Topic: Using Intersectionality to Understand Farm Women's Complex Work Lives
Intersectionality has gained momentum for understanding the complex nature of human identity. Yet ‘farm women’ continue to be classified and framed as a homogenous, rather than complex group. Early research on ‘farm women’ sought to understand the multiple and varied ways that women participate on family farms and in food production systems. The emphasis on ‘farm women’s work’ led to extensive discussions of both farm women’s roles in the family farm business and the day-to-day work activities of women in farm production, the family farm household, paid employment (on and off-the-farm), and in community activities. In their efforts to understand farm women’s work, researchers often treated farm women as an homogenous group, whose identity — and work life — could be captured and distinguished from other women’s by the simple descriptor ‘farm’.
However, ‘farms’ are complicated and so are the individual socio-economic characteristics of individual women. This paper argues researching, discussing and presenting ‘farm women’ as a cohesive entity within rural communities undermines knowledge of who these women are and the impact particular policy directions have on women engaged in agriculture. The paper draws on Julie MacMullin’s (2010) intersectionality framework to understand how farm women’s identities and work experiences have been influenced by the particular ‘CAGE’s their lives are embedded in. MacMullin (2010) argues our physical bodies and individual lives need to be understood in terms of how class, age, gender and ethnicity (i.e. the ‘CAGE’ within which we live our lives) intersect. This paper illustrates how using an intersectionality framework makes it possible to better appreciate and recognize how complex and diverse farm women are as a social group. It argues that when studying the agricultural community it would be more useful to expand MacMullin’s CAGE acronym to CA2G2E in order to recognize class, age and able-bodiedness, gender and geography, and ethnicity to understand how these dynamics overlap and intertwine in farm women’s lives and work.
In order to illustrate the value of intersectionality as a theoretical framework for understanding farm women and their contributions to agriculture, past and present, the paper briefly reviews the historical literature on farm women’s roles in agriculture and farm women’s work activities. In addition, it draws on interview data collected from case studies conducted over three decades exploring women’s contributions to agriculture in New Brunswick, Canada. What emerges from the literature and interview data is an appreciation of how diverse farm women’s identities and interests are. By illustrating the value of intersectionality for studying farm women’s contributions to agriculture, this original research article contributes to theoretical advances in rural sociology and feminist food studies.