Are you a Farmer?
Are you a Female Farmer?
Are you a Farmer’s Wife? Or perhaps a Farm Wife?
Are you a Farmerette?
There’s also the use of FarmHers and RancHers now too!
So what am I? In many ways, I am all of the above.
I’m a farmer – I own land and I have a herdnumber with over 300 head of cattle. I’m female so I am a female farmer too. I’m married to a farmer so some describe me as a farmer’s wife. My blog and twitter usernames are Irish Farmerette. But which term do I use to describe myself?
If someone asks me what I do, I say I’m a farmer or that I’m farming with my husband (that’s if asked in a farming context, because I’m also a social media trainer and author now). I would never describe myself as a farmerette and nor would I refer to myself as a farmer’s wife (even if I wasn’t the landowner with the herd number ). Why not? And why then is my blog called Irish Farmerette?
Farmer’s Wife – Why Not?
To be honest, I’d never refer to myself as anyone’s wife – either in terms of whatever his occupation is or in regard to his name. I might say I’m married to Brian but I would never describe myself as his wife; nor do I tend to describe him as my husband unless I really can’t avoid it. I’ve never really been comfortable with it even though we’re going to be married 23 years this year. I’m 46 this summer so I will have married half my life! Scary!
When we decided to get married, we were engaged for three months before the penny dropped that I might be expected to change my name. I remember sitting upright in bed in complete horror at the prospect of losing my identity. Very few of my friends were married at that stage and I’d never done the doodle thing of practising a ‘married signature’. I decided to put the two names together but got tired of using both of them so while I have Sixsmith-James on my passport and bank account and anything else that’s legal, if anyone asks me my name, they are told Lorna Sixsmith. I didn’t even consider putting Lorna Sixsmith-James on my book – way too much of a mouthful!
Interestingly, in Ireland, I have noticed that some women are still referred to with their maiden names sometimes (even if they took their husband’s names) if they were the original owners of the land or the farm was inherited from her father. I am thinking of two examples of ladies in their 70s. It’s almost as if the farm still carries the name.
I noticed when chatting to people at agricultural shows this summer (when selling my book) that when I asked a woman if she was farming, most replied by saying they were a farmer’s wife or married to a farmer. Some were working off-farm and freely admitted they hardly knew where the yard was as they had their own busy careers. Others seemed to be very involved in the farm yet described themselves as a farmer’s wife. A minority said they were the farmer or that they farmed with their husband. If women are working on the farm with their husbands, why aren’t they both farmers? If a farmer is female, is her husband referred to a farmer’s husband? I’ve never heard it. The nuances of the choice of language is very interesting.
What’s wrong with women calling themselves farmers’ wives then?
Why do I, as well as some other women, feel somewhat insulted if described as such? I don’t like it because:
- For me, it suggest ownership rather than equality. Maybe I’m a bit odd but I don’t even like being described as a wife but much less a farmer’s wife.
- It suggests being an assistant rather than being half of the team / business.
- It carries the connotations that most decisions are made by the male. Maybe I’m influenced by what happened on farms in previous generations but I still know of farming families where the wife is given housekeeping money every week rather than money being spent as it is required.
But am I right? There’s plenty of farmers’ wives proud to be called such – here’s why:
- I’ve noticed recently many American farmers’ wives especially saying they are proud to be called a farmer’s wife. They see their role of being the runner, the helper, the cook, the taxi service, the baker, the person who collects spare parts, the child-minder, the extra member of staff, the person who is an essential part of the farm team and without whom, the farmer would find it hard to cope! After all, farmers work on their stomach and they need good food – it’s important that someone provides it!
- Think back to the role of farmers’ wives half a century ago. While farmers went to the mart (to the public sphere) to buy and sell and go to the pub afterwards,they were able to do so knowing the wives were at home milking the cows, feeding the calves and pigs, washing out the milking parlour, looking after the kids, cooking his dinner and a million other things too. She was able to hold the fort and yes, virtually run the farm. She sold eggs for ‘pin money’. This ‘pin money’ wasn’t for luxuries or to fund her heading off on a holiday or to a spa but it was used for necessary expenses such as food from the local shop during the week. My maternal grandmother used to save her egg money to buy sandals and summer clothes for her eight children every May. My point is those that farm wives kept those farms going (often when their husbands were abroad earning or when they were in the pub drinking the proceeds of the mart), so the connotations of farmer’s wife is also of someone who worked hard, diligent, a keen businesswoman (often running her own egg business if not most of the farm).
So if the latter is the more persuasive argument, maybe being described as a farmer’s wife is actually a compliment, a term that shows the recognition of business acumen and hard work.
Personally speaking, I’m still not comfortable with it though.
Farmerette – Why Not?
The term farmerette means a girl or woman working on a farm (I would imagine as in hired help). It was used in various literary works in the 1920s and included in Finnegan’s Wake too.
When I started up a personal twitter account and the blog, I was doing much less on the farm because the kids were small. I fully admit that my primary role then was their mum and everything else came second. Compared to the hours Brian was working, I was very much a part-time farmer and I thought ‘farmerette’ was a fun term to emphasise that I was tweeting from Ireland, am female and am involved in farming to some extent. I wasn’t thinking of it as hired help, more so as a fun term for female farmer. Even though I use farmerette for my blog and twitter, I would never describe myself as a farmerette to anyone no more than I’d describe myself as a farmer’s wife. I’d never describe another female as a farmerette either but I’m happy to call myself the Irish Farmerette and if people look at my wrinkled and calloused hands during the spring, they might get the irony!
Somewhat interestingly, although I’m not so sure that I approve, some of the female ploughing classes at the Ploughing Championships are called The Farmerettes.
Society is now used to the idea that a man can be a nurse (although I did see some discussion recently about a man being a midwife!), does society need more time to recognise that a woman can be a farmer.
Another reason for both sexes to be called farmer is that hopefully when the Marriage Equality bill is passed in May (here’s hoping) , more same sex relationships will develop in rural Ireland – we will see more female farmers living together as a family, and more male farmers living and working together as a family too.
I’m going to continue calling myself Irish Farmerette on the blog and twitter. I argue that it emphasises that farmers are seen as male. I’m going for the irony now! Listening to George Hook on the radio yesterday, he was commenting that he found it hard to visualise farmers as doing paperwork and using apps rather than wearing a cap and waving a stick at cattle. That image seemed to be male! Female farmer does emphasise that women are involved but they tend to be reserved for women who own farms in their own right whereas a farmer’s wife is a woman who has married into the farm.
Some questions for you. If you are female and farming, how do you describe yourself? If you know women farming, how do you refer to them? And what can be done to improve the representation of women in farming, to encourage more women to want to farm and their parents to be happy to see them inherit the farm? I would love to hear.