My Experience Working on Farms – As a Girl

Working on farms as a girl these days shouldn’t really make a difference, and I’m sure that in a lot of places it doesn’t, but I just want to share with you my experiences of working on farms abroad, and how I feel I’ve been treated.

I’ll start off by saying that all my farm jobs I’ve worked (so far) have been abroad, in Australia and New Zealand, and all of them have been normal paying jobs… no Wwoofing. We’ve applied to these jobs, and gotten paid just like any other job anywhere.

Of the 30 months that I have been travelling, I have worked for 15 of them, 13 being on farms…so I feel like I have some stories to tell and I’ve certainly had some great, and not so great experiences.

Since I’ve left, I’ve always had in the back of my head the fact that in some places, farm work is still largely looked upon as “mans work”. By the time I began working at my third farm; a 28,000 acre cropping farm in Australia, I wasn’t really thinking about it anymore. I was just there to do my job just like everyone else, and Robin and I were ready for the challenge.

I was the only girl working there on the farm, and it had begun to be some of the most stressful few months I’d ever had…but a healthy stress. It was hard work, long days, stressful times..but never once did I feel like I was being treated differently because I was a girl. At the time, I actually hadn’t even thought about it. It wasn’t something that I went home and thought “Oh wow, today the boss didn’t single me out and tell me to do a ‘girl job’!” It was not until very recently that I began to reflect and realize how much I appreciate how I was treated at that farm. Naturally, the reason that I have begun to think about this recently is because at this current farm that we are on right now in New Zealand, I am not being treated in the same manner.

But, don’t get me wrong! It’s not like some crazy outwardly sexist place that we’ve come to, but it’s the little things that I’ve been noticing.

Firstly, the job we applied for online did not end up being the jobs that we’re doing here. So, I applied here thinking that I would be a farm hand and vineyard worker. It did not take very long to realize that I was hired as a cleaner and a gardener. Now, these jobs are no problem, and they are jobs that need to be done just like any other. But I’ll give an example of one little thing that has bothered me about it.

There is one other girl here working on the farm, and three boys including Robin. The other girl, we’ll call her L, and I have been furiously weeding the copious amounts of gardens at this place. We are filling up big buckets, then dumping them into a trailer. But, when the trailer is full, we are not allowed to go empty it. That’s the boys’ job. We are not to drive, because the boys do that. So they actually get one of the boys to leave what job they are doing at that moment, drive to where we are on another part of the farm, empty out our trailer, bring it back, and then go back to his job. How absurd is that?

I can’t help but think when I see the boys taking our tiny little garden trailer, that I spent months towing a 4000 litre water and chemical tank all over a farm, and drove a fire truck daily as well.

I think the thing that is the most frustrating for me personally is that at this place, no questions were asked. No one inquired and asked if I could drive, if I could tow a trailer, if I could use a lawn mower, if I could drive a tractor…nothing.

Here, I have been told to not lift something because I should wait until the boys get back because they could do it for me. (I lifted it anyway).
Here, I have cleaned the bathroom so many times its foolish, but am not allowed to use any power tools.

Here, I have been held back.

I have not had the opportunity to offer my abilities here because I have already been put into a category, without them seeing what I can do. I’ve been placed in a box labeled “Girl” and am doing the jobs they feel are appropriate for us to do. It’s extremely frustrating.

At the other farm, I was never told to wait for someone stronger to help me. I was never asked if I was “okay” with driving somewhere. But at the time, I didn’t realize how important that was for me. I excelled on that first farm more than I ever thought I would, and that’s all because somebody had faith in me. My boss had faith in my skills and trusted me, and saw that I was no weaker because of my gender. I see now that when I may have felt stressed at times when I was abruptly told to go do something that I thought I was uncomfortable with, it was actually the only way to learn how to do these things. I worked there for 8 months in total over two years, and I cannot think of one instance when I felt someone on that farm was being sexist, or putting me in the ‘Girl’ box.

I’ve been on this farm for two and a half weeks and I’ve felt it here every single day.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that every farm is different, and I know that. But I feel so lucky to have had the first job where I was treated as any other worker, male or female, so I now have that place to compare everything else to. I know what my abilities are, and right now I feel as though I’m better than this.
I’m better than just being given the “easy jobs” and being treated more lightly because I am a girl in a mans world. It’s unfortunate, but inevitable that some workplaces will be like this. So, thank you to the farmers at that first job I had. Thank you for having faith in me and treating me equally, with everyone else on that farm.

And to the current farm….y’all have some work to do.

Sarah


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