I was scrolling through the land of Facebook a month or so ago, when I saw a post asking how do you empower women in agriculture.
I started my response with a simple – you need only show her she can.
And while I still hold tight to that. I’ve come to realize a few things about women in agriculture that I wish more people talked about…
First, if you want to empower women, the most obvious place to start is with girls.
Second, stop assuming because a woman may not do every task on the farm (although the women in my family do) that she doesn’t bring value in a million other ways to agriculture and your operation.
The reality is women have ALWAYS been in agriculture. We just haven’t always been in the board room.
If we want to empower women in agriculture – start with those spit-fire farm girls that love every minute of time on the farm. Teach your girls they can do anything – because they can. Expect the same of her as you do her brother. Show her how to fix the baler and drive the tractor. If your son works on the farm, so should your daughter. Because when you teach her brother, but not her…
What are you ACTUALLY teaching her? That she’s less? That she doesn’t matter? That she can’t?
When you have different expectations of her brother, but not her – you’re setting her up to believe she doesn’t have the ability or the right to be at the same table as her brother. She does.
Find what she’s good at and encourage her.
Maybe it’s with the animals. Maybe it’s welding and fixing equipment. What’s that saying – nobody’s good at everything, but everybody’s good at something? Don’t make assumptions because she’s a girl that she can’t or won’t be an asset to agriculture.
We talk about wanting our kids to have confidence. Well it starts at home. TEACH her those tough things so she IS confident. When she accomplishes what you taught her, her confidence is built brick by brick. Tell her SHE CAN, because if you don’t, or worse… you tell her she can’t – you’ve told her a lie. And it’s a lie that will limit her potential the rest of her life.
I was raised by a strong mother, who was raised by a forward-thinking father. And thank God for him, and men like him. He taught his girls everything he knew, and had them working beside him as soon as they were old enough. He knew what his girls were capable of, and he was going to make sure they knew it too.
But the reality is that it’s not like that for so many girls.
My aunt runs my family’s operation full-time now, my mom chose to work off the farm but still helps, and now my husband and I have our own operation we’re raising our children on. Pa was proud of the women he raised.
But what if Granny – the southern lady/city slicker – had put her foot down and said it’s not lady-like for the girls to be on the farm? What if she’d kept her daughters inside instead of letting them go with their daddy? What if the extent they were allowed to help was taking food to the hayfield? What if they’d left the “tough” stuff to a farm hand? What if I’d been told I couldn’t. Would I be the person I am?
No, I most definitely would not.
Granny never much liked how dirty and active us girls were on the farm – but she also didn’t do much to discourage it. It wouldn’t have done any good. As a teenager I was already active in our agriculture community. After college I started my career working for USDA. Our veterinarians have been women that man-handle steers better than men. I’ve known women just like my mom and aunt, who were as proficient on a piece of equipment as any man. Sometimes more so.
But I was naive to think it was like that everywhere.
As a young adult I escaped feelings of sexism and exclusion in agriculture, because everyone knew me and knew my family. It protected my view. It protected me. People respected my grandfather, and that got me places.
And then I moved away from home, left my safe little cocoon of inclusion, and married my husband. All of a sudden I became my husband’s wife, not Sarah.
I love where we live. I really do. There’s nowhere else I’d want to be. I love the people. The land.
But I’m also not blind.
Women are most definitely in the agricultural minority around here. When we cut hay, I’m the only female in the field. I can back a trailer. I am not good at mechanic work, but I can doctor cattle. I can ride a horse to get up cows with extreme proficiency, I can work them with no fear, a good bit of finesse, and I even take cussings with limited tears because everybody knows not to take cussings seriously when working cattle with your spouse… I’m in the minority. The extreme minority.
A few men have legitimately asked my husband – how did you get your wife to do that? It’s easy. He married well. He married info a family who taught her she could do anything, and then showed her how. It didn’t happen over night and it certainly didn’t happen by accident.
Look, I know a lot of bad-ass, powerful women working in agriculture. Hopefully you do too! But I also can look around where we live and see that not every girl was raised to know she could do that. There’s still so much more emphasis placed on our boys, that’s not placed on our girls in agriculture.
For every one farm girl raised to know she could, was another girl that might have been taught it wasn’t her place. We’ve got more work to do to get and keep our daughters involved in agriulture. Our industry has to keep positively evolving. Our culture has to keep evolving.
I have a daughter, and I’m so excited to see what she can accomplish. Just as I am excited to see what her brother will do. I’ll raise her to know they can both do anything they put their brains and work ethic behind. But will other people raise their sons to know my daughter can? Will she constantly have to prove herself to men, as so many other women have? Will she continue to be the minority when our industry needs new people?
Sexist seems extreme. Although some would argue it absolutely is appropriate. What I can say is agriculture sometimes has a culture of “assumption exclusion”. We ASSUME women won’t want to work on the farm, won’t want positions of leaderships, won’t be willing to learn to fix the baler – but we never asked because generations (Lord knows my granny is included in that) wouldn’t have. But just because we didn’t grow up with women doing these things, doesn’t mean our daughters, wives, and sisters haven’t been, won’t or shouldn’t.
I promise you there’s a little girl who wants to. You just need to show her how.
So I challenge you this – include your daughter. Our industry needs people and we need her. Decide you’ll have the same expectations of your daughter as you do your son. Ask your wife to sit on a board you don’t have time for. Don’t say she “stays home”, if she’s beside you in the trenches farming – she’s a farmer.
For you women in the trenches, not only is it time for you to own your place of importance on your operation – it’s time to realize you can step off the farm and represent your industry on boards, committees, and with legislators. Your husband/dad/brother may even bare the brunt of the farming responsibility, but your contribution is still valued and needed. Don’t wait to be asked. Go after it.
And men? Support her, just as she does you.
You’re too busy to leave the farm and fool with _____________ agriculture organization? Good, she can. Let her represent your family, your farm, and your industry. She won’t take the responsibility lightly.
And finally… for each of those farm girls that DID accomplish big things, there was likely a family and a community behind her supporting her dreams, making sure she knew she could do it.
Be that person. Be that community.
Tell our daughters they can, then give them the space to do it.