My Incompetence as a Farmer and Why I Blame Patriarchy

Okay, so some of you may think this is a stretch, but lemme give it a shot.

Here’s where I’ve thus proven myself incompetent on the farm (I’m interning on an 150-member organic Community Supported Agriculture farm; I’ve been here a month):

I lack hand and arm and core muscle.

I’m not drill savvy – I needed to get a screw into purling (for a hoop house we’re putting together) and I couldn’t tell forwards from backwards in terms of which way the screw was moving. I just struggled for a while and then assumed I didn’t have the arm strength to do it.

I didn’t know that for tractors and stick shift cars, you have to park them in a gear or they roll backwards. I failed at parking the tractor in the proper spot, after multiple tries, and I later almost caused the car to roll into a pond (I was able to save it with 2 meters to spare; it did take out the horse fence).

I didn’t and don’t know what to listen to in terms of an engine (i.e. how to tell when you’ve given it enough throttle).

I didn’t know how to hitch a trailer or a tractor accessory.

I can’t back up a trailer.

I am not very good at starting a fire.

I don’t know to look for plastic on or near a wood burning stove before lighting a fire. I just end up with a pool of melted plastic and a house full of fumes.

Here’s why I think some of these incompetencies wouldn’t exist if patriarchy weren’t shedding it’s lovely shadow over our existence: 

I didn’t have a dad around for much of my life to show me how to use tools. When he was around, tools weren’t something he could afford to buy, and there wasn’t the time or money to do things like camp or hunt. My mom, while quite skillful in a lot of areas, doesn’t usually fix things herself. It might be a lack of time, as she works a lot (blame other structures for that, such as academia and capitalism and the nonprofit industrial complex), but it could also be that her dad passed his fix it skills onto the boys in the family – all my mom’s brothers are pretty savvy – and not the girls. Similarly, my mom’s brother and other men in our lives who were handy didn’t pass their skills onto me. Sure, they tickled and teased me (and there was the time that our tree trimmer friend put me in the harness and let me go up into the elm, and he gave my barbie the name Tree Trimmer Barbie) but even when I got to go fishing, they didn’t put a hook on my line! And I’m convinced it was not because I was 3, but because I was a girl raised by a single mother and an immigrant dad.

Maybe this is a stretch.

The point is, I feel incompetent out here on the farm. I guess that’s what you get with a city girl goes to western Wisconsin. It is quite possible that programs such as Boy Scouts prepare guys for country living a little more than what’s available for girls. And men are told to train their bodies, be tough – women aren’t. Men are supposed to be the handy ones, so I’m guessing they’re more likely to seek out or, through social pressure, be exposed to tools and machines and mechanical skills. Leaving me in the dust.

The farmer I work for is a single woman and she is often defending her know how and her ability to do things herself – whether it’s carrying a heavy load, trouble shooting the new sand point well, or getting the water feature working on her antique transplanter. She tells stories of always being the minority, and perceiving certain attitudes when at a meeting or buying supplies. I am interested in interviewing her about her experience as a single woman farmer in rural Wisconsin. If anyone has interview question suggestions, please post them in the comments. 


I can, at least, bottle feed the calves.

Ideally, I would have done some research for this post to back up some of my claims about male handiness being socially constructed, but life on the farm means I need to be rushing outside right now. Wish us luck transplanting today!

Written by Magdalena Kaluza

Tagged , , , ,

4 thoughts on “My Incompetence as a Farmer and Why I Blame Patriarchy

  1. mike says:

    I will regret leaving this . As the new age left will go after me. It seems like you are upset with guys. Like we had it easy. Like I had a choice. we were showed how to toil with tools. We were young and we learned. we did what older people would tell us. Where they steered us
    What the adults would show us, there knowledge , that they knew. What was good for a young man that didn’t learn well in school. we were steered to building trades because. we did not have the ability to learn like you . Because of birth and old teaching styles. . You got fantastic grades. A great educations. An education worth millions. And you got that on your studying. Your work. While you were studying getting these grades others were working. You have the ability to learn. You know that. Power tools and leverage and parking in gear and all the other stuff will come. . you are learning the whole time. After this summer you will be so much more. You will be savvy in education and working with your hands and farms and agriculture.. it is another semester for you. You will be damn near a complete unit! You will be something. You will be a special woman. For all the critics. I will never answer there condemnations of me. Magdalena you are special and after this you will be even more special.. You know how to learn .

    You have that skill. YOU GO GIRL!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Carol Lee Chase says:

    I hear what you are saying about how knowledge is passed on but I think what you are talking about are skills that you learn when you need to use them. And sometimes you have to learn on the fly – when the situation demands it, My dad didn’t teach me shit about how anything works. as a matter of fact my brother taught my dad how to fish and hunt and all that stuff that guys are “supposed” to know how to do. My mom was more into showing me the mechanics of the sewing machine and how to make it run well. Which served me. I still can’t sew well but I can get the machine running.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. claire says:

    Hey hey hey you should talk to Lila! The farm she lives on is run by a young heterosexual couple who have talked in the past about the strange and frustrating and maybe ok ? ways that gender plays into the way they work. Super interesting stuff.
    Awesome essay, mag, best of luck in your work and remember that smashing doesnt always have to be physical (but sometimes it does! alksjlksfhsdflsjlkl;ads; )

    Liked by 1 person

  4. toastie072 says:

    I was talking to a friend of mine bout this here piece you wrote, and this is not the first time we’ve discussed women’s roles in agriculture. Paige is actually studying agriculture (of some form I don’t know exactly aha) at the U of M and grew up on a farm in rural MN, and here’s some of her thoughts…

    “I can very much understand [Magdalena’s] perspective of how she feels incompetent. Sadly, I feel a little less adequate knowing I’ve grown up around selective tractors and such machinery but am still unable to properly use them as well. I also feel for her, knowing she did not always have a male-figure in her life to teach her these things. I know a lot of the machinery, farm and labor skills I have learned have come from my dad.

    [Magdalena should] ask [her boss] about factors that have negatively stumped her path to success. Ask her why she wanted to start and organic farm. Ask her about what professional organizations she is involved with or can become involved with to gain more respect, resources and support for her career. Finally, ask more in depth about her education level- did she attend college for Farm Management or Bio-productions and Systems, or something along those lines. What does she feel makes her qualified in her position and how can she address others’ concerns and, I don’t want to say prove, but prove herself to others.

    Females in agriculture face decades of stigmas towards us as “housewives” or playing a secondary role, when in reality, women have always been involved in agricultural pursuits, it just has not be recognized as that way. We all know the phrase, “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” and it very much applies to females in agriculture. Men have been seen as holding the hard-labor workload, but females have run the home, the office, the financial books, and other various chores around the farm just as much as men.”

    she offers some great insight, so i had to pass it along!

    Liked by 1 person

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