AMES, Iowa — A new class being offered at Iowa State University is the first to examine the history and changing roles of women in agriculture in the United States.
The course, which just wrapped up its first semester, used a sociological perspective to critically examine women’s identities, roles and gender relations in the agriculture and food system in the United States, said Carmen Bain, a sociology professor, who is teaching the class.
“Women have always played an important role in agriculture,” Bain said. “Now, I think society is recognizing that women’s roles have been invisible or not recognized in agriculture.”
The new course, Women in Agriculture and the Food System, looked at women’s roles on farms, in farm organizations and as farm operators. Bain said that women who were farm operators and workers weren’t included in the U.S. Census until relatively recently.
“There’s a real history of inequality there,” Bain said. “I think society is recognizing that women’s roles have been invisible and I think we’re at a point where we are beginning to recognize it.”
Women have always played a role on the farm, Bain said. She said women who worked off the farm or in the home were critically important in sustaining the farm household. That’s a point that Claire Dupuis, a junior in agriculture and society, took away from the class.
“Childcare and other domestic tasks traditionally performed by women in agrarian settings are essential to a farm’s well-being,” said Dupuis. “But those roles are often overlooked, causing women to be invisible actors in the agri-food system.”
Another important take away from the class for Dupuis is how attaching a gender to a role can restrict opportunity and practical experiences for girls on farms. She says that gender identification can result in keeping women from choosing farming careers.
Allee Koestner, a sophomore in agronomy, said the class is helping her understand women’s role in agriculture.
“Before the class I was not aware of the situations that women in agriculture face because I simply didn’t pay attention to them or fully consider the impacts of their situations,” Koestner said. “I now notice some of the problems that women face in my daily life and I am able to think critically and consider the impacts that the situation has on everyone involved.”
Bain said the class also focuses on farm labor and the problems women face in that role. For Jolean McClane, a sophomore in agronomy, that discussion provided a comprehensive view of farming and the food system.
“Understanding the struggles of farm laborer’s greatly impacted the way I look at the food system and our country as a whole. This class challenged and broadened my understanding of agriculture and the role that women play within our food system,” McClane said.
The class also looks at women’s access to credit, resources and women’s roles as consumers and their roles at the global level. The class will be offered again in the fall of 2019.
— Iowa State University
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