harvesting and packing, and I'm fairly efficient and quick, I do not feel my spirit soaring while growing vegetables the way I think my husband does. If it isn't a moving, breathing mammal type thing I'm working with, it likely doesn't get me jumping up and down with glee.

I happen to be married to a farmer, this is true. Yet I purchased half of the farm and used the income from my stable government job to leverage getting the loan to buy it in the first place. The irony is thick here. These days one can't purchase land without a stable income or a load of cash. Hmmmm. But this is every much my piece of land as it is my husband's. We both had equally compelling reasons to want to live here, exactly here. Some reasons the same, some very different. Now, my husband produces vegetables for probably 75-100 families in a season. We also raise our own beef, dairy cows, meat birds, laying hens and pigs, usually just enough for ourselves. At a minimum then, I am certainly not just a farmer’s wife.

I have earned a university degree in science and hold a job in my field that can make plenty of money for me and my family and provide all kinds of job satisfaction if I let it. I work with other mothers that are all inspiring, intelligent women my age who find creative ways to do the balancing act of working outside of the home while still being hands-on mothers.

In addition to this employment, I enjoy canning and preserving, drying foods and baking my own bread and pies. I make sausages and cheese, pasta, pizza dough and cinnamon rolls from scratch. I love working with real food. Yet, a typical farmer's wife does more than just food stuff, right? I am not a quilter, a weaver or a sewer. I do not make soap. I do not have my children home with me every day as I have sought out day care for the days when I am doing things incompatible with little people. Perhaps I stand as a good model of a 'farmer's wife'. Perhaps not.

I drive the tractor from time to time, I carry bales of hay or bags of feed or crates of vegetables about, I milk the cows, I feed the animals, I help seed, plant, harvest, wash, weigh, pack or process most vegetables that we grow in a season. I am also almost solely responsible for the repair and finishing of our home, including our new 1000 square foot addition. When the hammer and nails come out, it is usually me who is doing these jobs. I am grateful to not have a controlling husband looking over my shoulder while I figure out how to do these things and I enjoy the work very much. So perhaps I am crossing the line into traditional male roles sometimes. Perhaps not.

I also insist on being involved in all decisions made with the operation of our farm. I want to be a supportive partner to my farmer husband but I do not wish to be defined entirely in terms of another. I want to earn an income only if it makes sense for the efficient and loving operation of our household. I want to have access to child care on days that I have dangerous manual work in the fields or on the house. I also choose to have child care on days that I wish to have space to be creative or do some thinking, number crunching or writing. I want to have dinner made for me on the rare occasion. I do not want to be entirely responsible for all laundry, house-cleaning or child matters. I want to be a free-standing, self-sufficient, capable human being. I suppose then I am a 'feminist' under the definition of some.

In conclusion, any woman (or man) who manages to sustain the (difficult, unpredictable, heartbreaking yet rewarding) life of a farmer and a parent can call themselves anything they please. I’m not going to second guess any of these labels no matter what they do or believe in. I hope you can afford me the same luxury.

For now, you can call me the Feminist Farmer's Wife. I haven't yet discovered what this means for me. Will you join me as I do?