Yes, That’s A Woman on the Skid Steer: Fall Share #1 – 10/28/20
Across the span of my farming career, I’ve encountered lots of snippets of sexism.
Sometimes the sexism is overt, like when an older male farmer neighbor will be talking to Mike and I standing together and only look at and address Mike with any farming talk or questions. He may politely turn to me and ask me about our children, but never the farm, despite the fact that I’m standing there and my visual appearance of dirty boots, weathered hands, work pants, and no make-up should give him every clue that I farm too.
Or when a male employee, who is older than me and has a lot more chest hair, exclaimed “Woah there, kiddo!” when I briefly lost hold of a piece of row cover flapping in the April wind.
Or like the time I took a box truck in need of repair to a shop. The area where I needed to park the box truck was a little too tight, with a van in the way. I didn’t feel I could maneuver the box truck without catching its side on the van – there wasn’t enough space. When I hopped out of the vehicle and asked the mechanic to move the van that was in the way, he flippantly looked out the window and responded by telling me to, “put my balls on and just do it.” Instead of standing my ground and trusting myself, I went ahead and pulled the truck forward. Then, just like I had predicted, the space was too tight by a half inch, and my truck scraped the side of his van causing considerable damage to the vehicle. Luckily he had some humility and realized he hadn’t listened to my knowledge because he’d just assumed that because I was a woman I didn’t know how to judge space and drive such a large truck.
Sometimes the sexism is very subtle… like in the form of a quick flash of surprise that travels across a man’s face when Adam’s apple-less me is behind the tractor wheel on the road or my curvy hips jump into the skid steer to unload a freight truck.
The sexism I experience can also be internalized. I started learning how to drive our farm’s many tractors about four years ago. My Dad stopped by to help with something and came out to the field to say hi to me. I was driving our large Kubota tractor. In a very proud way, my Dad said, “Look at you, girl! You’re a farmer now!” I had been farming for 10 years already at this point. I almost hit him in the face; that he could suggest that my many years of seeding, weeding, harvesting, packing, and selling food to a thriving business that I had co-created… that none of that was farming. He was suggesting the predominantly male act of running equipment was what truly made me a farmer. As much as I wanted to hit him, or least be enraged with him, I instantaneously realized that a part of me agreed with him. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that learning how to drive that tractor (and all the subsequent ones) did and does make me feel like a more legitimate farmer than all the other farming I’d done the decade prior. Despite my revulsion with my father’s comment, I believed it in some ways too… I had internalized the exact sexism I’ve witnessed in farming and threw it on myself.
As I come ever more into my role as a badass farmher, I try to be more proactive around the sexism I experience, both externally and internally. I do this by showing by doing, trusting myself, and speaking up.
When a male farmer engages only with Mike, I stay in the conversation. I don’t give up and bow out with my body language anymore. Maybe I don’t say anything, but I’ll fight for eye contact.
I work on not getting flustered when I can feel a man lowering his expectation of my abilities simply because of my gender. I breathe deeply to calm myself and think, “Show him.” Like the time a skeptical trucker, after watching me work with the skid steer to unload him, said with surprise, “Damn! You actually handle that thing well – and carefully. I wish the men who I work with would do it more like you do.”
Today, I just outright told a man to let me do my job. The moment he pulled up with his tractor and trailer, rolled his window down, and looked at my two male employees when he asked where he needed to go, I stepped forward, locked eyes with him, told him where to go, and said to myself, show him – don’t get flustered. He parked in a place that wasn’t going to make it easy to do the job, so I asked him to move. He obliged without judgment, but my ask gave him the window he needed to start bossing me around. As I began to lower the first sack of soil onto his trailer, he began barking out orders at me, telling me how to operate my own skid steer. It was overwhelming. While he may have thought he was ‘helping’, I did not need his help. I did not need an older man barking at me with a look of exasperation on his face. I took a deep breath, lowered the rpms of the skid steer so the man could hear me, and yelled, “Can you just let me do this please?” The man looked surprised and angry. He stepped off the trailer and watched me with a surly glare as I did my job. At one point a cross beam of the wooden pallet holding the soil cracked (not a huge deal – happens with these heavy loads sometimes), but in my surprise I said aloud, “Shit – I cracked it.” Gleefully, he looked up at me and said, “You sure did!” He was so angry I asked him to let me do my own job, that he was delighting in my inconsequential error.
Inhale. Exhale. Don’t get flustered. Show him. Show them.