My Gender is Farmer
Today it was windy, ten degrees below freezing, and every single animal in my care needed defrosted water and full stomachs. Add to that chore list the tactical offense of living on hillside coated in ice. My only pair of decent gloves were covered in puppy slobber and frozen within minutes. I kept on with the chores with crunchy fingers. I carried hay bales and buckets, broke through ice with staves and boots, and hauled fifty-pound bags of feed to stations all over the farm. Later I came indoors, worked in my office a few hours at a computer, and then got picked up by a neighbor for a ride to the mechanic where my 1989 F150 was waiting. I was more excited to be reunited with her than I was on prom night. Ten days without a vehicle is a bummer out here.
I spent the rest of the day in garages and feed mills. I loaded a couple hundred pounds of feed, more hay bales, and stopped at a local auto parts store for some TLC for my gal. Picture me walking in with knee-high muck boots, torn jeans, a worn sweatshirt covered up by a canvas Carhartt vest and a tired smile. I had on a knit cap with holes in it and my red hair was wild and needed a comb, badly. But my efforts at trying to appear somewhat snazzy were there. Worn down eyeshadow and pink lip balm were fighting the good fight. I told the clerk at NAPA the exact type of coolant, Radiator Stop Leak, and funnel size I needed and left in a hurry. I still had another hour of outdoor chores, writing deadlines, and freelance clients to tend to. I also had firewood to chop, a household to heat, dogs to feed, and that blessed slab of beef dangling before my hopes like a carrot on a stick. Basically, I had this specific life to live and all the crazy tasks that go with it.
While out running these errands, I heard a talk on the radio about gender and politics. About how traditional gender roles play such a part in the conscious (and subconscious) messaging during an election year. I’m sure it does, but I quickly changed the radio over to music. I started singing along to The Struts. That earlier chatter had nothing to do with me. Gender?
Please, my gender is farmer.
When you run a farm adaptation is the name of the game. It doesn’t matter if you’re single like me or manage a household of seven, your gender doesn’t apply. Any farm—especially a diverse livestock operation—requires a flexibility that takes those traditional ideas of masculine and feminine and throws them out on the compost pile. In the last 48 hours I had chopped firewood and tinkered with a furnace. I grabbed escaped goats by the horns and repaired electric fences. I also sang Katy Perry songs in the kitchen while kneading dough for a perfect chicken pot pie and spent an hour reading a romance novel with a cat in my lap. I did dishes and mopped floors and I called the butcher about slaughtering pigs. I planned out an outfit with a skirt, tights, and high heels for a business meeting for my off farm tech job, and I tossed shit-covered boots by the woodstove to defrost.
I wear torn flannel shirts and excessive eyeliner, simultaneously. I do physical labor with sharp tools and I knit hand spun wool by the wood stove. I midwife and I slaughter. I use eyelash curlers and whetstones. I read Vogue on the toilet. And I do it all without giving gender a second thought.
It couldn’t possibly matter less. The farm is who makes the demands and whatever skills are needed, I obey them. Sometimes they are what people think of as feminine and gentle, like holding a blanketed newborn lamb in my arms while feeding it a baby bottle and cooing at it like a new mother. Sometimes they are what people think of as masculine and tough, like stalking deer in the forest with my father’s hunting rifle and cursing at being in the wrong wind at the right time. Gender has nothing do with it. At all. It can be a decoration or a statement, but at the end of the day caring about gender on a homestead is just furniture and wallpaper - the frame is what is holding up the house.
And it has always been this way. Sure there were conventions and little roles people would play when company came over or on their trip into town; but those same quiet farm wives were butchering chickens and milking cows by hand beside their husbands at home a few hours earlier. They were driving teams of horses if they were better at straight rows, and their men were weeding the garden if they had better eyes. And those same avatars of traditional masculinity know what it is like to cry wildly beside a dead mare and her stillborn foal, or spend hours mending clothes with needle and thread. A life lived that close to the cycles of a farm has too much going on to worry about what the cover of a magazine should portray. It is entirely about necessity.
If we're talking about sex, I see myself as a straight woman, but only in those rare moments like zooming through profiles on eHarmony or watching Jason Batemen in that Mumford and Sons video. Most of the time I see myself as Jenna: human being with shit to do. This farm calls and I answer and my gender doesn't enhance or hinder it. I'm a horseback riding, wood chopping, truck loving, deer hunting, pie baking, makeup wearing, flannel clad, badass falconer archer with high heels in the closet and goats in need of milking.
Yeah. My gender is farmer.
And special thanks to Cameron Esposito for her "My Gender is Fighter Pilot" joke triggering this post in my brain.