I March for Agriculture
Agriculture loves to put an opinionated woman in her place. My friend Abbi said it best, “the Goldilocks mentality… be strong but not too strong. Be smart but not too smart”. If we step outside our allotted roles we become fair game for attacks and put downs. This does serve a purpose though, it keeps us in our place, it keeps us subservient and quiet.
Gender roles, patriarchy and sexism are still very much alive and well within agriculture. We still perpetuate them, we still are guided by them, we still adhere to them. I was reminded of this when I was tagged in the comments section of a status update from the California CattleWomen’s Facebook page. The post was a variation of the “Why We Don’t March” status update that floats around rural Facebook every time a women’s march is organized (fun fact: women were not even allowed in FFA until 1969).
Before I delve into why this is an issue, I’d like to post the groups mission statement. I believe it’s important to know the mission of a group. It is as follows: “Because California is the world leader in food production, the most productive agriculture region on earth and because; the production of Beef Cattle is California’s fifth largest commodity, we, the California CattleWomen will focus on promoting a better understanding to consumers as to where their food originates; the quality controls used towards its safety; the impact the Beef Industry has on the economy of California; and the overall, far-reaching contributions the Beef Industry has to society as a whole.”
This is problematic when a public group representing agriculture would post such a divisive, tone-deaf and antiquated status update. Obviously, it’s an attempt to silence consumers who speak up when something is wrong, by women who often have a family name or land that affords them some protection from the wrongs. It also perpetuates the rural/urban divide, which is something agriculture has been struggling with for a long time.
I know many agriculture groups are struggling with membership. This is perhaps a major reason why. All women in agriculture are not going to have the same experiences. A greenhand young woman will not be treated the same as the fifth generation rancher. Women who are brave enough to point out how we can be better by marching, or protesting are not our enemy. Offering support to the younger, more progressive generation will encourage us to join these groups. It will bring new life blood. Alienating us will only continue to spell the inevitable, slow, death march of these groups.
The cattle industry desperately needs some good PR. We really need consumers to see cattlepeople in a better light. We have lab meat, environmental issues and a whole slew of other controversies where we NEED the public’s support. Posting something that attacks the dominate grocery shopper (women) is not a smart marketing tactic.
Maya Angelou said: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time“. It is so easy to find farmers and rancher insulting our non agriculture peers on social media, it’s like we forget the public can see it. Then we wonder why we are not communicating well with our consumers, why they don’t listen to us. We get upset when they call us uneducated or ignorant. You know what? I think they are just listening to Ms. Angelou; we are showing the public who we are, and are being treated accordingly.
I know the women who run these accounts have attended and even been panelist and presenter at many conferences teaching us ‘to reach beyond the agriculture choir,’ just like me. I learned alienating our consumer on public accounts was a bad idea, even on personal accounts. I just feel at some point we need to admit we’re not really trying to win consumers over, we’re not trying to learn from them. No, we want them to know how much better we are because of our lifestyle. Again, not promoting betting understanding to our consumer.
The industry is at a tipping point. If our groups and leaders stepped up and lead by example, I know we could create some positive change. We either need to become serious, follow our mission statements, and stop attacking the hand the pays us or realize life as we know it, is going to change. Here is my call to action, let’s be better. Let’s stop putting down our consumers for things they are passionate about. Let’s gently remind (call out) our ranching peers to do the same. When we see industry groups setting poor examples by posting tasteless, hurtful things, let’s ask them to learn from their mistakes and stop. Our way of life simply depends on it.