This study of the changing nature of farmwork for farmers' wives focuses on two central questions. The first concerns the effects on the wife's labour of scale- enlargement and specialization. Both of these processes can be considered as the accumulation of technological, economic and political changes in the agricultural sector over the last decades. The second concerns the degree and manner in which gender and gender relations play a role in decision making over the introduction and implementation of these processes at farm level. In other words, what role does gender play in decisions on the degree and tempo with which scale enlargement and specialization are carried through at farm level and over the concomitant reorganization of labour on the farm. Gender refers here to the socially constructed differences between men and women. Gender relations are (at least they have been until now) dominant relations. Gender includes the division of labour between the sexes, gender symbols, gender ideology and gender specific identities. Gender is at work at all levels, at the personal and institutional level, at the psychological and behavioural level, at the economic, social, cultural and political level.
As a consequence of opportunities for producers to interpret these external developments in their own way, considerable differences in Dutch agriculture can still be seen, making it possible, to a degree, through cross-sectional analysis, to study their effects. In this way the farm labour of the wife is compared with varying degrees of scale enlargement and specialization of the farm, giving us thereby certain insights into recent historical changes in their labour. The comparison between large-scale specialized, and small-scale mixed dairy farms (i.e. that also make their own cheese), is particularly important here because both types of farm form, as it were, opposite poles of an agricultural modernization process in progress since the fifties.
To investigate the influence of gender, a comparison was made between labour organization on farms with partners of the same and of different gender. At the same time gender on the family farm itself was also examined.
The research, which is confined to dairy farming in the central part of the Netherlands, looks at different aspects of female farm labour, defined as all those activities that women engage in that underpin the farming household and ensure the family farm's continued existence and progress. To determine which activities are, and which are not included as work or labour, account was taken of the ideas of the group of researched farm women themselves. Although their descriptions and criteria were quite diverse, some appeared to have more general validity than others. These were descriptions about work associated with activities that could not be left undone and were thus deemed to be 'necessary', or which were considered 'obligatory', or 'brought in money' or 'bounded by time'. Usually a combination of criteria were used. Women's labour involved different sorts of work which could be carried out on the farm as well as off it. This was stated by the women themselves. In broad terms the following kinds of labour can be delimited: household labour, bringing up children, farming activities, non- agricultural income-generating activities on the farm, paid or income-generating activities off the farm and voluntary work that is seen as socially relevant for the farming household. For the farmers' wives in the study, the emphasis lay on the first three kinds of labour.
Besides labour time, and the division of time given to different sorts of work and the women's judgement about this, the study particularly looked at aspects of the quality of women's labour. The stress here is on the labour content of the work done by women on farm related tasks. In addition to collecting data on what their task packet or allotment was, the study also examined the degree of task control that women had and the degree to which they worked together with their husbands. Task control refers to the extent to which one can decide on the issue, implementation, checking, evaluation and apposition of the task or task packet. The higher the degree of control, the higher the demand is for expertise and the greater the opportunity to gain new knowledge and experience. That also goes for the damage risk - the consequences of making a big mistake - and for insights into and overviews of the production process. The degree of task control is closely associated with the organization of production (i.e. the degree to which scale enlargement and specialization are carried through) and the way in which labour is organized internally. This means that task control cannot be studied in isolation from the division of labour and the nature of cooperation with the others involved. On a family farm this will be mostly the husband. That means that the degree of control exercised by women has to be seen in relation to that of their husbands and that the relation between the sexes plays an important role in the degree of control that women acquire or are allowed. This also holds for the relative share of both in decision making over the farm set-up and development. The research examines how the different areas of farm decision making are divided between farmers and their wives, and whether a relation exists between the labour content of wives' tasks and their influence on decisions over the inset and use of production factors, the farm labour process and the sharing and spending of income. Labour content is also examined in relation to the work experience of farmers' wives.
The research on the mechanisms which gender differences create, sustain and transform in the area of labour, touches upon all farm tasks. That is to say that existing practices, explanations and legitimateness of the division of labour in the household as well as on the farm were researched. Within that framework, questions were asked concerning the views of the women on their most important roles - farmer's wife, mother, housewife. These views were compared with those of the farmers on their own corresponding roles.
In summary, the empirical research led to the following findings:
1 Almost all the wives involved in the research had been, since childhood, conversant with working on a farm, with a specific division of labour according to sex, with specific ideas of what is women's and what man's work, and of what it is to be a farmer or farmer's wife. On the farms where they grew up the division between men and women' tasks was in part parallel to the division between enterprise and family, since work within the family was exclusively women's work and tasks on the farm were primarily those of men. Although no men were kept busy in the house, wives did work on the farm, though men made a distinction between what was men's and what was women's work and only a few tasks were carried out by both sexes. Clear gender differences also existed regarding future perspectives. Over succession to the farm only sons were mentioned, daughters were excluded from this. They could marry a farmer and thus become a farmers wife or marry outside agriculture. It goes without saying that the separation in tasks and perspectives goes hand in hand with the difference in upbringing and training enjoyed by farmers' sons and daughters. Farmers' daughters, in contrast to their brothers follow no agricultural education. For many of them, both young and old, the emphasis is on household education. For the older generation of women it was taken for granted that after school they would work on the parental farm if it was necessary. For the younger generation that was less so and it was also less necessary. But that they would stay close by was taken for granted. Younger women far more often than their older colleagues followed a training that had nothing to do with agriculture. However, since they were also confronted outside of agriculture with a division of labour on the grounds of gender, such a training was typically for women's occupations such as nursing, family care, dressmaking or cutting, secretarial work, selling and so forth. Often, solely with a view to marrying a farmer, many followed agriculturally based courses, mostly connected with typical women's work on the farm, such as cheese-making and bookkeeping.
2 Differences in scale enlargement and specialization appear to have little influence on the total amount of labour time. Farmer's wives all have a work week of a good seventy hours (from 71.5-72.5 hours). Scale enlargement therefore does not lead to a decrease in total work time for women, though differences do seem to occur in how the available time is divided between the various kinds of work she does. The time that is spent on farm work is diminishing. Taken on average, wives of specialized dairy farmers are occupied about ten hours less on farm work than those that make cheese. in contrast, with an increase in scale and specialization more time is spent on activities within the family field. Relatively speaking, there appears to be more time spent on the children and productive household work, such as in the kitchen garden and in processing products, on keeping house, and on making children's clothes etc. The experience of women on dairy farms in terms of time spent appears to coincide with the way in which time is spent in practice. In the ideal situation as they see it, they would rather spend less time on household chores and relatively more time on activities outside the farm and/or though to a lesser degree, on farm activities. Routine household work such as dusting, polishing and tidying are mentioned as the first to be shed, and are activities that the majority of farmers' wives considered the 'least rewarding'. Small-scale cheese makers, in the ideal situation - at least as concerns the cheese season - would like to put less time into farm work and more into outside activities. Also for large- scale cheese makers, the time ideally spent in the cheese season contains less farm work and time to give more attention to their children. One might thus conclude that the average farm wife of the specialized dairy farmer - hence of the large-scale type - sees herself as too much a housewife. The average cheese-maker - particularly on the large scale enterprise - sees herself, at least in the cheese period, relatively as too much farmer's wife and too little as mother.
3 The quality of farm labour - measured in terms of labour content - appears to decrease as scale and specialization rises. In essence, with specialization, the average wife loses her own labour domain on the farm. Instead she works together in the labour domain of her husband. The actual consequences of this appear to be that her own fixed farm tasks are converted into helping out labour. Instead of a task which she can largely control herself, which requires specific skills and which involves high damage risk, she gets work to do that is dominated by tasks done at the request of and on the instructions of someone else. Such work consists of a number of unrelated tasks that could be done by anyone and where mistakes have little damage risk for the farm. In short, with scale enlargement and specialization the average farmer's wife goes from a farming task load needing a relatively high qualification level to one with more restricted task control and needing far fewer qualifications. For good task performance, availability, precision and neatness are deemed to be the most important. The difficulty lies in being able to combine an these tasks with her other kinds of work, placing high demands on her organizing skills. At the same time it appears that with raising the degree of scale and specialization, the help which the farmer's wife receives in the family field diminishes, which means that work in this sphere also includes more tasks of a routine nature - routine household work.
Helping out, and fixed tasks with a low degree of control appear to give less satisfaction. While cheese-makers get satisfaction from the labour process itself (having their own domain, from their skills and responsibility for a good quality product) and from the results (a fine product, income, a good name), wives who just help out, seek this, as it were, in the more general notions of being involved in the farm, being a farmer's wife or co-entrepreneur or being active with and in nature. Scale enlargement and specialization thus lead not only to loss of task control and specific professional skills but also to a reduced chance of finding personal satisfaction in farm work and deriving a feeling of self worth from it. But the enjoyment cheese makers derive from their work can also decline, which is the case if the total work load is too high. This happens to cheese makers on large-scale farms. The daily pressure of work can become so great (financial pressures to keep on making cheese, less flexibility in the work scheme and/or through having to combine different sorts of work), that the wish to cut back on their own production work creeps in.
Scale enlargement and specialization of course do not always lead to a packet of farm tasks that are predominantly of a helping out kind. It seems possible for women to again create their own labour domain on the specialized farm. Specific qualifications appear to be one of the basic conditions for this.
4 A farmer's wife is not only involved in the implementation, control, opposition to and/or design of specific farm tasks or packets, but also in the design of the production process as a whole. It is actually on the family farm that the direct producers, among them the farmer's wife, largely decide which techniques and how they will be used, on the organization of labour, and on how the income obtained will be divided and spent. But although the wife undoubtedly has an influence on the design of the production process and on changes in it, her influence appears selective and narrower than that of her husband. The various areas of decision making appear to be shared between farmer and wife in a specific way, with decisions over the organization of production and farm practice considered to be the husband's field. The average wife gets involved in such decisions only when the demands of farm and family threaten to come into conflict with each other, particularly on decisions that involve great financial returns or risk. Whenever women get involved with decisions in this area, without there being any question of conflicting interests, then it always seems to involve farm tasks, or to be more precise, farm tasks that involve a high degree of task control. These appear to lead to greater influence on decisions over the associated labour process, farm practice and set up. The processes of scale enlargement and specialization thus entail a reduction in the involvement of the farmer's wife in a number of decision over the direct production process and its organization. That, however, does not hold for all such decisions. Those involving heavy financial risk are generally speaking, with increased scale and specialization, more often areas for joint decision making. At the same time there seems to be a contrary tendency: on some of these large scale specialized farms there is an increasing separation of decision making ares between the sexes, where wives retreat as it were into the family domain, while their husbands control the farming domain.
5 On all family farms there is a clear division of labour according to gender, in which inequality forms the basic pattern. Although such inequality is sharpened by scale enlargement and specialization, its roots are not there, but in gender. This becomes clear from a comparison of the labour organization and decision making on the kind of farms managed by male partners. Here one finds no talk of structural patterns of unequal labour relations.
The research shows that existing (skewed) labour divisions on gender and gender stereotyping ideas (of men and women of themselves, and their own and each others work) are the essential mechanisms in which inequality and domination are rooted. In decisions over the division and re-division of tasks between the farmer and his wife, as well as in decisions over farm practice and development, the ideas of those involved play a crucial role; ideas about women's and mens' work, about fulfilling gender specific labour roles (farmer's wife/farmer, mother/father), about masculinity and femininity and the relation between women and men, farmers and farmers' wives. Gender specific identities strengthen the exchange of ideas and behaviour of men and women. In the world outside the farm gender differences are again also to be found. A division of labour according to gender and living stereotypes of farmers, farmers' wives, their activities and the relations between them, likewise exists in all sorts of institutes closely linked to the farm and farming household, Men try, through all kinds of strategies, to maintain the status quo. They present obstructions if women want to expand their room to manoeuvre, use discriminatory behaviour against women (by stigmatizing, or by systematically rejecting or criticizing their behaviour or ideas); they introduce techniques that are tailored to the size of men; they make women's work invisible; they are selective in the composition of membership or administration of organizations, study clubs, commissions; they set demands and qualifications on task content that are not easily achieved by women (such as for example man/woman social contracts). In their turn women also appear to use strategies to exclude men from their domain (such as the family domain) or place themselves outside the man's domain. This behaviour is also based on and stems from existing labour divisions, gender stereotyping of work, ideas about men and women, farmers' wives and farmers and the relations between them.
The above summarized findings in my opinion demonstrate that:
A) the processes of scale enlargement and specialization entail for farmers' wives a loss of control over their own labour, and the labour process as a whole. On farm work tasks are to a greater degree than before controlled by the farmer, and those tasks that the wife performs demand fewer professional skills and involve less damage risk. This has consequences for the satisfaction derived from work, to wit, it diminish . That means that the quality of her labour declines as scale enlargement and specialization increase.
B) These particular consequences of scale enlargement and specialization processes for women's labour are brought about through the mediation of the category gender. Gender is part of all social relations and in this way is an existing part of the economic, technological and political processes that have led to scale enlargement and specialization and of the farm as labour organization, as it is also a part of the economic, social, cultural and political environment in which the family farm is embedded.
|Qualification||Doctor of Philosophy|
|Award date||9 Oct 1992|
|Place of Publication||S.l.|
|Publication status||Published - 1992|
- dairy cattle
- dairy farming
- labour economics
- organization of work
- work study
- female labour
- women workers
- woman's status
- emancipation of women
- female equality