Friday, 24 August 2012

Feminism, farming and academia

Topics on Twitter this week have included speculation about why more women don’t go into farming and why women are still a minority in academia.  Regarding the latter, much time and energy goes into persuading more women to pursue a research career.  Schools are keen to promote science to girls, but peer pressure still seems to steer a disproportionate number towards the arts, so progress is slow.  Many of the female scientists that I meet are very successful and certainly extremely able but, I have noticed, that they tend to reach important career landmarks rather later than do their male contemporaries.  They may have taken time out to have children of course, and accepted responsibility for most of the child care, usually requiring at least a slowing down of their career progression.  But a significant number seem to have moved into academia after pursuing a career in the “real” world.  I wonder whether it sometimes takes women a while to realise that they genuinely do have what it takes to do this rather scary academic stuff? 
And as for farming – why aren’t women flocking to join that industry?  Do they just not want to mess up their manicures?  Somehow I doubt that this is the reason.  It's much more obvious.  There really isn't a lot of "employment" on farms nowadays, when so much of the industry is high-tech and mechanised.  Skills are certainly needed, but to be sure of a farming job you would be well-advised to own, or be closely related to someone who owns, a farm.  And my completely unscientific sampling, mainly from Radio 4’s fictional serial “The Archers”, indicates that farms are usually passed down from father to son.  If a daughter wants to farm she has to find a neighbouring farmer's son to marry.  But Ambridge moves on, sometimes rather more rapidly than the real world.  While Jill, the matriarch, spent her days slaving over a hot aga to produce the perfect Dundee cake for the flower and produce show, daughter-in-law Ruth is managing the Brookfield dairy herd and young granddaughter Pip seems poised to bring her entrepreneurial skills to bear on the profitability of the farm as soon as she finishes college.  And even the real world is changing, if slowly.  Farmers' wives are as likely as anyone else to buy their Dundee cakes at the supermarket and it’s certainly becoming accepted that women can do any kind of job, at least in theory.  I now come across men who take equal, or even primary responsibility for caring for their children, and they are to be applauded.  But would many of today's children, if asked to draw “a scientist” and “a farmer” come up with images of women?  I think we have a long way to go before we reach that point. 
As for communications specialists: any professional gathering makes it obvious that women are in the vast majority and men rarely get a look-in, but that’s another day’s blog.

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