Her hands are cracked, reeling from the whipping wind. Split, torn and dotted with splinters, numb to the impact of the wooden shovel. Cuts fade and reappear, garnishing her knuckles. Her palms tell the story of the day’s work, etching out the lines with black soil to the edge of her fingers, retracing every inch of land ploughed, every seed planted.
Her forearms are brushed with dried mud, some splattered onto her face. The rest is caked in every crevice of her fingernails and painted onto her faded, tattered clothes. It’s too early to see the callouses on her palms, but if you were to hold her hand, you’d feel them.
That is if you wanted to get close enough to hold my hand…because I probably smell, and not like Secret. This isn’t a poetic passage about the hands of a farmer. This is a real live description of how I, and many other women out there, look on a daily basis. Dirty, torn up and tattered. Probably not the three adjectives recommended for an OkCupid profile. And definitely not the conventional, feminine image of a woman.
Throughout history, women have been slated to be clean, soft and beautiful. With trimmed cuticles, clean fingernails and pretty clothes. Even through our feminist movements, with figures like Rosie the Riveter and leaders like Alice Walker, we still come back to the perfect images of women portrayed in Ebony and Glamour.
It’s not just in the fashion and celebrity world. Our female politicians and academics are expected to always look poised and graceful too – or get accused of being butch or a bitch. And who knew simply wearing a pant suit in the office, as opposed to a dress, would be a statement of power in the board room…they’re just pants for God sake.
But none of this is news. We’ve been fighting sexism for as long as we’ve been fighting racism. And despite the battles, neither seem to have a light at the end of the tunnel any time soon. But I do want to point out that this vision of femininity, of the nourishing, gentle female, is all backwards in my opinion.
If anything, women should be portrayed as the dirtiest, most torn and tattered beings out there. After all, 70% of the world’s farmers are women. That’s a shocking number, especially due to the fact that in the U.S. and other Western countries, the image of a farmer is a dude in overalls riding a tractor – having us all believe they dominate agriculture (and they do in ownership and profit, but not in numbers).
In many other parts of the world, the image of a farmer is a woman bent over the soil, hands cracked, feet bare, with a baby strapped to her back. This is the real female. Not the one we see in Vogue. (and we won’t even get into the countless other females scrubbing toilets, cleaning dirty diapers or sweating it out in some human rights-violating factory somewhere – but they get acknowledged here too.)
Worn, worked and wonderful. That female farmer is feeding people, and that’s where the soft, nourishing qualities of being a woman comes from.
Although women produce 80% of the world’s food, we own only 2% of the land. Women get left out of farmer credits, subsidies, and training targeted at men. We are also discriminated against for loans and fair access to markets. Here in the U.S. where – compared to world statistics- women farmers are in the minority, discrimination from the USDA (and everyone else for that matter – “you actually drive the tractor and run the whole farm?!”) has been brought to a head in a lawsuit settlement, similar to the one for Black and Native farmers.
Pregnant women farmers are even getting shut down by the government. Imagine, taking away the access for soon-to-be young mothers to grow their own food! Well it’s happening. Right now in Detroit, at an amazing school and urban farm I had a chance to visit when I was there, the Catherine Ferguson Academy is under siege from the DPS Emergency Manager trying to close down or auction off the only school of its kind in the country. (take action by signing this petition)
What if this and so much more injustice against women finally ended and we allowed women to take the reigns in agriculture? What if we empowered women to get their hands dirty and grow food for the hungry? According to Women Thrive Worldwide, if women had the same access to resources as men we could feed 150 million more in hunger.
And maybe then the dirty, calloused hand of a woman would be the one we’d all want to stretch out and hold.