This week, I had this conversation with a keyboard warrior hiding behind a fake name. I find most of the judgemental types on twitter don’t use their name. Not all, but the chest beaters tend to.
This mysterious person accused me of not doing anything to improve the lot of women, and selfish because I choose to start in my own industry first.
I wasn’t offended as it’s very rarely anybody else’s own ‘known facts’ offend me. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.
I know I do my part. As do thousands of other women involved in agriculture in Australia. We do this by being the best we can be. Nothing more, nothing less.
What this exchange did make me do was make me think about my views on equality in the agricultural workplace.
I grew up with two sisters on a beef cattle place. We fenced, mustered, picked sticks up and did everything we could to help the farm run. We also cleaned, cooked , chopped the fire wood and helped keep the house running. I have no reason to think had mum and dad had a boy, they would have been treated any different.
It was quite a shock the first time I met full blown sexism. And I fought tooth and nail against it!
A little older and wiser, I’ve learnt the best way to end sexism is to realise you can’t change the thoughts of people, just give them a reason to rethink their thoughts.
My first job was on a beef and sheep station in western NSW. The manager and overseer were men, as was the head stockman. The other jillaroo and I were the only other workers and no jobs were women or men’s work. We all did what our skills dictated.
I have also discovered, and this is rather controversial, that what appears to be misogyny from the outside can actually be realism on the inside.
There are some jobs men are better designed for. Physiologically, emotionally and psychologically we are very different.
One job I’m very familiar with that all these differences really stand out is shearing.
Women are generally more flexible than men. A sports remedial massage therapist I know explained to me what happens to footy players when they overdo the flexibility training. They become highly prone to muscle and joint injury because it’s the mix of flexible and rigid that cushions impacts. Which is one of the main reasons, in their opinion, women’s contact sports have never been sustainable. Not the whole reason, but it’s a pretty big limiting factor.
Men also naturally build upper body strength easier.
Which is why as a whole it’s men who shear. I know there are women that do, and I don’t have a problem with that. But men are better suited physiologically than women.
The job as shed hand is designed for women. Women think differently to men, and attention to detail and the ability to be flexible mentally are great skills when trying to keep a busy board clean and tidy.
Classing, pressing and penning up I can’t see as skewed either way. Though the upper body strength of men is handy to have when pressing and when penning up stubborn sheep.
I’m finding the same in the dairy industry.
The number of times I’ve been told that women are better at calf rearing run into the thousands. It’s not a sexist thing. It’s that women are nurturers, tend to pick up on ill health quicker and are more likely to fight for the calf. A well known commercial calf rearer who does a bit of consulting on the side recommends employers hire a woman for the calf rearing, and target those who have children.
The general concencus is, women are better at the job. That isn’t sexism, it’s realism.
I’m not saying for one minute agriculture doesn’t have more than its fair share of fuddy duddys who believe in the ‘farmer’s wife’ who raises the kids, keeps the house and works the farm. A lot of rural boards are male heavy, with a few with no women at all.
And due to the nature of many agricultural jobs, pregnancy will stop a woman working for some time, taking the opportunity to advance their career away, for some, permanently.
I have zero experience in the corporate world, but I’m sure you could take what I’ve said, change a few job titles and descriptions, same results.
I will say though that the current feminist view of this situation, which is the same no matter what your chosen career path is not, in my view, constructive.
I find it abhorrent that quotas are being asked for let alone considered in political parties and commercial circles.
Women have always been a downtrodden group. We are over represented as victims in family and criminal court. Current Australian studies suggest one woman dies every day on average from a domestic violence assault. In the USA, it’s 3.5 women a day. Sexual violence is used in war zones and private homes world wide to control women and female children are sold into marriages even now. We are forgotten in history books and folklore.
To think a quota system will change these and all the other ways men control women cheapens the whole problem in my view.
For this to change, culture needs to change. And I think it is. Social media has opened the world to women from all circumstances and countries. It’s showing the world in real time what is happening to women and the call for action is getting louder. It’s a slow process, but with every new generation of women comes more freedom and opportunities. I nevertheless fear for the lives of girl children and women in those countries targeted by the likes of IS.
In the meantime, instead of focusing on equality and quotas, how about we focus on the skills and passion we have to offer our chosen industries.
Women need to do what they can to be noticed in the workplace or industry, and men should see potential as it presents itself. It’s kind of up to men to lead this charge, because they hold the majority of leadership roles. But as a woman, if you have a goal, you need to make connections and get some skills and experience to help you present a good case too. It often means you need to do twice as much as your male colleagues, and the challenge shouldn’t be taken lightly. I know many women who’ve been chewed up and spat out of the testosterone filled environment of their chosen career.
But don’t let any of that put you off. The more women who try, the more the barriers come down. The only failure is an ambition not given the light of day.
A friend and mentor said to me recently, don’t let your perceived lack of skill and experience stop you chasing your goal, sometimes it’s good to bite off more than you can chew, then chew like crazy! But you may need a street parade and a marching band to get noticed and a chance at that first bite.
Don’t be frightened to apply for that position because you or anybody else thinks you don’t have what it takes. Nobody ever goes into a job knowing everything.
I think we should stop focusing on equality and start ensuring the women in every workplace receive to training and mentoring required for the top jobs. Put the focus squarely on skills and recognition of talent rather than gender. And more family friendly work environments wouldn’t go astray either. The most important job of any parent’s life, that’s dads too, is to raise the next generation. Women are generally (again, not always) tasked with this as their jobs are likely to be the lower paid one, and of course, tradition.
We should also stop trying to make those men who do legitimately succeed feel guilty for all their hard work. That’s just not fair.
Am I selfish as my mysterious heckler suggests? I don’t think so.
There will always be more women tending crops and livestock than will ever be CEO’s.
They’re the ones who are truly underpaid and undervalued.
You get that right, the whole world will change.