On Behalf of Lady Farmers Everywhere

Photo of Maud Cooper and Sarah Spaulding Castle by
Charles J. Van Schaick via the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Since moving up here almost four years ago, I've resisted the urge to discuss feminism insofar as it relates to farming and gardening. I realize that farming has traditionally been a man's undertaking (and gardening a woman's); I get the social context, the history of farming and how it turned us from roving scavengers to land-owners.

But it's the 21st Century, right? 

So guys and gals alike are free to garden, till, hoe, weed, crop, plant, and harvest until the proverbial cows come home, all things being equal. And while I don't have a huge, commercial farm or anything, I do indeed consider myself more and more of a "farm girl" with each passing day.

Now, any practical farmer-gardener will tell you that to get your hands (and feet, and knees, and everything else) dirty, you need to have the appropriate gear. That can mean, a hat to keep your head protected from the sun, Carhartt bibs for durability, the right tools for the job, a functional pair of rubber boots, practical things. Good things.

None of these things is particularly gender-specific, and one of the things I like about gardening in general is that you check your ego, your gender, and everything else at the door in order to focus totally on the job at hand: growing.

I didn't move up here to make some point about the power of women, or to show that women can be independent, or any other such thing. So when people tell me this is proof that I'm a strong woman, I say thanks but people are people—this isn't about me being a woman. I mean, would it really be that different if a man ditched his Manhattan cubicle and settled in Redwood?

So I live like a person first and foremost; not however it is a woman is "supposed to". I sort of ignore gender roles and just do what feels right—and if that makes me feminine, great. If it makes me masculine, so be it. Go ahead and label it however you want.

Anyway, living like a human being is super until you're sitting in the doctor's office waiting for your appointment and you pick up a Martha Stewart Living magazine and open it up to this:
Yup, you read it right: "Garden Getups". Which is to say, "Hey ladies, never miss an opportunity to look your best!" I mean after all, you never know when Prince Charming might stroll through on his white horse. God forbid he should catch you in a stained tank top and ripped shorts, barefoot.

Let's read the fine print:
Maybe I'm overly sensitive, maybe I don't understand the entire feminine mystique thing, and maybe Martha Stewart is the antichrist, I really can't say. But here's a purportedly independent, self-made woman advising lady gardeners the world over to throw on a $315 silk scarf, $199 boots, and an $88 hat to go dig in cow manure, clean out chicken coops, and pull weeds. Since when did the garden become a runway show? Is there anywhere a woman can be without having to primp; without having it jammed in her head that people will judge her on how she appears?

Even in this most basic act—digging in the dirt—we have Martha Stewart tapping our shoulders, reminding us to cross our legs and say please and thank you. 

"While gardening clothes should be comfortable and washable and, ideally, protect you from sun and insects, they shouldn't prevent you from inviting a friend to lunch to admire the fruits of your labor."

Which I guess they wouldn't do if you looked like a slob; all covered in, say, dirt.

Stay tuned for our photographic response to the Martha Stewart Living article!
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.