Femininity, sexism, feminism, equality, culturally imposed and forgotten norms that systematically oppress and hurt women, the refusal and denial for so many of us to see, think, feel, and talk about white male dominance and privilege, the constant second guessing of a women's first hand account of frustration and struggle with "her place" in our world, these are the words and phrases that come to mind as I try to articulate the subject line of this blog post. It is certainly different from my usual farm musings around this reflective time of year that I post. But it is years in the making and finally I am giving public voice to it. This is for every woman and man I know, farmers, mothers, friends, and daughters.
So I have been farming along side of my husband for 6 years solid now. Before that I worked on a farm for three years here in ND. We have built a very successful business together. We recently bought a farm and our dreams are really coming into fruition. We also recently decided to expand our family and add another little rascal into the mix. Both my husband and I desired to have another child, yet naturally, as the woman in our relationship that meant me becoming pregnant and my body bearing the child. This is a beautiful sacred gift that I am enjoying and thankful for. It does mean however that farming this season became extremely difficult for me. The 60-80 hour long manual labor work weeks became horrific. My body just needed to rest, to have the space and time it needed to grow and nurture myself, and the child within. We adjusted, and come July of this season I stepped back and Brian had to carry the burden of the farm alone for a while. We did hire a couple of absolutely amazing workers and now friends, and they have helped carry us through this season of change. I struggled very much when I quit farming this season. I had actively worked so hard to build Riverbound Farm alongside my husband. We were a team, completely equal. We both worked from morning till night both of our backs, our sweat, and our tears built this business equally. Yet, it always seemed that I had a bit more of a chip on my shoulder than Brian to "prove myself as a farmer". I took it so much more personally every time a crop failed. I was so much more stressed to please our CSA members. For the last 6 years I maintained the struggle, an uphill battle to make this farm happen. Then I became pregnant this summer, I stepped back and breathed. For the first time in 6 years farming wasn't ruling my life, defining me, running me. We decided to start homeschooling our children again, work towards bringing more balance to our lives, canning, food preservation, cooking, breathing. I then discovered what that meant. I was home alone, isolated from society in my kitchen. No longer was I out working on the farm, interacting with the couple hundred CSA members that I have so enjoyed providing food for for the last 6 years. I was now alone in our home, rendered invisible. I waited and knew that stepping back from our daily farm chores would prove to be for the best, but my ego was having death throws. Who was I now? Losing my lable as "farmer Angie" was like losing a part of myself that I could easily define and use to help me interact in society. I am a farmer. I am a business owner. I am valid now. We do not live in a culture that values anyone you cannot place a dollar value on, a degree with, or job title alongside of. We live in a culture of institutionally dictated merit. Your salary, your college degree, your qualifications. Our homes have been disenfranchised, broken up. Our children are in schools separated from us and any real world work. We need institutionalized qualifications to be be deemed fit enough to lead. Our homes sit empty all day while we work a job deemed important and valid enough to go to college for. Our kitchens are wastelands, a place where a can is opened and housing for soulless boxes of processed foods. But if we see this and break free from this culture of selling ourselves to the highest bidder, one who provides us with security, health insurance, a retirement plan and we try to take back our homes, our children, our kitchens we then become disenfranchised from society, we then become lableless, valueless, and invisible.
What does this have to do with being a woman and our farm? I have struggled balancing two worlds for the past 6 years. Moving cattle while I had a baby on my back. Breastfeeding while I struggled to get our food to the farmer's market. Defining myself in the white male dominated world of farming, alongside my husband, while trying to care for my children and keep a home. The role and skill that took precedence was the easily defined skill "farmer" that gave me a voice, that gave me an attempt at equality and relevance. But all these years time and time again I have had to swallow my pride while Brian was serving on boards, asked technical advice on farming, and asked to teach classes pertaining to farming. I have had to struggle while Brian was asked by the state of North Dakota to serve on an advisory board and watch while he was asked for interviews while I was left voiceless and in the dark.
Yesterday, a film crew showed up at our farm and blatantly left me voiceless. They chose to try to represent our farm only through Brian. Brian was told by the film crew to stop saying we and to only talk about himself. Brian and I operate in a world of, we, and we choose to not live in, I. Yesterday after yelling at the film crew, calling them out on their sexism and storming away, I realized something profound. I do not have an ego problem. I have not been struggling to prove myself in the farming world for the past 6 years because I am insecure or because I have made choices that have led to this constant inequality. I am not at fault for feeling like I have to constantly defend my equality on our farming operation. It is not because Brian answers the phone, or because Brian has more knowledge about farming. It is because I have grown up in a culture of white male privilage and dominance and we all have had a role to play in actively perpetuating the cycle. As a girl and then woman, I have felt the need my whole life to make my voice heard. Time and time again Brian and I worked together on a project or various farm, and he was recognized for his "qualifications" . He could operate the tractor, he was "the latest find". While I quietly did more than my share of the work needed to be done, while caring for children, usually on my back or at breast, he was given the credit. He was asked the questions. He was addressed in technical decision making and conversation. We all do this together unconsciously. I didn't speak up, I didn't understand, I just always felt a need to prove myself. Now at the age of 33, I finally can break free from blaming myself or accepting the excuses made. Whether we unconsciously participate or not, we keep the wheels greased and the machine in motion. Pay inequality in the work place, unequal health care options, not recognizing the value of giving women the opportunity to care and nurse OUR babies (meaning both men and women's children) beyond the 6 weeks of maternity leave. I think particularly in ND there is a much slower rate of equality. Women are either expected to be good girls who don't ever speak up and play by all the rules or act as over sexualized objects on display, who's value is validated based on hottness.
After I had an outburst against the film crew for their blatent sexism and male portrayal of Riverbound Farm, I was given a list of reasons, as usual, as to why I am partially responsible for not having been recognized. I am done accepting these reasons and answers for why I should suck it up and accept voicelessness. I am done falling victim to the rat race mentality of put up or shut up, a fight for recognition or else attitudes.
White male privilege is alive and doing well in America. This is a statistical fact whether proven through pay gaps between genders and races or shown through the prison system, or the false representation of Americans through a white male dominated government. White males are more likely to receive a "good education", a pay raise, a college degree, a promotion, a small business loan. All of these institutionalized merits then lead to even more validation of white male authority. We live in a world where we go to the system for validation and then more validation and then more validation, it is a perpetuating cycle of promotion and oppression. You didn't get that raise, must be your fault, you only earn 70% of that of your male counterpart, it must be your fault. You need to take the day off work to care for a sick child, well it is usually the mother that is expected to care for and then penalized for bearing our young. Women are given the pressure and guilt to choose between home life, children, and independence. Men do not face this pressure to the same extent. I can not speak on behalf of the struggles of a racial minority, but I can only suppose that they are ten fold the struggles that I experience as a white woman in the state of North Dakota. I am not a good girl, I never have been. I speak my mind and I don't conform. I am not an over sexualized barbie either. I am a hard working, intelligent, outspoken woman who struggles between balancing the needs of my children, myself, and those of my community as a whole. I know that none of the women in this world can be placed in the roles that society tries so hard to have us conform to. Men too, white or not, face societal pressure to conform and fall into line or else, or else no health care, or else no retirement, or else no recognition or merit.
Let us take back our homes, our food, our children's freedom and minds, let us free our sprits to dream, and feel the sparks of imagination and inspiration. Let us stop perpetuating a culture of brain numbing drug and alcohol use, a society of over sexualized children and adults, a society where we are dependant upon the "system" for a degree validating our knowlege and deeming us worthy for work. We have the power to take back our lives, to redefine our value. We all have the power within us. Let us speak up when we see inequality. Let us refuse to keep conforming to oppression and false representation of who we need to be, what we should look like, and what our dreams should be. Let us take back our minds, bodies, and hearts from "the expected norms". Let us not live in fear and free ourselves up to dream together and co create a new world filled with equality and true freedom to be.
So this goes out to women everywhere, our voices need to be heard, our opinions represented, and no excuses accepted.