Thoughts on Womanhood, Gender Roles, and Agriculture
Updated: Aug 28
Recently, we are starting to acknowledge that being a woman is not limited to beauty, gender, anatomy, or sexual orientation. It entails other things, but what exactly are they?
Whenever I’ve asked women what it means to be a woman, they’ve become startled. I recognize it’s not an easy question, but why is it so hard to answer? Is the patriarchy to blame?
According to Srivastava et al. (2017), women have been suppressed over centuries, their rights as a human being were neglected, and they were treated as a lower part of the society, restricting their roles to household chores and birthing.
I am an echo of the past that comes to awaken the woman of the future. - Ana Roque de Duprey, writer, educator, suffragist and one of the founders of the University of Puerto Rico
Giving some thought to our identity
No one is born a woman because womanhood is the stage of life that comes after childhood, puberty, and adolescence. As something that’s learned over the years, it requires time. It’s a process of failing, succeeding, and learning. What I dislike about womanhood is its correlation with femininity. We’ve all heard that a woman needs to be feminine, and we’ve believed it, but according to whom?
Just because we are silent, doesn’t mean we agree. - Clarissa Pinkola Estes, American writer, and Jungian psychoanalyst
As women, we’ve been generally told to be obedient, to sit with our legs closed, to comb our hair, to wear bras, and not to curse. We’re mostly seen as mothers and wives, which creates a sense of pride for many, but not for all. There’s nothing wrong with being seen this way, what’s wrong is believing that this is the only way. The capacity to give birth cannot be ignored when it comes to womanhood, but it doesn’t define it entirely.
This is why I see womanhood as a way of thinking and acting. It’s an inner strength that develops with age and entails valuing both strengths and weaknesses. It’s accepting ourselves just as we are but, acknowledging that there is always room for improvement. If we stop and think about this, it isn’t women-specific, right? Then, is womanhood not women-specific? Perhaps it’s linked to gender roles like femininity is. I think it's important to question these terms. By not doing so, society will not change and people who don’t follow gender roles will continue being oppressed.
Then, what is gender, what are gender roles, and what is gender inequality?
Merriam Webster defines gender as ‘the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex’. Gender should not be confused with sex, which refers to the biological categories of male and female; sex is biology, gender is sociology (Quisumbing, 1996). Similarly, gender roles have been described as society’s shared beliefs that apply to individuals based on their socially identified sex (Eagly, 2009) and are closely related to gender stereotypes (Eisenchlas, 2013). These are conceptualized as the descriptive aspects of gender roles, as they depict the attributes that an individual ascribes to a group of people (Eagly & Mladinic, 1989). Gender inequality is the lack of parity in the representation of women and men in key dimensions of social life; gender equality exists when women and men are represented and rewarded equally (Young et al., 1994).
In agriculture, gender inequality is manifested in 5 areas (Sexsmith, 2017):
1. Land rights - Most women don’t occupy leadership positions on farms because most of them don’t own land or have a small plot. (Folta et al., 2012).
2. Productive resources - FAO (2011) attributes the gender gap to the lack of resources, markets, services, and opportunities for women to be successful farmers, and this gap becomes bigger in rural areas.
3. Unpaid work - The European Institute for Gender Equality stated that women's involvement in the labor market tends to be limited by the time spent in unpaid household activities, in fulfilling the gender role. Women earn approximately 77% of what men do for the same job (Gillespie, 2014). Specifically, hispanic, black, and native women earn even less than white women. The National Women’s Law Center estimated that based on today’s wage gap:
‘Latinas women’s career losses mount to $1,121,440. Latinas’ “lifetime wage gap” exists in every state across the country—and Latinas’ career losses based on today’s wage gap would amount to more than $1 million in 27 states.
Black women would lose $941,600 over the course of a 40-year career compared to white, non-Hispanic men. Black women’s career losses based on today’s wage gap would amount to more than $1 million in 12 states.
Native women would lose $1,035,360 over the course of a 40-year career compared to white, non-Hispanic men. Native women’s career losses based on today’s wage gap would amount to more than $1 million in 16 states.’
4. Employment - FAO (2011) stated that ‘women are more likely than men to hold low-wage, part-time, seasonal employment and they tend to be paid less even when their qualifications are higher than men’s’.
5. Decision making - Male opinion is given more weight than female.
However, gender inequality is reflected in other venues as well.
1. Familial status - In Aisha Khan’s article for The Decision Lab, she describes that a common women stereotype in the workplace is that they don’t take their work as seriously as men, and it’s reflected when a woman takes her maternity leave or when she brings her kids to work. This projects an erroneous assumption that women are more concerned about family rather than work leading to the thought that if they dedicate less time to work, then they deserve less pay. However, this does not apply to men.
2. Microaggressions - Psychology professor, Kevin Nadal, defines them as, “the everyday, subtle, intentional (and oftentimes unintentional) interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups.” Unfortunately, ethnicity and race are focal points for microaggressions.
3. Dress codes - Clothing is a statement that's strongly attached to gender roles. In the workplace, women are expected to look a certain way to be seen as ‘professional’. Pencil skirts, dresses, high heels, and makeup are the workplace dress code, but who decided this and why? It only feeds gender stereotypes. In terms of agriculture, in the field, this isn’t seen as much but in academia, it’s seen during seminars, conferences, and meetings.
4. Sexual harassment - Team member, Carolina L. Gonzalez Berrios discusses this topic in a separate article but I want to point out that according to the NASEM 2018 report, academia is second to the military on the workforce list of sexual harassment. Mostly, it’s driven by organizational power and authority from men in higher positions than women (Gonzalez-Berrios, 2020).
This seems complex, so let’s use an example.
It's Emily’s first day on the farm. Today’s work is harvesting. At the end of the shift, the boxes have to be stored in the warehouse. Emily grabs a box and an employee says to her, ‘Hey, that’s too heavy for you. Let me do it.’ Emily responds, ‘It’s ok. I got it' but he grabs the box from Emily’s hand.
Imagine the same scenario, but instead of Emily, it’s Robert. Would the worker grab the bag from Robert’s hands? Would he say the same things to Robert? He’d probably say, ‘Hey, new guy, how about you store the boxes all by yourself? You seem like you can handle it, right?’ Robert might respond, ‘It’s ok, I got it.’
Emily is female, Robert is male. Sex is clear. Now, what’s their gender? Emily is a woman and Robert is a man. Emily’s standard gender roles are house-specific, raising children, cooking, cleaning, and looking after the family. Robert’s typical male stereotype is that he must be strong and generate income for the family.
Now, where do Emily and Robert fit in the areas described earlier?
Neither one of them owns the farm, nor is in charge of its operations. Probably, both were employed as seasonal workers while the other worker could be a permanent one. This disparity gives the worker a sense of superiority over Emily and Robert. Emily’s response meant nothing to the worker while Robert’s was reassuring, even though they were the same.
Agriculture by definition is the art, science and, practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, raising livestock, and its marketing. It does not stipulate that it’s strictly an activity for strong males. Why can’t Emily be seen as strong and Robert as weak? Gender roles play against both of them. If agriculture doesn’t ‘fit’ in the typical female gender role but is perfectly suited for the male stereotype, then the problem isn’t agriculture, it’s the gender roles. These are harmful because they pressure women and men to behave in a certain way to be accepted in society.
A philosophical venue
Agriculture is not male nor female; it’s the land giving birth and by cultivating the land, the mind, body, and spirit are cultivated as well. Biologically, women share with the land the capacity to bear life, something men cannot relate to. However, this does not limit men’s involvement. Just as the land isn’t valued or respected, women aren’t either nor men who don’t ‘fit' the male stereotype. It's our responsibility to change that.
We seek liberty to be ourselves, to break free from stereotypes and gender roles. We may have been taught to follow the rules, but we have dug our ways around them. We aspire to create a better world where there are no limits to what a person can do. We must learn to listen and act upon our inner voice and not allow ourselves to be defined by society. I now know that a woman is anything that she wants to be, as is a man and a non-binary person; there is no correct definition. We are all on a quest to find ourselves but, it’s not a race; we all have our own pace and place.
Like all women, my path to womanhood is unique. No two paths are the same. Each of us travels with different privileges, challenges, and perspectives - some limiting, others illuminating. - Sarah McBride, an American transgender rights activist
My last thought is to question the purpose of gender. Will a day ever come in which there is no gender, just people, like the land, that is neither female nor male?
I would like to close with an excerpt from We Should All Be Feminists, written by the Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:
The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.
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Eisenchlas, S. 2013. Gender Roles and Expectations: Any Changes Online? SAGE Open. I-II. doi: 10.1177/2158244013506446.
FAO. 2011. The State of Food and Agriculture. Women In Agriculture, Closing the gender gap for development. http://www.fao.org/3/i2050e/i2050e.pdf.
Folta, S. C., R. A. Seguin, J. Ackerman and M. E. Nelson. 2012. A qualitative study of leadership characteristics
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Gillespie, Kathleen M. 2014. Unequal Pay: The Role of Gender. Honors Theses and Capstones. 205. https://scholars.unh.edu/honors/205.
Gonzalez-Berrios, C. L. 2020. Women in Academia: How do we change culture from within? https://www.womeninagscience.org/post/women-in-academia.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. 2018. Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. [Press release]. Retrieved from: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24994/sexual-harassment-of-women-climate-culture-and-consequences-in-academic.
Sexsmith, K. 2017. Promoting Gender Equality in Foreign Agricultural Investments: Lessons from voluntary sustainability standards. Winnipeg: IISD. Retrieved from https://www.iisd.org/sites/default/files/publications/promoting-genderequality-foreign-agricultural-investments.pdf.
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