Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Summer Farmers: Gender Discourses in New Arenas*

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Summer Farmers: Gender Discourses in New Arenas*

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

For centuries, women on Norwegian family farms have had the main responsibility for running the summer farms. This has been a traditional, gendered labour division on family farms whereby outfields are utilized as summer pastures for the production of milk products. The summer farm serves as a temporary base (a transhumance system). While 'the discourse of the family farm' (Brandth, 2002) identifies the patriarchal family farm where the male farmers are the head of the family and the farm, and women are responsible for care giving and household tasks - and do variable work on the farm - summer farming is strongly associated with women and a woman's world. The Norwegian summer farm, in contrast to many other countries, has been and is predominantly run by women. Involvement in summer farming is in this sense a new arena for men's practices, and as such, it also represents a new context for researching gender in agriculture. Further, due to the reliance on natural pastures and a lack of intensive production in these areas, summer farm practice also represents an environmentally sensitive resource use (Daugstad, 1999a).

The gendered division of labour in agriculture, and the concept of a female principle is a discursive terrain. According to some feminist theories, caring for nature, alongside a social and local-oriented attitude, is linked to female values. Women are often considered to be closer to nature, to hold a more holistic and resource-preserving attitude, and ecologically sustainable principles, whereas men are often perceived to be more concerned with economic output (Braidotti et al., 1994; Modelmog, 1998). Theories of women as more nature-focussed than men are contested in discourses that view gender as a social construct. Empirical studies, however, have found female farmers to be more concerned than men about environmental issues such as pollution, genetic modification and biotechnology (Bols0, 1993; Flø & Bjørkhaug, 1999; Nygard & Heggem, 1998). Halvorsen (1993) found that male fanners were also concerned about the natural environment and animal welfare, but expressed such concerns in different ways or less explicitly than women. Other studies have found age to be a more important factor than gender in relation to farmers' attitudes towards nature and agricultural production (Bjørkhaug, 2006; Selten, 2000). Despite the nuances implicit in these findings, these studies indicate the importance of situated knowledge (Haraway, 1991). Knowledge and experiences are coloured by their contexts, which is often illustrated in gender research. The greater the equality among men and women, the greater is the homogeneity of values and behaviour (Bols0, 1993; Brandth & Bolsø, 1994).

Given the hegemonic definition of Norwegian summer fanning as environmentally sensitive and female dominated, it is of great interest to explore how men act in this arena. During the overall rationalization and mechanization processes in agriculture, the decrease in numbers of summer farms has been dramatic - especially during the last 50 years (Daugstad, 2005b). Hence, the masculinization of agriculture, which has been dominant in this period, has to a great extent contributed to the closure of summer farms, or at least, it has changed the format of summer farming into larger co-operatives. Within this 'masculine' frame of reference, one could expect continued rationalization and modernization of what is left of the tradition of summer farming, and that such values are what underpin male farmers' strategies.

Gender research in agriculture has found that men avoid the traditionally female work arena to construct and maintain their masculine selves (Brandth, 1995). Interestingly, a study of women working in outlying land (forests, mountains) which have traditionally been a male domain, found that women could be perceived as non-gendered both by the local community and by themselves (Daugstad & Villa, 2001). …

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