Can a farmer's wife be a feminist?

We handed Aisling O’Donovan a copy of Lorna Sixsmith’s How to be a Perfect Farm Wife and she came back shocked that such expectations, even tongue in cheek, could exist today

Can a farmer's wife be a feminist?

And frankly if that’s the only way to be a good wife to my farmer, I’d rather stay ringless.

My partner and I live together outside Killeagh in East Cork. He works on the farm. I run my own business. We’re happy but it seems according to farming blogger Lorna Sixsmith’s second published book How to be a Perfect Farm Wife, this arrangement probably won’t work if we get married.

It won’t work as it would mean I wasn’t a perfect farm wife.

I do not know of a single women today who married a farmer, quit her job and instantly became a full-time farmer herself.

To be honest, there were times when I was reading the book that I was wondering if I wasn’t reading some kind of time travel manual posing as a self-help book. I know the book is tongue in cheek but it seems to hark back to some time in the 1950s with little regard for the advancement of women for the past 60 odd years. Nell McCafferty and Mary Robinson be damned!

It seemed like the only role of the farmer’s wife is to tend to every need of her other half.

Yes, relationships must be nurtured but come on?

There are chapters in the book where they look at “how to catch a bird or a bat?” Am I expected to do this?

There are also chapters on “how to help at a funeral”. Are non-farmer wives counselled on this too before getting married? Is there a special, secret role that a farmer’s wife must act out?

Lorna Sixsmith has won much acclaim for her humourous farming blog but as a working, voting, 50%- mortgage-paying, equal rights, un-baking, un-knitting, un-milking un-married partner of a farmer in 2015, her latest book left me shocked.

She says “if you haven’t got the ring on your finger yet, read very carefully” but by the end, I was exasperated. Can you be a farmer’s wife and believe in a 50:50 relationship I asked my somewhat bemused farmer.

I think it’s a wholly inaccurate assumption to expect women nowadays to be 100% devoted to the farmer and his farm.

Sure, some women often give up work for a while or for good if they have kids but I mean, surely we’re not expecting them to breastfeed with one hand and milk cows with the other! Are we?

Farmers’ wives just don’t have the same role they had in our parents era. And frankly, I wouldn’t want it.

I’m a cuddly cub of the Celtic Tiger and I’d be the first to admit that I’d be too soft for that gig. Those amazing women worked night and day, children, cooking, laundry, cleaning, looking after small animals, the accounts and endless boiling of spuds.

Sixsmith fixates on the mother-in- law and her relationship with the young wife. In fact, she dedicates a larger portion of the book to getting on with the mother-in-law than on “how to avoid a divorce”.

I have no time for such competitiveness. My farmer’s mum has worked hard all her life and I have neither the interest nor the desire in insulting either of us by starting a trivial war on who has a better rhubarb crumble (she’d win anyway!!)

There are good parts to the book such as Sixsmith’s advice to make sure your daughters grow up thinking that they have an equal right to farm or inherit the farm. And it’s hysterical in parts (whether intentionally or otherwise I wasn’t always sure) but it actually urges farmers’ wives to be “telepathic”. It warns that you must strive to know instinctively that he means you to feed the sheep today when he points and grunts.

She also says “if you have a touch of wanderlust you’ll find it hard to achieve long distance travel but moving the furniture frequently can satisfy the urge for change”.

My main problem with the farmer’s wife role as outlined is that: everyone is thinking about the farmer.

She’s thinking about him and he’s thinking about him so that’s 100% of the marriage dedicated to his happiness and you don’t have to be Carol Vorderman to figure out how much room that leaves for either of them caring about her.

But don’t panic, there’s a chapter “how to conceal your mood”.

Aisling O’Donovan. Picture: Denis Minihane
Aisling O’Donovan. Picture: Denis Minihane

Don’t get me wrong, I love my farmer and I’m behind him 100% but not a chance in the eternal burning fires of hell would I arrive home to find him reading the male equivalent How to be a perfect farm husband and why should he?

I accept that I sound like the angry feminist at the dinner party who fails to appreciate the light heartedness of something, but to hell with it, I feel it so I’ll say it. I’ve never called myself a feminist, I just believe in fair play.

A guide to being perfect in any relationship should not exist. I am not, nor are you or anybody else, perfect. Kate Midleton isn’t perfect.

However, people make mistakes and I could be in for a big land. You could possibly meet me in ten years from now drowning in children, translating grunts from my husband and telling you that we would have loved a trip to France this summer but things were too busy on the farm so we decided to put the bath in the sitting room instead!

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