Farmers Fashioning Femininity


I stumbled across this news article recently which happens to resonate with the findings of my undergraduate research - that women in farming can seek to accentuate their femininity through dress. Overalls (also known as the boiler suit) seemingly are a form of workwear which serve the practical function of protection. But, the article reports a new range designed especially for women which draws attention to how dress helps constitute gender identities, especially in the traditionally masculine domain of farming.

Grace, designer and farmer, "wanted to look like a girl" which alludes to the need to establish congruence between biological sex and gender presentation in everyday life. As Twigg (2013) notes, dress sits at the threshold of the physical and the social body so the meanings attached to clothing style and colour may imbue femininity as a visual signifier of an internal reality. The rationale for the collection of pink and floral overalls is based on the view that appearance can be symbolic of one's identity. Gender is presented as a project which resonates with the suggestion of West and Zimmerman (1987) that men and women ‘do’ gender in interaction.

The embodied identity constructions of gender and farming are brought to the fore in this example. The overalls are used as a ‘boundary marker’ or 'gendering practice' (Martin, 2003) to align with conventional expectations of femininity, yet also to show that women can farm.  By resisting a tomboy position, as Grace professes, she contrasts her sense of self with the masculine ideal and the stereotypical identity category of a farmer. Accordingly, dress can make visible that farming and femininity are compatible and highlights the agency of individuals to actively manage their image of the self.  

Grace "hopes the products will help empower women in farming". This refers to women setting their selves apart from dominant clothing practices. Bourdieu believes that the battle for style distinction is a battle for social power (Entwistle, 2015). Accordingly, resistance to the current gender order and ambiguous status of tomboy can challenge the status of masculinity in the field. However, as a side note, naming the brand "Pretty Bird" doesn't do the cause any favours, as it seems to reproduce the association between women and their appearance, as opposed to their capability.

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