9 January 1998

Farmers wife term of abuse

"THAT is how it is with farming…"

…but why should it be this way? Farmlife is guilty! Your competition write-up "especially for farmers wives" says it all.

In my book farmers wife is a pejorative term, which takes away individuality and reduces women to the level of mere chattels. For 30 years I have struggled to extricate myself from this particular ghetto by describing myself as a farmer. After all, I have done most jobs on the farm at least once, some many times. I share both profits and losses. I could run the place myself if I had to.

Many women must be in this position. Their job counts may vary, but most still have to tolerate the backwash, the dirt, the dust and the disappointments. They provide a backup essential to the running of the business. If family farming is to survive, their role will become even more important. We deserve equal status.

I am no more a farmers wife than my husband is a farmers husband. I am a farmer. I am also a wife and mother. My family understand all this but much of the business world does not.

Bank managers ignore my presence when writing, something they would not dream of doing to two men in partnership. My name appears on legal documents and cheque books, and yet I remain

invisible.

I remember an evening discussion on inheritance tax organised by our bank. The meeting opened with a rather patronising sketch highlighting the assets of a fictional farming couple, the husband with say, 500 inherited acres, 200 beef animals, three tractors and a combine, the wife with just her Sunday dress. At question time and wishing to show my intelligence, I asked if the dress was inherited and whether it was subject to rollover relief.

Some merriment ensued, but further questions from a mere woman were not allowed to divert attention from the main business of selling pensions. I left early, muttering "There is no such thing as a free supper".

Once, a salesman, hoping to sell us a pension interrupted his spiel with the words "How about a cup of tea, missus?".

I still wonder why didnt he ask my husband to make the tea? He left with his sales figures unaltered.

Many times I have opened the door to hear the question "Is the boss in?".

My stock answer "Youre speaking to her" seems to confuse callers. Only the Jehovahs Witnesses and brush salesmen take me seriously.

But, after all this time, is it worth the struggle? Being a farmer is not what it used to be. Ones social standing is at rock bottom. The mention of the word farmer and the air is filled with discussion of BSE, vegetarianism, cruelty to animals, tractors on roads, pollution, feather beds etc. On reflection I am considering changing my job description. In future I think I will be a writer.

Margaret Miles