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So for this paper, my project was talking about Heartland Gender Discrimination in Agriculture Industry, and I want to talk about how female farmers get discrimination from an more historical perspective of view.

Journal of Rural Studies 42 (2015) 133e143
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Journal of Rural Studies
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jrurstud
Creating and consuming the heartland: Symbolic boundaries in
representations of femininity and rurality in U.S. Magazines
Julie C. Keller a, *, Sarah E. Lloyd b, Michael M. Bell c
Department of Sociology & Anthropology, University of Rhode Island, 507 Chafee Building, 10 Chafee Road, Kingston, RI, 02881, USA
Wisconsin Farmers Union, 108 S. Webster Street, Suite #201, Madison, WI, 53703, USA
Department of Community & Environmental Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 340 C Agricultural Hall, 1450 Linden Drive, Madison, WI, 53706,
a r t i c l e i n f o
a b s t r a c t
Article history:
Received 23 March 2015
Received in revised form
12 August 2015
Accepted 1 October 2015
Available online 27 October 2015
Scholars of rural studies have investigated a range of places and subcultures to identify varieties of rural
masculinitydboth new and olddand to understand how they shape social relations (e.g., Bell, 2004;
Campbell, 2000; Hennen, 2008). Yet a similarly energetic effort to understand rural femininity and its
consequences on social life is lacking. Simultaneously, while cultural studies of boundary-making processes have intensified in recent years, more work is needed to understand how “cultural narratives”
shape gendered boundary-making processes (Lamont and Molnar, 2002). In this article we ask: how do
representations of rural femininities vary across different media sources? And, how do symbolic
boundaries in these representations work to valorize specific rural femininities? Drawing in part on the
recent emergence of a hip, countryside consumerism, we analyze gender on the symbolic and cultural
level, making use of images and language to understand how representations of rurality and femininity
intersect. Analyzing content from two magazines in different genres, Successful Farmer and Country
Living, our findings revealed that rural femininities are contextual and depend on multiple and often
shifting understandings of both rurality and femininity. We specifically identified two distinct forms of
rural femininity, which we refer to as productivist rural femininity and transformative country chic. Further,
we found that in both magazines symbolic boundary-making relied on the gendered division of labor to
construct rural femininities, but that Country Living tended to use symbols of social class to portray
desirable rural femininity, more so than Successful Farming. The article concludes with a discussion of
further directions for the study of rural femininities and symbolic boundaries.
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Symbolic boundaries
1. Introduction
In the last couple of decades, rural studies has seen a surge in
scholarship on rural masculinities. From pub culture (Campbell,
2000; Leyshon, 2005) to radical faeries (Bell, 2000; Hennen,
2008), scholars have examined a variety of subcultures and venuesdsome quite surprisingdto understand how rurality is tangled
up with masculinity. As they reveal the importance of place in the
construction of gender and vice versa, some scholars argue that
rurality is infused with masculine meanings (e.g., Kazyak, 2012),
just as mainstream understandings of masculinity seem to be
tinged with images of rurality (e.g., Campbell et al., 2006). And yet,
* Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: jckeller@uri.edu (J.C. Keller), slloyd@wisconsinfarmersunion.
com (S.E. Lloyd), michaelbell@wisc.edu (M.M. Bell).
0743-0167/© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
the preoccupation with the relationship between masculinity and
rurality may be overly reductive, with the unintentional effect of
passing over how the rural helps construct the social imagination of
femininity, and how the feminine helps construct our imagination
of rurality.
There is a rich history of rural scholarship on women’s work in
agriculture and unequal gender relations in rural places more
generally (Brandth, 2002; O’Hara, 1998; Rosenfeld and Tigges, 1988;
Sachs, 1983, 1996; Trauger, 2004; Whatmore, 1991; Zimmerman,
2013). This work has strongly shaped the direction of rural
studies, and, as Pini et al. (2014) note, these scholars carved out a
space for the work on rural masculinities. But although rural gender
scholars have called for more work on both masculinities and
femininities (e.g., Little, 2002), the latter have not received comparable attention in rural studies.
Exemplified most recently by the popular blog, City
J.C. Keller et al. / Journal of Rural Studies 42 (2015) 133e143
Farmhoused“living a modern country life one project at a time”
(citycountrylife.com)dand Modern Farmer magazine (Haughney,
2013), the recent emergence of a hip, countryside sensibility,
complete with a “feed sack chic” consumerism, offers scholars of
rural life an opportunity to identify a new kind of rural femininity.
Although this “modern country” lifestyle may have implications for
masculinity, in this article we emphasize its effects on femininity,
cor (e.g.,
which can be identified in “farmhouse chic” home de
rustandhoney.com), tips for women in small-scale entrepreneurship (e.g., thefarmchicks.com), and advice for expecting moms (e.g.,
We recognize that constellations of rural femininities derive
from multiple sources, involve different groups of social actors
with various stakes, and are often constructed in relation to social
divisions along race, gender, and class lines. As such, we are
interested in understanding exactly how rural femininities may be
portrayed differently, depending on the source and the producers.
Given the vast literature on gender inequality in agriculture, we
chose popular agricultural media as one source type for our study,
setting this against popular lifestyle media as a second source
By bringing attention to the understudied area of rural femininity, we not only highlight the diverse forms that rural femininity
can take in popular culture, but we also contribute to the literature
within rural studies on symbolic boundary-making. The cultural
turn in rural studies scholarship has resulted in an explosion of
interest in tracking multiple meanings of rurality as captured by
rural residents and non-residents (e.g., Bell, 1994; Cloke, 1997;
Cloke and Little, 1997; Gray, 2009), as well as representations of
rural life in mass media (e.g. Baylina and Berg, 2010). From a cultural sociology perspective, tracking rural meanings is aided by the
study of symbolic boundaries that dictate what or who is authentically “country.” This search for rural authenticity intensifies when
we consider just how pervasive the culture of local foods, sustainable agriculture, and the related trend of “rural chic” has
become. In light of a surge of recent scholarship that articulates the
classed and racialized politics of localism and exclusionary food
justice movements (e.g., Alkon, 2012; Guthman, 2008; Johnston
and Baumann, 2010), we see a need to identify how gender intersects with differences over what the rural means and how it may
be invoked to draw symbolic, and ultimately social, boundaries.
In this article we ask: how do representations of rural femininities vary across different media sources? And, how do symbolic boundaries in these representations work to valorize specific
rural femininities? Relying on a cultural sociological approach to
gender and rurality, we examined images and text from two
magazines in different genres, Successful Farmer and Country
Living. Our findings indicated that rural femininities are contextual
and depend on multiple and often shifting understandings of both
rurality and femininity. We specifically identified two distinct
forms of rural femininity, which we refer to as productivist rural
femininity and transformative country chic. The productivist rural
femininity was characterized by little involvement in major farm
decisions, crafting solutions to communication problems, and
accountability for the health and wellbeing of the family. By
contrast, Country Living promoted the transformative country chic
femininity, guiding readers toward finding a country home, career
shifts, decorating, leisure and country cooking. Further, we found
that in both magazines symbolic boundary-making relied on the
gendered division of labor to construct rural femininities, but that
Country Living tended to use symbols of social class to portray
desirable rural femininity, more so than Successful Farming. These
findings highlight that there are no straight-forward definitions of
rural femininity, as variants can be derived from different sources
and carry differently classed and gendered connotations. Results
also underscore the sociological importance of examining recent
trends in the use of rural symbols in popular culture, and understanding what these trends mean for shifting urbanerural social
2. Methodology and data
As media scholars and sociologists have demonstrated (e.g.,
Gray, 1995; Storey, 2003), popular culture is an important arena for
understanding how identities are packaged and disseminated.
Because we wanted to understand how ideas about rurality and
femininity are packaged for large audiences, we followed in the
footsteps of sociologists and media scholars before us, choosing to
focus on the realm of popular culture and the “politics of representation” (Grindstaff, 2008, p.210). Our methodology is also in line
with sociologists who view gender using a multilevel framework
that includes structural, interactional, and symbolic/cultural levels
(e.g., Acker, 1990; Messner, 2000; Risman, 1999). In this article we
focused primarily on the symbolic/cultural level, as we are interested in diverse representations of rural femininities in popular
publications aimed at different audiences and regions. As such, we
were interested in understanding exactly how rural femininities
may be portrayed differently, depending on the source and the
producers of content. Given the vast literature on gender inequality
in agriculture, we chose popular agricultural media as one source
type for our study, setting this against popular lifestyle media as a
second source type. We expected that choosing two very different
publicationsdone produced from a conventional agricultural
perspective and the other from a lifestyle urban/suburban perspectivedwould likely yield contrasting types of rural femininities,
and thus suggest the diversity of rural femininities observable in
print media.
Although we could have chosen to analyze television, film, or
online media, we selected the print medium of popular magazines
to allow for comparison across previous studies, such as Walter and
Wilson’s (1996) study of women’s representations in agricultural
magazines, which included Successful Farming. In addition, while it
could be argued that magazines are becoming irrelevant as digital
content comes to dominate the media landscape, the readership of
the popular magazines we chose is quite high, as noted below, and
both magazines offer digital subscriptions, as well as maintain
active Twitter and Facebook accounts.
To examine femininity in rural spaces, we selected the American
magazine Successful Farming because it is a popular mainstream
agricultural trade publication geared toward farmers and farm
families. Founded in 1902, Successful Farming is a “major national
farm publication” (Agri Marketing, 2002). The stated goal of Successful Farming editors is “to help farmers make money, save time,
and grow their satisfaction in the challenging business of farming”
(Meredith Corporation, 2011, p.2). In 2010 their readership was
840,000, with 69% men and 31% women. The average age of the
reader was 57, with a median gross income of $157,000, and the
average farm size was 647 acres (Meredith Corporation, 2011),
substantially larger than the national average of 434 acres in 2012
(USDA, 2014a), reflecting the magazine’s orientation towards more
industrial farmers.
We selected the American magazine, Country Living, to examine
rural representations in feminine-coded spaces because it is a
popular home decorating and lifestyle magazine geared toward
women. It was also selected for its availability at many public libraries across the U.S., a feature which was important for us
logistically, but also relevant for establishing wide readership. In
2010 they had a total readership of over 11 million, with 78%
women and 22% men. The median age of the reader was 53, and the
median head of household income was $59,944. Fifty nine percent
J.C. Keller et al. / Journal of Rural Studies 42 (2015) 133e143
of the readers have attended college and 65% are married.1 Country
Living describes an “exclusive readership,” and as evidence, they
inform the reader that, on average, 79% of their readers “do not read
any other shelter or lifestyle magazine”, such as Martha Stewart
Living or Real Simple (GfK MRI, 2011). Like Successful Farming,
Country Living aims at a disproportionately “up-market” readership, no doubt in part to be more attractive to advertisers.
The material we analyzed included the editorial and advertising
content from the year 2011 for all issues of Successful Farming (13
issues) and all issues from Country Living (11 issues). Because we
wanted to track recent trends in representations of femininity and
rurality, we selected the most current issues of the magazines
available at the time of analysis. A study of magazine content from
multiple years may have yielded interesting results about the
durability of rural femininities over time, but funding was not
available for this level of analysis. For our goal of comparing representations of rurality and femininity across two different publications, we believe that analyzing articles and advertising from a
total of 24 issues from one year was adequate.
Each 2011 issue of Country Living contained four to five feature
articles, in addition to advertising and eight to nine other articles
with bylines, at a length of 134e158 pages, including cover content.
Every 2011 Successful Farming magazine contained four to nine
feature articles, plus advertising content and 10e13 additional articles with bylines, with a length of 76e92 pages per issue,
including covers. Following Brandth and Haugen (2000), the
gendered character of publications can be determined by counting
the frequencies of women and men as authors of the content and as
featured in photos and illustrations within articles and advertisements. We followed this quantitative method for our analysis, in
addition to the qualitative strategy of identifying, describing, and
categorizing portrayals of rurality in Country Living and portrayals
of femininity and women in Successful Farming. Following the
analytical approach of other magazine studies focusing on agriculture and gender (Brandth and Haugen, 2000; Sireni, 2014;
Walter and Wilson, 1996), we analyzed the discourses present in
the publications to understand how the text and images presented
women’s contributions to the farm household, as well as constructions of femininity and rurality. As a magazine geared overwhelmingly toward women readers, we focused on identifying the
moments in Country Living in which rurality and its associated
cultural characteristics were explicitly named, and then we
described the context of this content, copying text directly and
typing up descriptions of images. We then sorted these references
into themes, such as “how to become a country woman.” For our
analysis of Successful Farming, a magazine that tended to target
male readers, we followed similar methods, but focused on identifying moments in which women and femininity were mentioned
or depicted in articles and advertising. An example of a theme
developed by sorting references was, “women as helpers on farm.”
3. Theory
3.1. Rural femininities and feminine ruralities
Starting in the early 1980s, scholars working in rural studies in
Europe, Australia, and the United States began publishing research
that documented women’s crucial contributions to agricultural
production (e.g., Brandth, 1994, 2002; Flora, 1985; Gasson, 1980;
Comparable reader demographics for Successful Farming on marital status and
education level were not available from the publisher for 2010. In 2014, 90% of
Successful Farming subscribers were married and 29% had a college degree
(Meredith Corporation, 2014).
O’Hara, 1998; Rosenfeld and Tigges, 1988; Sachs, 1983, 1996;
Whatmore, 1991). Many of these scholars argued that historically,
women’s work tended to be “overlooked and undervalued” in the
literature on agricultural production and farm households (Sachs,
1983, p.xi; Shortall, 1992; c.f., Zimmerman, 2013). Research in this
area has been strengthened in recent years by contributions from
scholars studying women and farming in the global South (e.g.,
Angeles and Hill, 2009; Gunewardena, 2010), as well as women
working in sustainable agriculture (Pilgeram and Amos, 2015;
Trauger, 2004). As noted by Pini et al. (2014), the early pathbreakers in this field have strongly shaped the direction of gender
work within rural studies generally, opening the door for eventual
work on rural masculinities.
The idea that gender is constructed relationally and that we can
uncover the workings of gender through focusing on masculinities
and femininities has gained much traction in the last 20 years or so,
and has been especially fueled by Raewyn Connell’s work (e.g.,
1987; 1995). This approach to gender has extended to the field of
rural studies, notable in the numerous publications on rural masculinities in recent years. A brave special issue of Rural Sociology in
2000 was devoted to rural masculinities and scholars applied this
concept to a range of rural topics that extend beyond agriculture,
from gay men in the countryside (Bell, 2000) to ultra-right-wing
white militias (Kimmel and Ferber, 2000). Several compelling
books and edited volumes on rural masculinities followed (e.g.,
Bell, 2004; Campbell et al., 2006; Little and Morris, 2005), and
additional scholarly articles on rural masculinities continue to
emerge, albeit slowly, in rural studies journals (e.g., Annes and
Redlin, 2012; Saugeres, 2002).
Situated in the social constructionist approach to rurality, much
of the work on rural masculinities interrogates the meanings of
both masculinity and rurality to show how these are often mutually
constituted, wherein the ideas and symbols of masculinity seep
into definitions of rurality and vice versa. For example, Campbell
et al. (2006) point out that the Marlboro Man is not just a symbol
of masculinity, but simultaneously a symbol of the rural. And
Kazyak’s (2012) study of rural lesbians and gay men in Michigan
and Illinois concludes that it is the masculinity that underpins the
category of rural that makes the acceptance of visibly masculine
lesbians more tenable in rural communities than the acceptance of
visibly feminine gay men. Yet if we abide by Connell’s (1995)
assertion that masculinity is constituted in relation to femininity,
it is clear that femininity, too, deserves attention in work on the
social construction of rural places. That is, the willingness to suggest that “the rural,” in all its diversity and mixtures of meanings, is
somehow always, already masculine ought to sound just as troubling as the assertion that “the urban” is deeply feminine. If we
commit to the theory that gender is constructed relationally, then a
scholarly rendering of the rural as unequivocally masculine is not a
comprehensive analysis of either gender, place, or culture. This
article centers on locating femininities in rural places, and understanding how they are deployed in ways that impart different understandings of what the countryside means.
Compared to masculinity, the concept of femininity has received
much less scholarly attention, even beyond rural studies. In taking
stock of the literature on hegemonic masculinity, Connell and
Messerschmidt (2005) encouraged scholars to further investigate
the concept of femininity in order to better understand its place in
the framework of gender hegemony. What Connell (1987) referred
to as emphasized femininity was formed in tandem with hegemonic
masculinity. Yet, with few exceptions (e.g., Pyke and Johnson, 2003;
Schippers, 2007), the study of femininity has not received much
attention in the discipline of sociology. In rural studies, a handful of
gender scholars, most from Europe and Australia, have called for
more attention to the contested and changing elements of
J.C. Keller et al. / Journal of Rural Studies 42 (2015) 133e143
masculinities and femininities, pointing to the importance of seeing
gender relations as dynamic and contested. For example, Bryant
and Pini (2011) write about farm women and heterosexuality,
noting that farm women practice gender in a variety of ways,
resisting gender norms at certain instances, but not others, and that
these may change, for instance, over a woman’s lifetime. In an early
article on rural femininity, Brandth (1994) found that Norwegian
women using farm machinery reshaped femininity through their
daily practices. And Little (2002) called for a direct focus on
embodiment in relation to rural femininities and masculinities,
drawing on the work of Judith Butler and invoking a framework of
performativity to enhance the understanding of practices and
shifting meanings of gender identity in rural places. Keller (2014)
identified the alternative rural femininity of the “self-identified
farmer” among Wisconsin women as they attempted to be recognized as legitimate in their occupation. Finally, Morris and Evans
(2001) analyzed representations of women and men in a popular
UK agricultural magazine to understand constructions of femininities and masculinities over time. They found that the magazine had
shifted toward portraying multiple kinds of femininities, but that
the dualistic model of hegemonic masculinity and emphasized
femininity tended to prevail (Morris and Evans, 2001).
This article contributes toward these efforts to draw out the
multiple and shifting meanings of femininity in the countryside,
and enhances this work by examining simultaneously different
kinds of rural femininities from very different sources, a project
that has been largely missing in rural scholarship. In line with
Brandth and Haugen’s (2000) focus on the taken-for-granted
masculinity in Norway’s forestry industry through an analysis of
industry publications, as well as Brandth’s (1995) work on tractor
advertisements, we propose to uncover the often hidden feminizing of rurality and the ruralizing of femininity in popular lifestyle
and agricultural trade magazines. As we locate these feminization
and ruralization moments, we add to our understanding of how
rurality and femininity are deployed symbolically in both rural and
non-rural contexts.
3.2. Symbolic boundaries and cultural sociology
The sociology of culture section of the American Sociological
Association has more members than almost any other section, and
the publication of a new journal, American Journal of Cultural Sociology, signals an acceleration of interest into how culture matters to
sociology. It is thus evident that sociologists have a steadily growing
investment in understanding the relationship between culture and
society. Chief among their concerns is a preoccupation with symbolic boundaries. This focus is an extension of the work of Pierre
Bourdieu, particularly his groundbreaking book on cultural capital
and consumption, Distinction (Bourdieu 1984). The questions that
preoccupy theorists in this area include: How and along which lines
are symbolic boundaries sketched? How are they maintained and
who does the work to shore up their demarcations? These questions and more have been posed by Lamont and Molnar (2002), and
other sociologists who have penned a research agenda for this fastgrowing concentration. This scholarship makes a distinction between symbolic boundaries and social boundaries. Social boundaries are those in place due to uneven access to resources. Symbolic
boundaries, on the other hand, are “conceptual distinctions made
by social actors” (Lamont and Molnar, 2002, p.168). Symbolic
boundary-making works to “separate people into groups and
generate feelings of similarity and group membership” (Epstein,
1992; Lamont and Molnar, 2002, p.168). In a seminal contribution
to cultural sociology, Lamont (1992) focuses on the boundaries
around social class that are erected and maintained among the
French and American upper middle class. In arguing that the high
arts play less of a role in the U.S. than in France in shaping the tastes
of cultural elites, Lamont challenges the global applicability of
Bourdieu’s theory of tastes in Distinction (Bourdieu 1984). In this
article we extend this vein of cultural research, using the questions
posed by Lamont and Molnar (2002) as a guide to understand how
symbolic boundaries determine the intersecting meanings and
values of rural life and femininity in the U.S.
Cloke (1997) described the “cultural turn” within the social
sciences as a point of origin for the resurgence of interest in rurality.
Reviewing recent scholarship in rural studies, such as the
boundary-making of “new middle class” in the English countryside
(Heley, 2010) or the culture of animal welfare (Burton et al., 2012),
examples abound of research that engages a cultural lens to
examine rural spaces. There are, of course, multiple and contested
rurals to examine (e.g., Cloke and Little, 1997; Neal and Agyeman,
2006), and thus, multiple potential projects for seeing and understanding social and symbolic boundaries in rural spaces. Halfacree
(1997), for example, makes the distinction among the industrialized rural, the consumerist rural and the radical rural. Referring
back to Lamont and Molnar (2002), the making and remaking of
symbolic boundaries may be an important indicator of social
change. Thus, understanding how these multiple “representations
of the rural” (Halfacree, 2006:47) are portrayed through images and
text, as well as how the boundaries of these meanings are reinforced, blurred, or challenged, can illustrate the dynamism of rural
spaces and perhaps reveal evidence of change. Or, to use Bell’s
(2007, p.408) terminology, what might shifts in the realm of second ruraldthe “ideal moment” of the ruraldindicate about
changes to the first rural, or, the “material moment”? Various representations of the rural may signal contestation and struggle over
the meaning of rural places, for example, questions that center on
what the rural is and what it ought to be. Neal (2009), for instance,
argues that a preoccupation with nature and rural spaces in England signals anxiety about ethnic and national identity. Drawing
on an article in Country Living about the bygone “nature table” for
school children, Neal (2009, p.131) shows how the popular magazine constructs nature as a resource for childrendparticularly
those in urban schoolsdand how “rural spaces become a potent
pre- and post-modern shorthand for security and timelessness”
Some conceptualizations of the consumerist rural (e.g.,
Halfacree, 2010) draw on material culture studies, a field that
originated in anthropology and archaeology, and that sees materiality and consumption as fundamental to culture (Miller, 1987,
1998; Tilley et al., 2006). A primary concern for material culture
studies is “the relationship of things to value systems, cosmologies,
beliefs and emotions, more broadly to personal and social identities” (Tilley et al., 2006:4). An example of this approach, although
material cultural studies is not explicitly referenced, is a study of
gay and lesbian rural idyllisation by Gorman-Murray et al. (2012).
The authors found that tourism media constructed urban and rural
life, in part, as opposites in narratives of a non-metropolitan gay
and lesbian festival in Australia where escape from urban dance
club life could be achieved. But in addition to this mythologized
binary construction, they also found evidence of hybridization of
the urban and rural, in which festival-goers emphasized sentiments
of belonging in a “cosmopolitan country” that is “embedded in
urban(e) ideals through indulgent consumption practices alongside
the health-giving attributes of a place of/for nature” (2012, p.77).
Subjectivity can thus be formed across and beyond the supposed
boundary that renders rural spaces as anti-urban. This perspective
aligns with recent work focusing on the increasing spatial and social interdependence of rural and urban spaces (e.g., Lacour and
Puissant, 2007; Lichter and Brown, 2011; Neal, 2013), and specifically the erosion of the rural-urban boundary that results when
J.C. Keller et al. / Journal of Rural Studies 42 (2015) 133e143
“rural goods and services are directed toward and consumed
disproportionately by people with strong ties to urban and big-city
populations” (Lichter and Brown, 2011, p.574).
As mentioned earlier, we can understand aspects of identity
formation by examining popular culture (e.g., Gray, 1995; Storey,
2003). This perspective, referred to as the “politics of representation” (Grindstaff, 2008:210), is based on an interpretivist approach
to popular culture, and engages with methods of textual analysis to
understand how views about the world can be detected in media
sources and how these may influence identity-making processes.
Textual analysis can include analysis of visual media as well. In a
study of gender in popular culture, Goffman (1979) argued that
photographs reveal a different kind of data than text alone, and that
the way gender is depicted in advertisements is very similar to how
gendered interactions actually play out socially. Of course we must
be careful not to assume that the way gender is represented always
reflects everyday interactions. But gender representationsdboth
text and visual contentddo have real effects. As Brandth
(1995:126) points out in her study of tractor advertisements in a
widely circulated Norwegian agricultural magazine, “representations are not merely reflections of their sources, but contribute to
the shaping of them.” Narratives circulated by mass media about
successful farming, for instance, may lead readers to emulate not
only the specific agricultural technique featured, but also “personal
or affective characteristics” of the farmer (Walter, 1995:59).
In line with feminist work in rural sociology, Walter and Wilson
(1996) sought to understand how women were represented in
popular agricultural magazines. Similar to our aims in this study,
these authors wanted to know how women were depicted in
stories of farm success, and the contexts in which women’s practices were highlighted and made central. Analyzing three different
magazinesdincluding Successful Farmingdacross multiple points
across the 20th century, they found that among the 473 articles
analyzed, 63 percent made no mention of women and reinforced a
“domestic ideology” (Walter and Wilson, 1996). We wish to extend
this important work on gendered rural representations in a more
comprehensive study of diverse forms and sources of rural femininities, recognizing the decreasing spatial and social distance between urban and rural places (Lichter and Brown, 2011).
For our purposes, paying attention to the ways that representations of rural femininity are packaged for consumption may
illuminate connections between the consumerist rural and the
symbolic boundaries that contribute toward the making of identities. Recognizing the tendency in popular culture to portray rural
America as the “antithesis of the modern urban world” (Brown and
Kandel, 2006; Lichter and Brown, 2011), we are especially interested in how rurality is deployed in the making of feminine identities. This article focuses on how potential struggles over the
meaning of rurality articulate with representations of gender.
3.3. Multiple rurals
Within the area of food studies, scholars are increasingly
emphasizing the often hidden class and race dimensions of exclusionary food movements and campaigns for localism (e.g., Alkon,
2012; Guthman, 2008; Johnston and Baumann, 2010), movements
which are often infused with particular understandings of the rural
as an object for consumption. We see a need for greater engagement with gender inequality and intersectional perspectives within
the study of rural representation and the multiple meanings of
Agriculture holds a central place in many definitions of rural,
and the relationships and structures around agricultural production are important to our understanding of multiple rural femininities. These structures include differing regimes of
accumulation. We see productivist agriculture as characterized by a
primary focus on maximum food and fiber production for the
market and achieved through strategies of intensification, concentration, and specialization (Bowler, 1985). In the academic
literature as well as more popular forms of media, there is debate
about an ongoing, fundamental transition in agriculture from
“productivism” to “post-productivism” or “non-productivism”
(Cloke and Goodwin, 1992; Holmes, 2006; Marsden et al., 1993;
Wilson, 2007). Productivism, defined above by drawing on
Bowler (1985), focuses on the maximum output of agricultural
products. Post-productivism includes recognition of multiple
functions of agriculture such as, market and non-market goods and
social, ecological, and economic functions. For instance, Marsden
points toward “new rural geographies of value,” which reflect the
differing “values placed upon rural areas for different types of
tourism or recreation or other forms of industrial or agro-food
development” (1999, p.507). These are forms of consumption that
together make up the “contemporary consumption countryside”
(Marsden, 1999, p.503). This view expands the study of rural areas
beyond just agricultural production and consumption, allowing, for
example, the focus to shift toward rural-urban “mutual interdependencies and reciprocal flows of people, goods, and services” (Lichter and Brown, 2011, p. 584). Simultaneously, Marsden
(1999) stresses the diversity of rural areas, a concern that we
share in our analysis of how different meanings attached to rural
life may yield different forms of rural femininity.
Evident in popular blogs and magazines, such as City Farmhouse
(citycountrylife.com) and Modern Farmer (Haughney, 2013),
rurality has acquired a cultural prestige that seems particularly
powerful today. The online store, Rust and Honey (rustandhoney.
com), sells “farmhouse chic” items, such as decorative burlap pillows (priced at $49 each) and Mason jar night lights ($18 each). In
an online gallery of photos, Country Living features “Feed Sack Chic”
cor: “Used to transport grain and other dry goods, these humble
bags have inspired high-style accessories” (Dodell-Feder, 2015).
This rural-inspired style is paired with a hip, countryside sensibility
that entails support for local organic farms and knowing “where
your food comes from” (see Guthman, 2008), and extends to advice
for small-scale entrepreneurship (e.g., thefarmchicks.com) as well
as resources for mothers and mothers-to-be (e.g., naturebaby.com).
The emergence of this cultural trend presents an opportunity for
scholars of rural studies to examine a new version of rural femininity, one that is not necessarily found in rural places, but rather,
exemplifies the deteriorating urbanerural boundary that recent
scholarship has suggested (e.g., Lichter and Brown, 2011). Changing
producer and consumer relationships, including market values for
qualities of the rural that may have at one time been recognized as
non-market functions, are important for our analysis of changing
rural femininities. To the degree that rural landscapes and populations are undergoing transformation, we might expect changes
in representations of rurality and femininity. And, given that we
have reason to believe that the rural is being imagined and
consumed differently by non-rural populations, we focus on the
gendered character of this imagination and consumption, and what
it means for various types of femininity.
4. Symbolic and cultural representations of rural femininities
4.1. Productivist rural femininity
Compared to Walter and Wilson’s (1996) analysis of Successful
Farming, we found a similarly gendered pattern in our study of the
magazine from 2011. On average, men were featured in just over 41
pictures per issue in both advertisements and articles. By comparison, pictures of women in stories and advertisements averaged
J.C. Keller et al. / Journal of Rural Studies 42 (2015) 133e143
at under one-third that of men, at just over 12 per issue. Somewhat
surprisingly, women authored over 43 percent of the articles in
Successful Farming on average across all 2011 issues. With very few
exceptionsdfor instance, an article and photo about women
farming in the global South (January 2011, p.70)dpeople pictured
appeared to be white.
Successful Farming generally portrayed the version of rurality
that Halfacree (1997) identifies as industrialist, with images that
center on the productivist goals of maximum food and fiber production for the market, achieved through strategies of intensification, concentration, and specialization. What Bell (2004) describes
as “monologic Big Ag masculinity” looms large in Successful
Farming, and is perhaps best illustrated by advertisements for
pesticides and herbicides that are frequently included in traditional
productivist agricultural publications. Multiple images of men’s
mastery in (and of) rural places, such as a giant man’s hand hovering above a field of crops, squeezing rain from a cloud (August
2011, p.47), or the constant war of “Man vs. Weed” (February 2011,
p.2), all confirm what Brandth described as the representation of
men as “controllers of nature” in her analysis of tractor advertisements (1995, p.132). This hegemonic rural masculinity of Big Ag,
with its unilateral approach to communication, does not question
conventional farm methods (Bell, 2004). These images, taken
together with the underrepresentation of women in picture content, suggest the construction of symbolic boundaries around the
kind of rurality most valorized, as well as the kind of person who
can be a main decision-maker on farms. Industrial agriculture
dominates meanings of rurality, and men and masculinity dominate the image of the “successful farmer.”
Turning to representations of women in Successful Farming, our
findings resonate with what Walter and Wilson (1996) described as
the general upholding of the “domestic ideology.” The observed
complement to the “Big Ag masculinity” in this magazine is mainly
emphasized femininity (Connell, 1987), or what scholars have also
referred to as hegemonic femininity (Schippers, 2007). This femininity is a rural variant, in other words, a hegemonic rural femininity.
Just as hegemonic femininity carries the most power in shaping
feminine norms in a particular context (Schippers, 2007), it is
hegemonic rural femininity that has the greatest influence on
shaping feminine norms in rural places. Yet hegemonic femininities, like hegemonic masculinities, are multiple and vary according
to place and time (Messerschmidt, 2010). In our analysis of images
and text in Successful Farming, we identified the basic characteristics of a kind of hegemonic rural femininity featured most prominently that we refer to as a productivist rural femininity: relatively
little involvement in the major decisions made on the farm;
accountable for the care and health of family; and responsible for
the “soft skills” of problem-solving among male stakeholders in the
farm business, as well as maintaining communication off the farm.
Women in Successful Farming were depicted as engaged in
productivist agriculture, but overwhelmingly in positions in
accordance with “helpmate” rather than as major players. This
secondary role was evident by the general underrepresentation of
women in visual content, as noted above. In pictures, women were
sometimes shown as partners in productive activities on the farm,
yet they were most often depicted as a helper and not the main
focus of the activity. For instance, in most of the 2011 issues of
Successful Farming there was a farm family featured and a photomontage of a sort of “day-in-the-life” depiction of their activities.
In the January issue six photographs were included in this photomontage section, three of which were placed at the top of the
page and portrayed solitary men working with harvested corn, one
of a girl and boy bedding sheep in a barn, and at the bottom of the
page was a photo of a woman sitting at a computer doing bookwork
and another photo of a grandmother baking cookies with children
(January 2011, p.66). Although certainly critical to the farm business, bookkeeping is included toward the bottom of the page,
alongside childcare duties. Women were pictured in other places in
the magazine engaged in bookkeeping, yet this activity was not
given the same centrality as the men’s machine work that was so
often pictured as integral to the operation.
Women were especially portrayed as secondary in action and
decision-making around technology and machinery. For example,
an advertisement for Pioneer seed products features a woman as
part of the decision making process, seated at a table across from a
company representative, with the heading, “Matching the right
product to the right acre starts with a meeting of the minds”
(September 2011, p.26e7). Yet the woman is sitting beside her
husband or partner in the peripheral zone of the action, seemingly
taking a supportive role, her eyes fixed on her partner’s face and
smiling as he and the salesperson face each other directly and are
engaged in a “meeting of the minds” on the particulars of Pioneer
agricultural technology.
A few photos and articles depicted women engaged directly in
agricultural activities, such as a featured story about an Ohio State
University college student who returns home on weekends to farm
with her father, grandfather, and uncles (February 2011, p.65). The
heading is “Farming in Her Blood,” and the woman is quoted in the
article, speaking authoritatively about the use of no-till cropping
practices. Yet this woman-centered story on agricultural methods
was not the norm in Successful Farming. Perhaps noteworthy is the
ad that appears just below this short feature. There were rarely
pictures of women in the magazine operating large-scale farming
equipment, yet here we see a woman operating a Grasshopper lawn
mower. This fits with the characterization of women as responsible
for the home, including the lawn and flower garden. This is evident
in an advertisement for a small green house, featuring a woman
holding a plant in the doorway (March 2011, p. 85).
Women were also depicted as primarily responsible for the
health and overall wellbeing of the farm family. One advertisement
featured a “home-cooked and hearty” crockpot and the “Busy
Woman’s Slow Cooker Cookbook,” (January 2011, p.61), and a
different issue included a photo of two young women in a 4H
cooking competition (Mid-March 2011, p.68), implying that women
are held accountable for making meals. Each issue included a
“Family” section which, although not expressly stated, appeared to
be geared towards women specifically, with recipes and health tips,
as well as advertisements for mail-order flower bulbs. These photographs clearly enforce the hegemonic femininity (and overwhelmingly, hegemonic masculinity) of productivist rural life.
There were some photos depicting men engaged in childcare, for
instance an image of a little boy leaning in for a hug from his
grandfather (February 2011, p.68), but the vast majority of photos of
children featured women as caretakers of children, for instance the
photo described above of a grandmother baking cookies with
children (January 2011, p.66), a woman putting socks on a little boy
(February 2011, p.68), or the title of an article about family changes,
“Look, Mom, you’re an empty nester” (MayeJune 2011, p.57).
Along with the household responsibilities of taking care of the
home, caring for children, and feeding the family, women in Successful Farming magazine were also characterized and depicted as
managing the community relationships both on and off the farm.
For instance, one issue includes a picture depicting a husband and
wife standing in a yard with cattle, with the woman holding a
clipboard that says, “Learning ways to improve communication”
(MayeJune 2011, p.32). There was also a gendered expectation for
women’s commitment to managing the public image of agriculture,
made clear in an advertisement featuring a female journalist for the
U.S. Farmer and Rancher Alliance (October 2011, p.29), and in a
photo of women interfacing with female customers to represent
J.C. Keller et al. / Journal of Rural Studies 42 (2015) 133e143
and protect productivist agriculture from criticism as they “put a
friendly face on farming and food producers” (April 2011, p.15).
The images of femininity and masculinity in Successful Farming
match well with other research on the gendered division of labor in
productivist agricultural systems. There is an extensive scholarship
on this issue. Meares (1997) provides a clear overview of the
literature and in her article discusses three types of work on family
farms: productive, reproductive, and community managing.
Women’s dominant sphere is reproductive and community managing, while men’s time and efforts are largely concentrated in the
productive sphere (Meares, 1997, p.35). Similarly, a study of Wisconsin dairy farms (Vogt et al., 2001) found that most farm women
were responsible for farm bookkeeping and bill paying on the farm.
Other findings of the gendered division of labor on productivist
farms included: farm errands and vegetable gardening were common tasks for farm women; women were more likely to work with
livestock than do field work; and, women tended to perform tasks
requiring manual labor rather than those with machinery. Almost
two-thirds of the farm women participating in the study contributed more than forty hours a week of on-farm work, and many farm
women took off-farm jobs to obtain health insurance for the family
and increase household income, making clear contributions to the
operation (Vogt et al., 2001). The 2006 Life Satisfaction and Dairy
Farming survey in Wisconsin also indicated a highly gendered division of labor, especially in certain tasks. Men were most likely to
have sole responsibility for fixing machinery, moving fences,
managing milk contracts, and hauling manure. Women had responsibility over cooking food, household cleaning and shopping,
as well as childcare (Lloyd et al., 2006).
Yet there is evidence to suggest that women are increasingly
taking the reins in agricultural production, indicated by the growth
in women farm operators, who now run roughly 14% of farms
nationwide as principal operator and account for 30% of all farm
operators (USDA, 2014a, 2014b). Though women do tend to operate
smaller farms compared to men (USDA, 2014c), given this overall
growth and the corresponding attention in the media, we would
expect more noticeable shifts in representations of women in
Successful Farming. But, comparing our updated findings to Walter
and Wilson’s (1996) study, it is clear that the supportive productivist femininity remains as a persistent gender configuration in the
representation of agriculture in this widely read trade publication,
demarcating the symbolic boundary around who can and cannot be
a farmer with decision-making power.
4.2. Transformative country chic
Our quantitative findings show that women dominate the images and authorial content of Country Living magazine. On average,
women were featured in just over 49 pictures in each issue from
2011, while men were pictured in just over 27 pictures. Women also
tended to write the vast majority of the articles, averaging at just
under 10 articles per issue, while men authored an average of 3.5
articles per issue. Most people featured in Country Living appeared
to be white, yet a few multiracial families were pictured in editorial
content and advertising.
In the March 2011 special issue of Country Living, titled “What’s
Country Now,” editor in chief Sarah Gray Miller, pictured wearing a
black-and-white gingham shirt and posing in front of what looks
like a freshly whitewashed wooden shed, declares that “rural is the
new urbane” (p.8). She explains that “this issue focuses on an unexpected epicenter of cool: America’s heartland” (p.8). Miller goes
on to describe the negative reaction she used to receive from New
Yorkers when telling them of her Mississippi roots. By contrast, she
notes that, “Nowadays, the most sophisticated restaurant in my
Manhattan neighborhood is a comfort-food joint called Red
Rooster” (p.8). In this section we highlight that with this apparent
cultural shift toward all things country comes a particular type of
rural femininityda version that is illustrated as desirable, hip, and
constructed using symbolic class boundaries.
When flipping through the pages of Country Living, with its
focus on home decorating and cooking, we identified a distinct type
of rural femininity. This rural femininity shares several of the
characteristics of the Successful Farming portrayal of femininity.
Across both publications, women are viewed as shouldering the
greatest responsibility for children, family obligations, and the
home generally. For instance, each issue analyzed features a
“Making a Country Living” section, in which women have opened
businesses that allow them the flexibility to meet childcare duties,
such as the “enterprising mom” who “quit the corporate grind to
start an all-natural bath line for kids” (May 2011, p.30). Among the
issues we analyzed, men were rarely featured in this section, nor
were they portrayed as attempting to find work-family balance, as
these women were. This gendered pattern suggests that women
were viewed as primary caretakers, just as in Successful Farming.
But instead of complementing a productivist agricultural ideology, as in Successful Farming, the specific type of rural that shapes
this femininity is different; this femininity is about the rural as a
product to consume. In contrast to the industrialist agriculture from
Successful Farming, this is the “consumerist rural” (Halfacree, 1997)
or the “contemporary consumption countryside” (Marsden,
1999:503) that has come to be associated with post-Fordism. Using the example from Country Living above, readers are taught that
consuming the rural can empower women to be better mothers,
better able to meet the demands that the “supermom” imperative
dictates. Consumption of the rural can, in other words, lead to
becoming ruraldwithout crossing any class boundariesdand can
entail a powerful and transformative shift to one’s identity.
In this publication, pages were devoted to constructing a
distinctly rural femininity from a more modern, and perhaps
paradoxically, less hip, non-rural femininity. The magazine is filled
with strategies to transform women’s femininity into a more rustic,
“down-home” and quaint femininity, and this comes with plenty of
rural imagery and language. Using the tips in this magazine, readers
can visit country antique sales, purchase farm benches for the home
and cook up “haute comfort foods,” such as Macaroni and Gruyere
Cheese (March 2011, p.119)din other words, consume the countrysidedto cultivate and achieve a different femininity for themselves. This is what we have categorized as transformative country
chic. We focus on several ways in which Country Living makes this
special kind of rural femininity available to its readers: finding a
country home, decorating, leisure and country cooking. An analysis
of these mechanisms for attaining transformative country chic reveals the symbolic class boundaries that are etched and maintained
in Country Living, valorizing particular countryside practices, aesthetics, lifestyles and foods. Further, in line with work in material
culture studies (Miller, 1987, 1998), we found that Country Living
magazine, as an object to be consumed, was closely tied with
identity formation, assigning a positive cultural value to rural
pursuits and goods, value that appears to enhance femininity and
perhaps empowers women.
A frequent theme in Country Living is nurturing the desire to live
in a country home. For example, “Trina had been dreaming since
her youth of living in an old farmhouse” (Dec 2011eJan 2012, p.83).
Often this desire is framed in the context of women wanting a
second home as a respite from bustling city life. For example, in the
May 2011 issue, one editor discusses the purchase of a bargainpriced second home in the country (p.10). And, in each issue a
“Real Estate Sampler” section lists the selling price and desirable
features of available homes across the U.S. Each listed property has
a certain country or small-town quality that carries special
J.C. Keller et al. / Journal of Rural Studies 42 (2015) 133e143
currency in the listing, such as a “converted barn” (June 2011, p.72),
or “main street addresses” that “capture the spirit of small-town
America” (April 2011, p.84).
The information that Country Living supplies to its readers in
order to facilitate what we argue is a transformation into country
chic femininity, does not stop at country property listings, and in
fact ventures into whole career shifts. Each issue includes a subsection entitled, “Making a Country Living,” which features
women entrepreneurs selling country-inspired goods. Whether
they are making their own ice cream from “regional farms” (June
2011, p.24), or a “line of eco-friendly cleaning products” (November
2011, p.22), these women are often depicted as having left fastpaced careers in urban centers to transform themselves into a
“country”-inspired professional. Each magazine advertises books
written by “The Farm Chicks,” described as “Mompreneurs” who
launched their own line of household products. “Making a country
living,” for instance, makes the reader a better mother.
The way that Country Living supplies readers with the tools to
find their own country home, away from busy urban centers, lines
up with the themes of “escape” and “fantasy” that we found to be
prominent in this magazine. The publishers of Country Living seem
to be well aware of these themes, describing what the magazine
offers to its readers as follows: “Country is a state of mind, not a
place. No matter where they livedrural areas, suburbs, or even the
citydCountry Living’s 11 million readers share the same fantasy: a
laid-back lifestyle in which fresh-cut grass, porch swings, and
farmers’ market peaches replace deadlines and cell phones. For
these busy women, the magazine offers the ultimate escape route
from today’s 24/7 pace” (GfK MRI, 2011). Besides confirming that
the publication is indeed marketed toward women, this description
offers a depiction of the rural as “fantasy,” as “escape,” and paradoxically, as untethered to a specific geographic location. After all,
you can transport yourself to the “country” just by flipping through
the pages of Country Living. This depiction falls in line with what
rural studies scholars have described as the “rural idyll” (e.g.,
Gorman-Murray et al., 2012). This hybrid cultural construction is
also evident in popular websites and blogs, such as Modern Farmer.
This cosmopolitan form of rurality aligns with what we found in the
pages of Country Living.
The sense of escape that imbues the meaning of “country” in this
magazine extends to the types of leisure activities recommended to
readers. For example, the “haycation” phenomenon is mentioned
often in the magazine. As an example:
The Rustic Culinary Retreat: Head to: Daingerfield, Texas, lies
two hours and a world away from Dallas. Visit working cattle
ranch Greer Farm for a hands-on lessondliterallydin farm-totable cooking. May’s theme: East Texas strawberries. Stay At:
Greer Farm rents four log cabins, all fronting a private 11-acre
lake. Spend at least two nights, and the owners will stock your
kitchen with homemade jam and bread. It’ll cost: $39 each (a
one-bedroom cabin sleeps up to four, for $155 a night). (May
2011, p.82).
“Country”-inspired vacations also take place, perhaps unexpectedly, in urban centers. In one issue, Country Living features a
Brooklyn culinary school, where readers are encouraged to “channel your inner Laura Ingalls as you learn to can peaches and pickles,
carve up a pig, or perfect piecrust at one of the many hands-on
classes held at this cooking school and kitchen-supply store”
(March 2011, p.68).
If purchasing a second home in the country is not an option, or if
the reader has already purchased their rural haven and now need to
decorate, Country Living supplies countless country-inspired
decorating tips. For example, the following is an ad in Country
Living for a decorating book:
Create a New ‘Old’ House: You’re drawn to the romance and
character of an old housedbut still want the space, convenience
and efficiency of a new one. Why choose? With hundreds of
photographs, ideas, and tips, our new book Aged to Perfection
makes it simple to give any modern home (even a city apartment!) that perfect touch of gracious, rustic charm. It’s the best
of both worlds (DeceJan 2011, p.28).
In other issues, we found specific decorating tips that include
using chicken wire: “Chicken wire chic: the familiar farm motif
comes home to roost in high style” … “A chicken wire overlay looks
uncommonly elegant atop a hyper-literate shade” (shade priced at
$455 from shadesoflight.com). Or ceramic butter molds shaped like
farm animals, “All in the Details: Butter Molds bring Barnyard
Charm to the Table” (March 2011, p.24). This specific kind of de
has come to be referred to, according to Country Living, as “feed sack
chic” by “with-it designers” (March 2011, p.8). Bringing a little
country into your life is hip, “in”, and seemingly irresistible. The
idea that “country” or “rural” femininity is something to be
consumed was particularly clear in the advertisement for pecan pie
filling which we found at least once in each issue of 2011 Country
Living. The full-page ad for the Country Living Collection features a
photograph of a jar, with the neat handwritten label in cursive,
“County Fair Pecan Pie in a Jar.” At the front left is a whole pecan pie
and in the background sits a bowl of freshly whipped cream, with
the tagline: “Homemade. Made easy” (DeceJan. 2011, p.23). The
message is that the reader can in fact purchase “country”dat least,
the Country Living version of itdand consume it with ease, straight
out of a jar.
What version of “country” or “rural” is featured as legitimate or
desirable in Country Living? In the October 2011 issue, in the editor’s note, Sarah Gray Miller tells readers, “What was once just my
country retreat is fast becoming the magazine’s go-to photo studio.” Miller explains that when a photo shoot needs more
“authenticity,” the production team heads to her Hudson Valley
“getaway” to photograph in an “honest-to-goodness country
kitchen” (p.8). For the editorial team, then, authentic rurality is
achieved by using Miller’s second home in upstate New York as a
backdrop that communicates “real” country to their readers.” It
may not be completely clear what counts as authentic country in
Country Living, but if Miller’s retreat is taken as the prototype,
authentic country is located at her second home in a town two
hours north of Manhattan.
But Miller’s Hudson Valley escape is not the only place where
authentic country can be found. In this magazine urban spaces can
surely exude “small town charm” through food, history, and design
aesthetic. This is evident in “Brooklyn’s Country Credentials,”
(March 2011, p.67), an article explaining that “with its mom-andpop shops, bluegrass joints, and working farms,” and its agricultural history when “farmers grew everything from potatoes to
kale,” Brooklyn today “still feels more heartland than Big Apple,
with ribbon-worthy pie cafes hanging out shingles next to soda
shops and general stores” (p.68). In a photograph accompanying
the article, an ethnically diverse group of smiling customers sit in a
dining area with high ceilings, vintage-looking tin walls, and rusticstyle wooden tables, with the following caption: “Raised in South
Dakota, sisters Melissa and Emily Elsen rely on local, organic ingredients to bake up some of the best pies on the planet” (March
2011, p.72). Just as Miller brings credibility to the magazine with her
Mississippi roots, the Elsen sisters bake a more authentic pie with
their prairie origins. At another point in this issue, Miller notes that
the “timeless traditions of farm-fresh produce, handcrafted furniture, and roots music” can be found in big cities, but also in
J.C. Keller et al. / Journal of Rural Studies 42 (2015) 133e143
“hotbeds in places like Alabama and Illinois, Colorado and Kansas,
Minnesota and yes, Mississippi” (March 2011, p.8). So although New
York City may not be a “hotbed” of rural activity, Country Living sees
the country as transportable, just as we noted above, as a “state of
mind, not a place” (GfK MRI, 2011).
And the title of one section of every issue, “The Heart of the
Country: The Best the Countryside has to Offer …,” a section which
advertises a collection of different knick-knacks and household
items, is a nod to the authenticity of the countryside that readers
apparently seek. It is after all, the “heart” of the countryside that
Country Living perceives these readers are after, not an off-shoot or
an imitation. In the March 2011 issue, the magazine featured “the
latest trends” in country-inspired food, furniture, and music, with a
special wink to the Country Living reader:
At this particular magazine, we’ve never doubted country’s cool
quotient, but suddenly everybody else seems to have gotten the
memo, from hip designers to famous chefs. So we figured it was
high time to salute the 25 people, projects and products redefining rustic today. Then we dove deeper, with features on haute
comfort food, the “haycation” trend, and homes that break every
decorating rule, beautifully. Consider it all proof that you, dear
CL reader, are way ahead of the curve (March 2011, p.82).
So wherever the reader may be living, authentic country spaces
share a focus on food made from scratch with local, organic ingredients, a charming rural history, and country-inspired design.
This construction of authentic country is classed and gendered, and
contributes toward a particular kind of rural femininity that is both
cosmopolitan, timeless, and supremely coveted.
But to what extent is the “country” femininity sold in the pages
of Country Living based on actual, material ruraldor what Bell
(2007) terms “first rural”dunderstandings? It appears to us that
the Country Living version of rural is less about the way the rural
actually is, and more about non-rural based constructions of what
rural “ought” to be. Bryant and Pini (2011) argue that “the rural
idlyll is critical to defining who is included in, and who is excluded
from, rural spaces” and that “those who fit within hegemonic (re)
constructions of rurality are the authentic protagonists in rural life;
those who do not are marginal, for they are seen as lacking and
illegitimate” (2011:6e7). True, Country Living does feature “real”
people in their “Make a Country Living” sections. But often these
people are not actually living in rural places. They are consuming
the rural, and creating a hip, chic rural for urban and suburban
women to consume. And those featured in the magazine who do
own country homes are presented in a way that makes much of
their actual rural surroundings invisible. There are countless references to local foods, farmers’ markets, and barnyard sales, but
seldom to zero mention of industrial agriculture, immigrant farm
workers, pesticide drift, rural poverty, food deserts, or the driving
up of farmland prices due to the migration of city and suburban folk
eager to find the “country” they see in Country Living.
The subtle insistence for readers to “buy local” reveals an implicit message about socioeconomic status. Without an explicit
understanding of why, the message in Country Living is that buying
local and buying independent makes one morally superior, and that
women are best poised to receive this message. Being a worthy and
patriotic consumer of the heartland does not include, for example,
shopping at Walmart for household goods. The reality that many
rural families cannot afford, much less access, American made
goods from independent shops is glossed over in Country Living, as
a symbolic boundary is erected that very much conveys a sense of
morality. Doing the right thing as a consumer is only possible, it
seems, for those who have the extra income. In other words,
attaining the transformative country chic femininity means the
possession of a form of cultural capital accessible only to those of a
certain class status.
5. Discussion
In our analysis of Successful Farming and Country Living, we
identified distinct forms of rural femininities, contributing to a
concentrated focus on femininity within rural studies (e.g.,
Brandth, 1994; Kazyak, 2012; Keller, 2014). Successful Farming was
characterized by the productivist rural femininity, with an emphasis
on little involvement in major farm decisions, crafting solutions to
communication problems, and accountability for the health and
wellbeing of the family. By contrast, Country Living promoted the
transformative country chic femininity, guiding readers toward
finding a country home, career shifts, decorating, leisure and
country cooking. Our findings suggested that both magazines relied
on the gendered division of labor to construct rural femininities,
but that Country Living tended to use symbols of social class to
portray desirable rural femininity, more so than Successful Farming.
These findings highlight that there are no straight-forward definitions of rural femininity, as variants can be derived from different
sources and carry differently classed and gendered connotations.
As Lamont and Molnar (2002) and Schippers (2007) note,
symbolic elements are critical in shaping social relations of gender.
Whereas both sources used representations to reinforce the social
boundary between women and men, Country Living used its images
and text to suggest a particularly classed understanding of the
countryside, a version that is coveted and only affordable to those
with economic means. We therefore conclude that different rural
femininities have different kinds of social boundary projects,
depending on the makers of the representations, their objectives,
and the expected audience. In this sense, our study meets the call
by Lamont and Molnar (2002) for more work on the “cultural
narratives” that inform the “reproduction of gender boundaries”
(p. 177).
Whereas Successful Farming portrays rural femininity as a supportive practice that helps to prop up rural masculinities, Country
Living’s portrayal paints femininity as an active part of constructing
rural place and rural life, even as it relies on idealized representations of rurality to do so. These findings conflict with suggestions
that other scholars have made regarding the masculine underpinnings of rurality (e.g., Kazyak, 2012). While femininity is
clearly portrayed as a background practice in Successful Farmingda
publication rooted in rural places and rural livesdthere is nevertheless a more complex story to tell when we consider that ruralities are, of course, multiple and varied. Skimming the pages of
Country Life, the rural is clearly infused with femininity. This
version of sellable rurality is apparently geared toward the urban or
suburban consumer, but it is no less feminine because of its capitalist motivation. Doing rurality in this context is about doing
femininity, contrary to other claims (e.g., Kazyak, 2012). As
Campbell et al. (2006) note, rural masculinities are relational. They
shape and are shaped by rural femininities, and other gender
practices that may not fit in binary frameworks. It is in our view,
then, that a focus on rural masculinity that does not incorporate
femininity is incomplete. Our findings thus provide a more
comprehensive picture of how gender informs representations of
Juxtaposing images and text from these two magazines, we see
similarities in the two worlds represented, but we also see a distinct
lack of mutual recognition. Country Living inspires its readers to
adopt a transformative country chic femininity. This entails starting
country-inspired businesses, buying local and supporting smallscale agriculture, while avoiding any mention of industrial agriculture, or the concerns and challenges that rural populations face,
J.C. Keller et al. / Journal of Rural Studies 42 (2015) 133e143
such as disappearing farmland. Evident in our findings is thus a
struggle over what the rural means. This struggle has two main
points of connection in the rural sociological scholarship. First, we
find common ground with Marsden (1999) and his articulation of
the “contemporary consumption countryside,” which he introduces with an insistence that rural areas are not homogenous
and we thus should not expect “new rural geographies of value” to
carry the same currency from place to place. Although our analysis
is not tied to a particular rural place, it is clear that each publication
attaches different sets of meanings to rurality, and we can envision
how these differences might lead to conflicts within and across
particular rural spaces over the value of “new rural geographies.”
Second, the struggle over the meaning of rurality cannot be
completely disentangled from tensions over meanings of femininity. Rural femininities are undergoing change, and with the
mobility of the “rural” branddalso known as, “feed sack chic”
(March 2011, p.8)dwe see symbols of rurality entering households
in urban spaces to be consumed (for example, the ubiquitous mason jar), shaping the construction of non-rural femininities. These
changes are historically specific. In the U.S. today there is more
emphasis than ever before on the moral charge to “know where
your food comes from,” and this has impacts on women’s lives and
the types of femininity that are viewed as desirable, good for families, and good for children. It is imperative that we recognize the
privilege associated with that kind of femininity: time, money, and
education. Further, buying American and keeping dollars in local
economies is often viewed as one strategy to ease the country’s
economic woes, whether or not localism is viewed as a “trap” (Born
and Purcell, 2006). Because it is women who disproportionately
carry the burden of household shopping, it is women (and femininity) that are targeted most with calls for healthy eating and local
consumerism (e.g., Bowen et al., 2014). This underscores the need
for more research that further specifies the gender imbalance in
new (and old) articulations of rural meanings.
Finally, our findings align with Marsden’s perspective that rural
areas are diverse in the forms that they take, and that “they are
affected in different ways and extents by the various trends
affecting society in general and how the diversity of local rural
conditions articulates with general processes (yielding a range of
local outcomes)” (1999, p.504). This view opens the door to
designing future research projects that juxtapose cultural representations of rural femininity with ethnographic field work that
examines the everyday practices of rural femininity among urban
and countryside dwellers alike. Given the connections between
cultural consumption and identity formation, a study that would
extend our findings would interview readers of these magazines to
understand how they interpret representations of femininity and
rurality. Interviews with the makers of these publications would
also yield interesting findings about the choices behind mass media
content and what factors influence those choices.
We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers of JRS for their
insightful feedback. We would also like to thank Leah Schmalzbauer for her supportive comments on an earlier draft of this article.
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114 cultivating the edge:
an ethnography of firstgeneration women farmers
in the American Midwest
Megan Larmer
In the US, an emergent cultural icon of resistant agriculture, the agrarian heroine, attests to growing popular
interest in first-generation women farmers. Drawing on practice theory, historical geographical materialism,
intersubjective ethnography and feminist scholarship, this ethnography focusses on three first-generation
women farmers growing organic vegetable crops for the Chicago market, with critical attention to the body, the
land and their uses. By applying permaculture’s theory of ‘the edge’ anthropologically, this study explores the
work these women do to cultivate relational spaces that promote fluidity, diversity and solidarity in opposition
to industrial agriculture and the homogenising forces of globalisation. The portraits that emerge problematise
popular representations of first-generation women farmers.
agriculture; farmer; women farmers; anthropology of food; Chicago; intersubjective ethnography; organic
farming; food studies; American Midwest; entrant farmers
feminist review 114 2016
(91–111) 2016 The Feminist Review Collective. 0141-7789/16 www.feminist-review.com
In the early nineteenth century, the confluence of geography and trade around Chicago resulted in a
substantively new form of agrarian land settlement: market-oriented and productionist agriculture
(Cronon, 1991). This was the precursor of the industrialised agriculture that today is widely understood,
in addition to extracting cultural costs, to deleteriously impact ecosystems, rural livelihoods and human
health (Soule et al., 1990; Shiva, 1993; van der Ploeg, 1993; Berry, 1996 [1977]; Lobao and Meyer, 2001;
Carolan, 2012). Women have been historically underrepresented in agricultural research (Adams, 1991;
Lobao and Meyer, 2001). This ethnography of individual women’s resistance to industrial agriculture in
the Midwestern region of the US, where it is so firmly rooted, both adds to documentation of agrarian
women’s roles and reveals potentials and obstacles for resistant agriculture globally. As agrarian
populations continue to decline, the experiences of first-generation farmers are also little studied and
merit our attention.
The following ethnography of three first-generation women farmers draws on the synergistic approaches
of practice theory (Bourdieu, 1977; Ortner, 1984), historical geographical materialism (Harvey, 2000) and
intersubjective ethnography (Jackson, 1998). My aim in presenting this research is neither to be
prescriptive nor comprehensive, but to complicate our understanding of practitioners of resistant
agriculture by focussing closely on a discreet set of actors. I begin with a description of the
contemporary role of women farmers in the Midwest and the representation of them in popular discourse.
I then turn to the lived experiences of individuals. Investigating sensory experience, the gaze and
occupation of space reveals how these women alter and construct sociopolitical and material spaces.
Harmonies and tensions arise as these farmers, situated in time and place, negotiate the mingling of
rural and urban, global and local, commodity and value, body and environment, and past and future.
Drawing on permaculture theory, the spaces they occupy are theorised as edges of social fields wherein
multiplicity thrives.
The naturally occurring transitional ecological zones where ecosystems overlap are theoretically
fundamental to permaculture: ‘the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive
systems… have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems’ (Bellamy, 2011). Known as
‘edge theory’, in practice this means planting otherwise uniform plant groupings in an overlapping
pattern in order to create interactive spaces where more species thrive than would in a more uniform
bioculture (Holzer, 2011). Permaculture is popular among resistant agriculturalists, and borrowing edge
theory from it suits the study of their social world.
Utilising permaculture’s edge theory anthropologically, symbolic and geographic spaces, where bound
social fields overlap, may be understood as social edges teaming with (dis)order and multiplicity. Edges
differ from liminal spaces in that they are not spaces defined by transience. Rather, edges are spaces of
sustained occupation. Unlike disturbed or marginal landscapes, where opportunistic species create
spontaneous biomes—landscapes that Tsing (2012) effectively examines to reveal multispecies
relationships—permaculture edges are cultivated, tended spaces. Application of edge theory adds to
existing research on boundaries and may be understood as boundary unmaking in so far as it upends the
‘stable behavior patterns of association’ that defines boundaries in favour of malleable and proliferating
patterns of association (Lamont and Molnár, 2002, p. 168). I do not intend to present the edge as a
feminist review 114 2016 cultivating the edge
simile, whereby human-to-human relationships are likened to the non-human relationships described by
permaculture. Instead, I propose an expansion of the theory into the social world, allowing us to see
more clearly the more-than-human society that is prerequisite to an agricultural system that not only
emulates but also cooperates with nature.
The farms where I conducted participant observation over several weeks in the summer of 2014 operate in
such socio-spatial edges, where urban and rural, privileged and underprivileged, human and non-human
intermingle. For the farmers with whom I worked, living there requires and inspires a daily praxis that
considers the other frequently and opens room for the agency of others. This praxis, I argue, is a means
of cultivation enacted by these farmers that multiplies social actors and social meanings. Applying the
tenets of permaculture to social analysis indicates that individuals flourish in direct measure to the
flourishing of others, both human and non-human. In the edges they inhabit, these farmers are both
agents and subjects within intricate social biomes, devising methods by which to increase heterogeneity
and inclusion—with varied success—in order to increase the system’s overall vitality.
The difference between industrial agriculture and resistant agriculture is that one system idealises
control of natural systems and the other idealises cooperation with natural systems (Guthman, 2015). It
is important to note that both control and cooperation have benefits and drawbacks, and people
subscribing to either agricultural system struggle to achieve the respective system’s ideals.
Permaculture’s edge theory is useful in understanding how the women I worked with navigate their
social reality in part because they apply it in shaping their material reality: the agricultural fields they
manage. During my fieldwork, this theory was a helpful tool with which to discuss and recognise issues of
identity, multiplicity and temporality with farmers and farm workers. However, the empirical limits of my
research also limit the scope to which this theory can be said to apply. In the specific historically
dependent landscape of the American Midwest, spaces where nature is controlled are clearly demarcated
from those where it is engaged cooperatively, so that the people I worked with were highly attuned to the
differences and, therefore, readily able to identify corollaries between their resistant farming practice
and their social practice. Moreover, knowledge of permaculture is a form of cultural capital to which not
all aspiring agrarians have access. The women depicted in the following ethnography are outliers who
have much in common with each other, but on the whole they are exceptional, not emblematic. Explained
through edge theory, they are a uniquely adapted ‘species’ that survives because of and contributes to
the diversified, even messy environment they inhabit. They may be anomalies rather than adaptives; time
alone will tell. As will be shown, these women claim a group identity based on opposition and resistance
to industrial agriculture and the teleological systems of oppression it exemplifies, rather than a
definitive assertion of authenticity based on specific criteria. This group exists within the multiple,
permeable boundaries of overlapping social fields that outline the edges they cultivate. Such
exclusionary ideation indicates that even permeable and overlapping boundaries can be selectively
exclusionary and that edges, like distinctly defined social fields, inspire boundary-defending work by the
in-group. Further research should apply closer scrutiny as to the differences and interactions between
social fields and edges. Whether edge theory is applicable in other agrarian and/or social contexts is
uncertain, and its usefulness can only be judged through application. Yet the edge as fecund ecological
site is to be found in every landscape globally, which speaks to the possibility of discovering other edges
in other contexts where new modes of social life are emerging.
Megan Larmer feminist review 114 2016
Figure 1 Source: United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service (2015).
the agrarian heroine
The representation of first-generation women farmers in the US needs troubling. Women are increasingly
highlighted as a set of actors uniquely able to make positive change through agriculture (Ghanem and
Stamoulis, 2011). Internationally, programmes focus on women in ‘developing countries’ who are
responsible for 60 per cent to 80 per cent of food-crop production (Davies, 2014), but few women in the
US are agricultural producers. Midwestern women’s minimal role in farm labour can be traced in part to
the US farm crisis of the 1980s, when they were more likely than men to take off-farm employment to
bolster plummeting household incomes (Adams, 1991; Lobao and Meyer, 1995; Troublesome Creek,
A Midwestern, 1995). A woman is a primary operator on one in seven farms nationally (National
Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, 2014b), though that number is higher around Chicago where women are
primary operators on more than one in four farms (see Figure 1). The ongoing decline in farm populations
motivates state and independent organisations to pursue programmes and policies supporting entrant
farmers (National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, 2014a), while the call for women specifically to begin
farming increases in both policy circles and the popular imaginary. For example, first-generation women
feminist review 114 2016 cultivating the edge
farmers have become iconic in the ‘farm lit’ that is replacing ‘chick lit’ (Matchar, 2013).1 A growing niche
market that appeals to actual or would-be women farmers is served by companies like Green Heron Tools,
the producer of ‘hergonomic ’ shovels (Green Heron Tools, 2011; Smith, D.M., 2014). Popular
representations of these women have two definitive elements. First, their femininity is aligned with
natural landscapes. Second, they are ‘new’ farmers, defined by literal or ideological distance from the
corruption of their natal, urban home.
These representations belie complicated realities. The femininity that defines them reiterates a
conflation of feminine and rural that crystallised in the Midwestern US in the twentieth century (Casey,
2009). Now, as then, the rural American woman is represented as white, not by definition but by default.
The agrarian experience of people of colour, notably African slaves, is a gaping silence in taught US
history,2 and the resulting agrarian imaginary is peopled by descendants of European settlers. Idealised
rural women are represented as nurturing and non-threatening. This image appeals to ‘conventional’
agricultural groups,3 like the Farm Bureau, which ‘increasingly [turn] to female executives to offset a
hyper-masculine public image’ (Jack, 2012, p. 197). Women are more likely to take ecologically
conservationist approaches to farmland management than men (Bregendahl and Hoffman, 2010), but
assertions of biological determinism that essentialise women as gentle, virtuous and closer-to-nature
are neither new nor innocuous (Ortner, 1996, pp. 21–42).
The other defining element of these representations, ‘newness’, has historical roots as well. The mid-century
back-to-the-land movement, among others, rejected urbanism, valorising ex-urbanites’ struggles to
become ‘new’ farmers (Kaysing, 1971; Nearing, 1990 [1970]). Like back-to-the-landers, today’s heroine is
presumed to yearn for simpler times and a return to use-value economics. From 2008 to 2013, as a
participant in the robust food-system activist community in Chicago, I knew many entrant farmers well.
Most, male and female, groan at the mention of agrarian nostalgia, saying it is a barrier to communication
in personal and economic pursuits. Framing ‘alternative’ agriculture as nostalgic reinf…
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