There's a right way and wrong way to fight sexism in ag
The following commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of AgWeb or Farm Journal Media. The opinions expressed below are the author's own.
The first time I lay laid eyes on it, a coworker had shared it on Facebook with the comment of "mansplaining‚..." Recognizing the column of that from a former editor, I read on with one part humor, three parts irritation.
"The Top 10 'above and beyond' farm wife qualities," by Mark Parker, Farm Talk Newspaper - a 10-point satire poking fun at farm wives for reading romance novels in the grain elevator lines and possessing perfect skill when it came to washing seed company hats and reheating dinner.
"Dang, Mark," I thought to myself. "You're playing with fire.' And mindlessly hit the "like" button on my coworker's post and went along with my day.
Now before we go any further, I would like to say I made my start in agricultural journalism with Farm Talk. What started as an eager kid in high school with a borrowed camera writing county fair articles turned into a degree, which then followed as the associate editor of Farm Talk straight out of college. My editor at the time was a year older than I and together we ran the editorial for the four-state newspaper as two wet-behind-the-ears young women tracking down leads on anything from making haylage for dairy production to black mold on corn crops.
Each week, as had been done every week for years prior to that, Mark Parker, the former editor of Farm Talk for 30 years, came out of retirement to send in his "Top 10" for page 3, a regional favorite satire on rural stereotypes, making fun of anyone and everyone. A few months after starting at Farm Talk, my editor got married to her Kentucky farmer husband and Mark came further out of retirement to fill the gap. During the remainder of my time at the weekly paper, Mark allowed me to push on, never once throwing his seniority into the equation.
Ok, back to the top 10.
The article in question made its first appearance years ago, and was directly influenced by a specific woman who partnered in the family farm with her husband and shamelessly loved to catch up on romance novels during harvest. But within a couple days of the article seeing light of day in a more modern world, female influencers in the ag community began to lash out online. What was once rightful frustration quickly turned to flat out hate and a rally to retaliate, with thought leaders in agricultural advocacy using their social platforms as rebuttals with no questions asked of the author. This continued to escalate with Mark receiving multiple emails calling him a sexist and saying he has no business in agriculture - never mind that he spent 30 years of his life working with researchers and ag producers in rural America, is a huge supporter of the women in his life and has mentored many women to go on and become successful professionals in the ag community.
Were there offensive points in the satire? For some women, absolutely. To others, not at all. Were the offenses in question horrendous enough to publicly crucify his career? Hell no.
Regardless of what you think, misconception is something women in ag will deal with at one point or another when arriving to work in a more feminine package. Wait, strike that, misconception is something that every single living and breathing person must deal with in his or her lifetime. Is it fair? No. Is it going to change? No. Does the way the situation is handled has a direct result on the outcome? Absolutely.
For those of you who are outraged, I understand your anger. As someone who has worked in production ag all her young life, I know how irritating it is to not be taken seriously because of ignorance. But I also know there is nothing more satisfying than channeling that anger into productively and owning your respect. And that for every one person trying to ignorantly stand in your way, there are 10 more cheering you on.
There is a right way and a wrong way to go about challenging sexism in ag, and rallying the troops to attack and publicly go after the offender's head is not the way to do it. The classic online mob mentality of shoot, ask questions later and maybe listen that the entire agricultural industry fights on a daily basis was flipped on its head for Mark to experience first-hand. Admittedly, I contributed to the mob by clicking "like" on the Facebook post without forming a better opinion on the matter.
The point of this article is not to paint Mark as the villain or victim, but to productively shape the direction of future conversations. If the author's mode of action had been that of a male chauvinist (for the record, Mark Parker is not), then the women in retaliation failed miserably, shining dim light on their cause with poorly written emails and cocky Facebook comments.
In my time as a professional journalist, I have had the opportunity to pick the brains of some of the ag industry's women pioneers. I get goosebumps thinking about their stories, which include starting out as the only woman in college ag classes, taking on the country's oldest ranch after the death of a husband and being expected to fail, devoting a life towards developing a new breed of cattle and successfully serving as the first women in national leadership positions. These women came from different backgrounds and walks of life, yet had multiple things in common - they rose above negativity and didn't let anyone or any perception get in their way of success. Because of trailblazers like these and others, we have reached a point in time where the thought of a woman farmer, rancher or business leader is not even given a second thought.
While we will have our challengers, we also have our advocates. While we will have mountains worth dying on, we will have some battles that are best passed by.
Welcome to the real world, ladies. She can be real mother.