Are you a Farmer, Female Farmer, Farmer’s Wife or Farmerette?

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?

Lorna Sixsmith and family

Lorna Sixsmith and family

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.

Lorna_Farmer

Lorna in her glamorous calf feeding garb! Yes, if you were to call up to the yard any day, you’d see me looking like this.

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!

Lorna_Ploughing

Being interviewed at the Ploughing Championships

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.

Lorna wellies

 

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.

Our Mini Farmer

Our Mini Farmer

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.

 

14 thoughts on “Are you a Farmer, Female Farmer, Farmer’s Wife or Farmerette?

  • Lovisa heeb

    Great questions! I’m 28 and always feeling a bit discomfort when people ask me “so what do you do?”. Should I tell them everything I do (or trying to do) in a day or just sum it up in a title that gives me no confidence? Farmer’s wife doesn’t feel right to me, nor does manager’s wife. My family owns a farm and even if they didn’t encourage me well enough (in my eyes) to become a farmer too and my brother owns it now, I left and found myself another farm to call home. My husband is the manager and gets paid so, but I’m not on the books at the moment but still doing the job to keep the place running. Am I still a farmer or only when I get paid to do so? Nah I think farming is in your heart just as I am a photographer at heart even if I don’t get paid for it. Do you agree, Lorna?

    Reply
    • Lorna Post author

      Hi Lovisa, I change my description of myself depending on who I’m talking to. I did describe myself as a “farmer who does a bit of writing” to someone about a year ago and nearly kicked myself for not having the confidence to say a farmer and author especially when it turned out that he had not only bought both of my books but could quote lines of them to me!
      Funnily enough, and I didn’t know whether to be amused or bemused, I recently became aware that someone had profiled me as middle-aged and a homemaker so I think no matter how we describe ourselves, other people will often have different ideas!!!

      Reply
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  • Donna OShaughnessy

    As always Lorna…great questions! I used to refer to myself as “nurse” as those years that my income helped the farm so much even though I did lots of farm work too. Then after 25 years as nurse, I left and called myself “Farmer” on applications but on my blog became “The Midlife Farmwife” just so people would remember my blog name. Now, back in school, I call myself “Writer” first, then “Farmer” All that time I remain “mom” to our kids and “yaya” to the Grandkids. The day to day titles don’t bother me at all because the title I love most, is “O’Shaughnessy” my maiden name, I will keep forever regardless of what profession/person I might be married to. Cheers!

    Reply
    • Lorna

      Thanks Donna – it’s interesting though isn’t it how people like to know your occupation? I was talking to a group of older farm women recently (prob 50ish – 70ish) and I asked them how they would describe themselves. Many would have described themselves as housewives. I was surprised as many are actively working on the farm and it does make me wonder if it is a lack of confidence or a lack of general recognition of the work they do and the fact they are business people.

      Reply
    • Lorna

      and your blog name makes me smile – I just knew the first time I found it, that it was going to be full of humour. It just has those connotations of midlife crisis – not that you are having a crisis but that’s what I read into it.

      Reply
  • Sally

    Definitely “farmer” if she is on her own or working alongside her husband a lot of the time. I don’t like the use of “male nurse” for the same reason as I don’t like “female farmer” – it suggests a sharp intake of breath as you say it and does nothing to help overcome the stereotypes.
    There is something quite cosy about the term “farmer’s wife” – it conjures up images of a nice smiley lady baking away in front of the aga – a far cry from what most of them do, I know! There is almost a profession of farmer’s wife, though – and I think a lot of people do know that the farmer’s wife is hard working and does all those tasks that help keep the farm running. Most rural people I think understand that it means something quite different from “solicitor’s wife” or “teacher’s wife”. But even if she is not out spreading slurry, she is still a partner in the farm as a business and therefore earns the term “farmer”, even if it is not “head farmer”!
    And I am wholeheartedly with you on not taking a husband’s name – but there needs to be happy agreement on the name the children use.

    Reply
    • Lorna

      The term ‘male nurse’ is used quite a bit though isn’t it? When I think about it, I’ve just realised that.
      Maybe that’s why I don’t like the term “farmer’s wife” as I could never pride myself on being domesticated. I agree – in many ways, that is why the term has lasted I think – because there’s recognition there that being a farmer’s wife means that you have a couple of jobs. There is respect for the role. But I do think the time has come for farming couples to be recognised as both being farmers rather than a farmer and a “assistant”.

      Re our surname, the kids have my name in there but they just use “James” – I wasn’t going to put that burden on them on a daily basis! I don’t mind the “that’s a strange name” comments myself now but when I was a teenager, it used to drive me mad esp as it came with a “that’s not an Irish / Catholic name” tone 🙂

      Reply
  • olivia crowley

    I call myself a farmer. I farm my late fathers farm and my husband farms with me as he will inherit his fathers farm. I have kept my maiden name on everything to do with the farm and I use my husbands name for everything to do with my children and in the parish I marrird into. I enjoyed reading your post and your bang on on what you’ve written about the terms used to refer to a female farmer.

    Reply
    • Lorna

      Thanks for your comment Olivia, do you think it is easier (and perhaps more accepted) to keep your own name when it is your own farm rather than marrying into a farm?

      I stopped using both as people often have enough trouble with Sixsmith let alone when James is tacked onto the end of it. I do get some funny reactions from other mums in the school sometimes – but they think I’m a bit eccentric anyway 😉

      Reply

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