The Farmer

I recently visited Seeds & Spores Family Farm located in Marquette, MI. The owner of this farm is a woman and many of her employees are women. This got me thinking about how we as a society typically cannot picture women as farmers or performing hard, manual labor. My mind started turning, and I began thinking about the reasons why society believes women cannot perform certain jobs or tasks. Why can we so easily picture male farmers, but we have such a hard time picturing female farmers? A quick google search confirms this—for when I typed in “strong farmers” into the search bar, a plethora of men, specifically white, muscular, rugged men emerged. Why is it so easy to picture male farmers, but not so easy to picture female farmers?

BeFunky Collage

“When most people think of a farmer, they might envision an Old MacDonald type in a straw hat—but that’s far from reality” (Ruiz-Grossman 2016). In actuality, many women are farmers. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, women make up 30 percent of all U.S. farmers (USDA 2014). One example of a strong woman farmer comes out of a struggle for food justice in The Bronx. “Karen Washington has spent decades working to promote urban farming to create access to fresh produce. She co-founded La Familia Verde coalition of urban gardeners to bring their harvest to a weekly farmer’s market in the Bronx” (Ruiz-Grossman 2016). Another story comes from Montana of the first woman to be seated on a local farming board. “Michelle Erickson farms over 8,500 acres of wheat, barley and other commodity crops in Big Sky country. A former transportation manager for UPS and Amazon, her skills in logistics, supply chain management and leadership have earned her a seat as the first woman on the officer board for the Montana Grain Growers Association” (Ruiz-Grossman 2016). As you can see, there are women farmers spread across the nation, including right here in Marquette at the Seeds & Spores Family Farm. Yet society still has these preconceived notions that women are not fit to be farmers.

The idea of an “Old MacDonald type” farmer is rooted in gender stereotypes and gender roles that have lasted generations. Gender stereotypes are typically inaccurate generalizations about males and females. The attributes are simply based on gender and are not accurate representations of an individual male or female (Brewer 2017). Today, society continues to make assumptions based on these gender stereotypes. The goal of this blog is to explore these deeply rooted stereotypes and to show the damaging effects that they have on women, specifically women in the workplace.


Because I Am a Woman

I am helpless. I am childish. I am sensitive and overly emotional. I am scatterbrained. I am not smart. I do not care about college or a career. I am not strong. I should make less money than a man. I am quiet. I am submissive, and I do as I am told. I should never be in charge. I am a damsel in distress. My looks are the only thing that matters. I love cooking and doing housework. I should be a secretary, teacher, or nurse, but never a doctor, mechanic, politician, athlete or anyone in charge. The only thing I care about is parenthood (Brewer 2017).

At least that is what society tells me.

Many of these gender stereotypes have been around for generations and are so normalized in today’s society. Gender stereotyping begins as soon as the baby is born, and when the baby is a girl, we break out the pink decorations and fill the nursery with “soft” décor, like flowers and butterflies. It is assumed that she will be very “girly,” so we buy her dresses and dolls. What these actions are doing is ultimately showing young girls how to be a stereotypical woman. In our society, young girls are quickly taught that they are supposed to wear dresses and take care of babies (Brewer 2017). In a 2017 study, it was found that girls as young as six years old are consciously affected by gender stereotypes. The study was conducted on boys and girls who were asked to evaluate a story with a gender-neutral protagonist who was described as “really, really smart.” The children were asked to choose who that protagonist might be from pictures of men and women. The results showed that girls as young as six-years-old were already significantly less likely to believe that women were “really, really smart” (Margetta 2017). As shown in this study, young girls are deeply affected by how society views women, which is incredibly disheartening. When girls are affected by stereotypes at such a young age, it is hard for these stereotypes to be changed. It is sad that we grow up in a society where girls are still taught that they are not smart or that they should only strive to be parents, and not strong women with careers.

On the other hand, as soon as a baby boy is born, their nursery is decked out in blue, and they are given jeans and boots, along with trucks and action figures, in order to make them “tough.” Boys are raised, “to be tough, to be protective, and to defend themselves” (Brewer 2017). In addition, boys are taught to mow the lawn or to perform tasks that require a lot of muscle and are made to think that regular household chores are “women’s work” (Brewer 2017).

These stereotypes last throughout the lives of men and women and can have damaging affects in many aspects of life.

Damaging Effects of Gender Stereotypes on Women in the Workplace

As of 2017, 30% of scientists and engineers are women, even though women account for more than half of the population (Margetta 2017). That is shockingly low as we live in a world where science and engineering are viewed as thriving industries. Many factors contribute to this discrepancy and in my research, I have explored the abundant ways that gender stereotyping specifically affects women in the workplace.

For starters, there continues to be jobs that are viewed as more “masculine” or not as suited for women. Among these jobs are firefighters, police officers, army generals, and electricians. In a poll conducted by YouGov, firefighting is viewed as being more suitable for a man according to 43% of men and 31% of women. In addition, 25% said that men are more suitable to be an army general (YouGov 2012). We have made strides from the way people viewed women in the workplace in the past, yet there continues to be this thinking that women are not fit to perform certain jobs.

Suitable Jobs

Another factor that stood out to me was the way gender bias can start with a job listing. In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Psychology and Personality, evidence is presented that there is subtle gender bias in the wording of job listings in the fields of engineering and technology. The study found that job listings for positions in male-dominated industries used the words “leader,” “competitive,” and “dominant,” more frequently than job listings for female-dominated professions (Guacher, Friesen and Kay 2011). If something as simple as a job listing shows gender bias, then how can we expect the actual workplace to be any different?

For example, women face many career barriers based on their gender. The purpose of a study conducted by Adrionia Molder at the University of Central Missouri was to examine men and women’s perceptions of career barriers in order to understand the current gendered workplace environment. Career barriers are defined as: “external conditions or internal states that make career progress difficult” (Molder 2015). The study found that women face the highest amount of career barriers. Among these barriers are wage and leadership gaps (Molder 2015).

As of 2015, the estimated gender pay gap is 17-cents and women earned 83% of what men earned (Brown and Patten 2017). We often hear in the news about the ways that the gender wage gap is improving each year, but there is another aspect of this situation that we do not hear about. In an article published in The New York Times, journalist Claire Miller analyzes the way pay drops as women take Male-Dominated Fields. An example of this can be found in women working in recreation, such as at national parks or camps. The makeup of this field shifted dramatically from male to female between 1950 and 2000. As a result, average wages dropped 57%. Similar instances can be seen across the board as the wages of designers dropped 34% and biologists fell 18%. On the other hand, as computer programming became more male-dominated, the wage increased. As concluded in the article, gender stereotypes are seen to be a factor in this phenomenon. Miller states, “One intriguing issue is the gender different in non-cognitive skills. Men are often said to be more competitive and self-confident than women, and according to this logic, they might be more inclined to pursue highly competitive jobs” (Miller 2016). Gender stereotyping has led society to devalue the same jobs that men have previously dominated in the past. This proves the damage that gender stereotypes can have not only on women in the workplace, but men as well. I thought that this was the most interesting aspect of my research, as it is something that I never thought of before.

This post is only a small portion of the great havoc that gender stereotypes can have on women in the workplace. In my next blog post, I will focus on how gender roles are especially damaging to women in leadership positions.

Gender Stereotypes in Female Leadership and the Leadership Gap

As of 2015, women make up only 19 percent of U.S. congressional members and less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs (Eagly 2015). Clearly, this shows that there is some sort of discrepancy between women in the general workforce and women leaders. As you go further up the ladder, there are less and less women in positions of power. This can be related back once again to gender stereotypes that are firmly ingrained in society. The most defining gender stereotypes of men is agency. In our society, men are supposed to be “agentic,” meaning that they are achievement-oriented, inclined to take charge, assertive, reliable, and independent. On the other hand, women are more “communal,” meaning that they are kind, sensitive, understanding, and obedient (Heilman 2012). While these stereotypes are not negative when taken at face value, they are seen as negative in the workplace. “Americans think of leaders as being more agentic than communal” (Eagly 2015). This idea leads to difficulties for women to succeed and to be taken seriously as leaders.

An article written in The Atlantic, describes the experiences that a woman named Bethanye Blount had working in the Silicon Valley. Blount is a senior software engineer in her 30s working at a company that runs an online virtual world named Second Life. One day, Blount came into work to interview a job applicant and this job applicant “barely gave her the time of day” (Mundy 2017). The applicant continually blew her off with a flippant comment every time she tried to ask him about his skills or the requirements of the job. Blount describes that this is not an uncommon experience for women in the tech industry. “It was a reminder that as women in tech, she should be prepared to have her authority questioned at any moment, even by some guy trying to get a job at her company” (Mundy 2017). Blount describes similar experiences that she has had working in tech over the years from male colleagues asking her to take notes in meetings to being told to “fetch the coffee” (Mundy 2017).

Unfortunately, the experiences that Bethanye Blount had are all too common for women in the workplace, especially for women in male-dominated industries. Yusumit Barrios writes in an article published in the Journal of Academic and Business Ethics that woman leaders are subject to the leadership style stressor (Barrios 2013). This means that when women express a stereotypical masculine leadership style, they are viewed as unpopular and disliked by their peers. This can be seen in the way society perceives successful women leaders as cold and hostile. These perceptions are captured in sayings such as “dragon lady” or “ice queen” (Heilam 2012). On the other hand, if women express femininity as a leader, they are viewed as incapable of performing their jobs (Barrios 2013). Blount experiences this stress as a female leader because others constantly question her authority.

Women Leaders in Farming

This trend of women being absence from leadership positions can be seen in farming. As previously referenced, one in three farmers in the U.S. are women, but the farther you go up the less women you see. According to the USDA, women control seven percent of the U.S. farmland (USDA 2014). Even though more and more women are present in the farming industry, they are being held back from positions of power. I believe this is a scary situation because men are continually controlling the highest positions in the industry and leaving a leadership gap for women. Farming is only one example of an industry in which men control the highest positions.

Women Leaders of Color

Women of color face a “double burden” in respect to their gender and their race. “Gender and racial stereotypes overlap to create unique—and uniquely powerful—stereotypes” (Thomson 2016). Women of color are even more underrepresented in leadership than women on a more general scale. For example, statistics show that black women make up 8% of the private sector, but only 1.5% of leadership positions. Women of color call this discrepancy the “concrete ceiling”, and it is something that they must face every day (Thomson 2016).

Women of Color

Defying Gender Stereotypes: The Female Farmer Project

The Female Farmer Project has the goal of shattering the stereotypical image of a male farmer and showing that America’s farmers are really women (Ruiz-Grossman 2016). This program is a documentary project whose goal is to present the rise of women in agriculture. The project features essays, portraits, and podcasts from women farmers from around the globe. The goal of the project is to give women farmers a voice (Mulkern 2017).

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Check out The Female Farmer Project Podcast:

Recommended Reads: Women Protagonists who Break Gender Roles

 In this post I would like to include some of my favorite books that feature strong, female protagonists. Each of these books, ranging from poetry, to young adult, to nonfiction essays, contains strong women and women who defy gender stereotypes. I personally have read and would recommend each and every one of these books. I have provided Goodreads links on the cover of each book for easy access to a full synopsis. Happy reading!