Dissertation Diaries IV: Old Macdonald had a Farm

S'later Dissertation Diaries, I think this’ll be the last for now! Farming will no doubt reoccur on my agenda soon but for the time being I shall leave you with this final thought… 

British farmers tend to be typecast as one of two sorts – think the Downton Abbey-esque gentrified estate owner or the salt of the earth hill billy type. These examples show a mainstream exposure  to farmers in everyday life so even if you don’t come across a farmer to speak to, you may have heard the stereotypes as insults,  in jokes or fancy dress. These out-dated representations equate a farmer with an old man; remember the nursery rhyme Old Macdonald had a Farm? Well this hit home to me as illustrative of the male orientated structure. 

Modern day farmers are male or female yet it seems that men are more commonplace and accepted. In the past, women have struggled to gain access to land as it tended to be passed down to sons so inequality in resources was both a cause and effect for farming not to be seen as a suitable career for women. To be a good farmer was to be a good man as toughness and strength were thought to be characteristic of masculinity, valued and seemingly the opposite to women. Wives were seen to offer a vital role in supplementing the farm work, albeit unpaid, of domestic and emotional support. Sometimes they would be drawn upon to help with farm work in times of need but otherwise they remained on the periphery, perpetuating a sense that women couldn’t be farmers. 

More women are entering farming in their own right according to official statistics (yipeee!) thanks to greater access to agricultural education which allows women to establish themselves in the field on their own merit and as their own choice. The machinery has changed too, for many this makes farming physically less demanding and requires more technological intellect than ever before. 

There’s certainly been progress away from the ‘Old Macdonald Had a Farm’ mentality but there’s still a long way to go to achieve women’s equality in farming (boo)! As I found out in my research, although there are more women farming, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are treated any better in their role.

What comes to mind when you think of a farmer?

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