Updated: Oct 10
Country Notebook by Rogene "Jeannie" McPherson
Thank goodness my September birthday is over. I am exhausted having spent the day in St. Joseph, Mo., with my cousin, Sheila. We ate German Wiener schnitzel, hot potato salad, pickled beets and a cabbage roll to honor our German heritage. Then we spent the afternoon shopping at antique stores.
Having a birthday seems to give me permission to purchase items I want but do not need. The most expensive items were a Christmas cookie jar and an elegantly framed piece of art called "The Shepherdess," an oil painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau completed around 1873. A copy, of course, but it caught my eye immediately. I mentioned to Sheila earlier in the day that I hoped we each found a reasonably-priced item that we just couldn’t live without. "The Shepherdess" was mine.
As you can see from the photo, the shepherdess is holding a lamb, probably the offspring of the rather rough-looking ewe standing next to the young girl. A typical shepherdess was a young woman, about 13. It was her duty to take care of a small herd of sheep. When I was 13 I wasn’t expected to herd anything, but I did have my required chores around the farm.
The painting reminded me of a question I have been pondering. Am I woman farmer? I like to think so, but I doubt there is a checklist that defines whether one is or isn’t. My opinion is that the individual decides for themselves if a woman farmer, and I have declared myself one. But what do you call a women who farms? A farmer. A farmerette. A farmeress.
Starting out as a joke, I decided to ask the question on my smart phone. Believe it or not, I got the unexpected response of farmerette, a woman who is a farmer or farmhand. Its first use as a word was in 1901, according to the internet.
Still not convinced, I located my two-inch thick print copy of the dictionary, the Webster’s Ninth New Collegate. It, too, gives the definition of a farmerette as a woman farmer or farmhand with 1902 as the designated origin of the word.
So the jokes on me, but I don’t have to accept the word. I’m a farmer, clear and simple. There is nothing “-ette” or “-ess” about me. Having about 50 acres of tillable land requires paying fertilizer and pesticide bills and keeping tabs on the current price of soybeans or corn. I may not run a herd of cattle or even a flock of sheep, but I have two horses.
Horses are often referred to as a team, but I think of that as two equally-sized horses leading a wagon or other movable object. Mine look like Mutt and Jeff, or two somethings that are mismatched. Charlie-horse is about 18-19 hands and Midnight is about 16. Whatever called, they still require farming duties, like buying and feeding hay and grain. And, regardless of what I am called, I still have to clean out the horse poop created by the digestion of all that hay and grain.
It’s no longer the 18th or 19th century, and the role of farmer does not need to be gender specific. If I were younger, if taught, there would be very few things I could not do that a man could do. As it is now, I just don’t have the strength for some physical activities, and those are not typically gender specific. Opening a jar of pickles often requires stronger hands, such as those provided by my sons. But, ha-ha, I bet if I had a daughter, she could open that jar of pickles just as easily.
Labeling people can be inappropriate, but I’ll leave it at that. I’ll just enjoy my new painting of a girl and her sheep, call it "The Shepherd," and be glad sheep no longer require herding.