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
“Power is the combined force of a multitude of voices joined together…”
Junior year in my high school US History class we held a presidential-election-tournament-deal, where everyone represented at least one US president whom has ever existed. I drew Ronald Reagan.
That was five years ago now, so the exact details are fuzzy, but when it was my turn to debate with the quieter, more reserved student portraying Franklin D. Roosevelt, I won. Method of victory: slander.
Years of viewing politics from only an outsiders’ perspective, it seemed to be the correct way. Louder, more boisterous and arguably funnier than my opponent, I barraged him with unfavorable facts about FDR; facts that were totally irrelevant to the true meaning of politics, but would nonetheless allow me to win (as many actual presidents before me) in a landslide.
At the time, my teacher was completely shocked that I, Reagan, had won the class vote—especially over FDR. While we were learning the politics of campaign work, we were not learning how to ‘do’ effective politics.
It was not until four years later when I decided to take part in the Inequality in America off-campus study program here in the Twin Cities that I truly learned what ‘doing politics’ meant. I was interning as a community organizer for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, while in the class was learning about organizing people to create social change. Not only did my course delve into community organizing through labor movements, but we also learned how to lobby for policies, and what that entails. This was a very transformative and empowering experience because I had never been told that my voice as a citizen and community member could create change—that my voice could, should and would be heard.
In Ken Burns PBS series Wynton Marsalis likens democracy to jazz, “In American life, you have all these different agendas. You have conflict. And we’re attempting to achieve harmony through conflict…that’s what jazz music is. It’s exactly like democracy… The real power of jazz is that a group of people can come together and improvise…negotiate their agendas with each other” (Boyte 2001).
I like this definition of politics. It represents how as a democracy our collective voices are heard and harmonize to create effective policies. Unfortunately, in our day and age I feel that this view of our democracy has been lost. The only voices heard, are those loud enough to speak over others, usually with their dollars.
In high school I perpetuated this skewed political paradigm and took on the role of the only voice heard by trampling over my quieter opponent. If anything this victory could be likened to the victory of Reagan himself; a rich television actor who “fit” the role of president to a tee. How could he not win? His voice was extremely loud as a wealthy celebrity. But did his popular voice mean he was politically experienced and knowledgeable? Not exactly. Did it mean he knew what the people of this country wanted or needed? I’m not sold. But like in my high school, the silent masses simply went with my overpowering singular voice.
Having learned more of the political and everyday context around Reagan over time, I now see why my teacher was so shocked that I beat FDR. Personally, I am ashamed of my own pride in winning this debate. Looking back on this experience, I wonder how my teacher could have ever let that happen.
Now, don’t think that it was my history teachers fault that I was not an active citizen at that time—it was a variety of aspects made up by my entire environment growing up. If anything, I would consider this teacher one of the most influential women I had met up until that point in my life. She was my first glimpse at feminism and the level of inequality in our political system. Every day my actions and beliefs are shaped by the classes I took with her in high school. At that time though, my 16-year-old self could not grasp the ubiquitous concept of ‘isms’ because I was too wrapped up in my sports, volunteer work, school work, and student clubs to fully confront my own perceptions of inequality in our world.
This Rethink History project is important to me because I believe everyone should be empowered to use their voice in creation of a more equitable world. Especially in our world today where wealth influences our government and major power structures in place, not all voices are heard. Youth are taught not to value our place in this democracy as much we are pushed to get the best test scores. There is no way around the conflict of interest in our political world today, but at least through a rise of cohesive improvisation of all ideas brought to the table we can create a more inclusive view of our countries history and present tense.
Boyte, H. (2001). A tale of two playgrounds: Young people and politics. Retrieved from http://inside.augsburg.edu/publicachievement/files/2012/12/A-tale-of-two-playgrounds.pdf