Don’t fence us in

I was recently approached by a film company for some recommendations of young people in the Agrifood sector for “talent” for a series of stories on exciting young Australians. Not knowing a lot about the project I decided to let some exciting young Australians pitch themselves (without knowing) through our blog 

The film company said to me “We don’t just want women” and I said to them Art4Agriculture isn’t a female only organisation by design but we know if we had waited for the male sex to put up their hands to even the numbers Art4Agriculuture wouldn’t exist yet and as “doing” is more important to us than to be “seen to be doing” we just got on with it

So this article today titled Caring professions are being ignored in our awards system in today’s SMH caught my eye.  The first paragraph reads 

Another Australia Day, another round of fireworks and another honours list. Another evocation of the qualities Australia admires and the fields that Australians look up to, from which we can deduce that Australians think the things men do are twice as worthy as the things that women do.

In 2005 I won an award titled “ Kiama Electorate Woman of the Year”  which saw me on the podium a number of times asked to talk on various themes around women’s rights and women’s roles in society. I must admit it wasn’t a space I enjoyed being in. I was a retail pharmacist for 30 years. Women were always the employee of choice and could always command a better wage than men because it was recognised by the owners of pharmacies who were invariably men that “women make the best pharmacists and pharmacist assistants”. In fact I never felt disadvantaged because of my sex in any way in the pharmacy profession. Agriculture is different and in the main I believe this is because too often we define people in agriculture by the number of hours they work and tasks they perform not by how smart they work    

I recently wrote a blog post on the danger of defining something by simply attaching a label to it. This post looked at the demonization of large scale conventional agriculture out of hand 

Often labels elicit strong feelings, I am a baby boomer and soon that will lead to the label “senior citizen”   Please, please rebadge that one before it’s my turn. I like this one “60 is the new 20”.

This post is exploring another label “Women”. I like to read and last Friday when my TV reception went AWOL I read a number of book reviews.  One review “women will enjoy this book” raised my eyebrows (and generated steam)

Wow in the first instance this book must be a publisher’s goldmine with women currently 49.76% of the world’s population.

Secondly as I fit the label by virtue of my sex this review must mean by association I will enjoy this book.  Now I just happen to enjoy crime novels particularly novels by the Scandinavian writers Jo Nesbo, Karin Fossum., Henning Mankell, Karin Fossum, Stieg Larsson and Arnaldur Indriðason. But this wasn’t a crime novel let alone a Scandinavian crime novel

So here is my personal reflection on the label “women” with respect to recognition of the role of women and gender equity. 

Firstly as a generalisation men and women are different in many ways and that is a good thing. 

Agriculture today still tends to let others pigeon hole women by failing to acknowledge that women farmers are champions not only behind the farmgate but also that they contribute at an unparalleled level in the wider community.

Recent example that comes to mind – “Wanted for Australian Year of the Farmer promotion. Young Male Farmers for Cleo photo-shoot and Rural Women Leaders with recipes for cookbook”

Its undeniably true there are amazing women out there who can hold their own and stand side by side with men driving headers, handling bank managers, drenching livestock , artificially inseminating cattle, birthing calves and the list goes on. Yet they are not acknowledged as “real farmers” because of their sex. This is a travesty and many women are justifiably lobbying hard to change this mindset.  There are also many farming women who are doing equally amazing things beyond the farmgate who are celebrated by the community, but go unrecognised by industry.

I am the current runner up in the National Farm Industry Leader of the Year. After the announcement there were the usual congratulations and commiserations. One of which was “a win would have been great victory for women in agriculture”.   My reply was “yes it would have been a bonus for women but it would have been a great victory for AGvocacy”  

Women have come a long way since the 15th century when marriage was what defined a woman. A woman was who she married. When unmarried, a woman was the property of her father, and once married, she became the property of her husband.

She had few rights, except for any privileges her husband or father gave her. Married women had to obey their husbands and were expected to be chaste, obedient, pleasant, gentle, submissive, and, unless sweet-spoken, silent.  Whew just as well I didn’t live in the 15th century  

Another Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend article showed statistics revealed 40% of children under 10 receive an allowance. Unexplainably boys receive 10% more than girls.   A wise woman once said people treat you how you teach them to treat you

I put it to you gender equity starts in the home with education and awareness from day one.

Bringing up the next generation to value and respect women at all levels will achieve more in one or two generations than the last 500 years of sweat, pain and frustration   

To me and the women I find my self surrounded by in agriculture, awards are one of a number key marketing tools and a platform to assist with our future work.

For example  the media profile that goes with winning an award for me can  

  • Encourage other young farmers, to contact me and be trained as ‘industry champions’ for the Young Farming Champions program
  • Motivate and create the extra impetus for much needed funding and the public and industry support required to engage and raise awareness of the next generation of Australian consumers and decision makers about the pivotal role Australian farmers play in producing our food and fibre and supporting the nation’s economy, community and rural amenity.

If awards are just a competition between various demographics then I wonder if the Sydney Morning Herald worked out the statistics on how many farmers got Australia Day award honours compared to other professions.

Its not what we win that defines us Australia, its what we do. Lets not sweat the small stuff which is such a waste of energy and attracts a carbon tax.     

BTW.  I have asked equal numbers of exciting young men in the Agrifood sector to write me a blog post. To-date I have one. I look forward to your comments on men in agriculture and their propensity to hide behind a bushel  


  1. That’s a very thought-provoking piece, Lynne. I think dairy farmers of both sexes tend to be reluctant to “promote” ourselves. There is almost a tradition of self-deprecation that is on one hand admirable and on the other hand counter-productive. If there is one thing that I hope for during AYOF is that farmers feel a little more pride.


    1. By the way, I studiously avoid women in ag gatherings. I can see they are appealing for many women but would rather not be defined by my gender in that way.


  2. As a woman of 5’2 and 50-something kg I have always felt very in-tune with the different ‘roles’ of men and women. We are physically, mechanically, intellectually and emotionally different, it’s just the way it is. That in no way means that women or men are lacking in any way, it just means that (as pointed out by my other half recently) my physique struggles with lifting large heavy objects the he can toss around like cardboard. But he is unable to fit his big hands in small spaces to get bolts undone, where i am able to manouvuer my entire arm.

    I think the obsession some women have with equality is in part due to their own mindset. I have never felt inferior because I’m female (or petite), I recognise that for each thing I am physically unable to do there are just as many things I can. I also recognise that my passion for agriculture manifests itself in a different way to Andrew’s. I get the most fulfillment and enjoyment out of teaching the world about what we do. Whereas Andrew is captivated by the daily growth and end result of a crop.
    I don’t see anything wrong with my role as an educator complementing his role as a grower. I don’t do it because I’m a woman I do it because I love it.


  3. I agree 100% with Bess!

    I am aware of my limitations in agriculture, as a woman, in a physical capacity. I accept that there are some things that men can do better (just watch me try start a bore, or use levers to remove a tyre off the rim!). I simply do not have the weight or the muscle for some tasks (whenever i consider dieting, i think about how i’m not heavy enough to get a tyre off the rim and that kills the idea pretty quickly).

    I think we need to stop putting people in categories based on gender, and get on with the more pressing issues at hand.

    In saying that, i have been shut down to a certain extent because i am female, and overlooked for some opportunities. So, yes there is an issue, but i think we might make too much of a fuss over it?


  4. Upfront I would like to say how much I admire women in Agriculture and readily admit I love to listen to women tell their success stories at conferences and in the press
    On a personal note I think most men who genuinely love farming are like Bess’ partner Andrew. For me it’s all about the cows and the pasture we grow to feed them and working side by side on the farm with my family.
    Yes more farmers should play a more active role off farm but this is not something that interests me nor am I comfortable with it.
    However I am very supportive of, and salute this new generation of inspirational women in agriculture who are doing phenomenal things to raise agriculture’s profile positively in the community


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