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Lecture 6: Farming, Gender, Sexuality, and the Protestant Work Ethic TODAY Reading: C. Bye’s article : I Like to Hoe My Own Row ; another illustration of intersections between gender, sexuality, and environments – and other social institutions, such as family, religion, and state

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Lecture 6: Farming, Gender, Sexuality, and the Protestant Work Ethic

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lecture 6 farming gender sexuality and the protestant work ethic
Lecture 6: Farming, Gender, Sexuality, and the Protestant Work Ethic


  • Reading:

C. Bye’s article: I Like to Hoe My Own Row; another illustration of intersections between gender, sexuality, and environments – and other social institutions, such as family, religion, and state

- Handout summarizes article; Great Depression recipes

  • Pre-class Slides on Women and Farming
  • Announcements
    • ?
    • Note your presentation date listed on Attendance Sheet
    • Paper Due Date: now Nov. 5
    • Start Reading A and S on Goffman on my Personal Webpage
    • Posted Lecture slides – how to access
    • 2 Handouts and recipe card
    • Demo: Google Scholar LINK to Google
    • Office change: Tuesdays 2:30-3:30 or by appointment in McNally South 412 A
what are you having for dinner tonight are we alienated today from that which sustains us
What are you having for dinner tonight? Are we alienated, today, from that which sustains us?
  • READING “I LIKE TO HOE MY OWN ROW:A Saskatchewan Farm Woman’s Notions about Work and Womanhood during the Great Depression”
  • Christine Bye – historian, University of Alberta in Edmonton FYI example of MA Program

Today, world’s economy is most often measured according to the American Stock Market – very fragile, and think of the economic situation today.

  • By the 1920s, farming had been prosperous
  • 1920-30s:
    • Land value decreased
    • Heavy taxes for farmers
    • Increasing costs for seeds and farming implements
    • Increasing mortgage debt/interest
    • Drought
    • Grasshoppers
    • Dust storms (as in Australia today)
  • Article Setting
      • Stock Market in 1929 (video 2 minutes)
        • Who ran the stock market? Where were the women?
      • Today’s class is based on the dominant ideals of that time: Social Impacts? Personal Impacts? Environmental Impacts?
  • Wheat prices plummeted on the stock market + unprecedented drought  challenges.
  • Canadian Wheat Board established during the Great Depression --- continues today.
  • FYI: Wheat is NOT indigenous to Canada; it was introduced through immigration by the 1600s, mainly via Spanish explorers. Europe became extremely dependent on Canadian wheat, like fur, and still is today. Wheat contains a gluten which aggravates celiac disease.
half of canadian farm women ran canadian farms during the depression
Half of Canadian Farm Women ran Canadian Farms during the Depression
  • Where did the men go? Why? (a reverse “brain drain?”)
  • Grasshoppers took over what was left of the agriculture; they even ate the clothes off the clothesline.
  • Maritimers sent salt codfish to those in the Prairies.
overview of bye s article
Overview of Bye’s article:
  • Reflections of her own great-grandmother’s experience – Kate - age 63 during the Depression – handwritten letter-based study (those are called primary sources). What have today’s ideals around communication done to handwritten letters which could be potential data? Do you save your emails?...How/Will someone be able to examine your life in 75 years?
  • Letters (more than 150) sent to family from the farm showed how the author’s great-grandmother valued men’s work more than women’s/her own on the farms of the day --- despite her own tireless efforts to keep the farm going (Bye states that this ideal is still prevalent in farm families in Canadian prairies). This also reflected how more resources were allocated in the name of men than women (ideal + material + practical).
  • This “double-standard value system” is still with us today. Consider this: Do we undervalue women’s work OR do we overvalue men’s work? Consider the environmental implications of the ideal of “breadwinner.”
bye historicism is problematic taking history for granted excludes others experiences
Bye: Historicism is problematic – taking history for granted excludes others’ experiences

- especially since women were absent from the pages of history, which Bye considers a loss for Canadian Prairie women during the Depression. Which ideals may underpin this social fact?

  • Letters and other documentation misrepresent those women as complainers. Bye uses her great-grandmother’s letters as data in an ATTEMPT TO UNDERSTAND the gender ideals of that time.
  • Bye shows great differences in the ways institutions in the USA and Canada treated women; American government offered more compassion and material relief than Canadian officials.
  • Do you think these ideals around women and farming would have been different had there been a female prime minister in those days?

Traditional gender roles were strongly internalized. Only two roles were represented as norm: female and male.

  • Which ideal was the dominant one in new Canadian culture?
  • Even so, women were proud of their contribution to the family farm in the Bread Basket of Canada.

Bye’s great grandmother married at 19 and moved to McCord, Sask., near the USA border.Consider your own position as a student if those ideals about marrying young were still intact? What would all of you be doing right now?

  • (http://ca.epodunk.com/profiles/saskatchewan/mccord/2001445.html)
  • Today, farmers in the Prairies depend on money from wheat exports and domestic use.
  • During the Depression, 1/5 of the population of Saskatchewan left the province. Those who stayed worked extremely hard. Little money was around; basically a barter system was set up. Farm women received NO money despite the value of their efforts.
    • Is “women’s work” in the home of more or less or equal value today?

Bye (p. 139):

“Rural society touted men as farmers and breadwinners in the 1930s, but often it was women who kept their families on the land.”

Why do you think this ideal was kept intact?

What was at stake if the ideal changed to call women “heads” of the farm?


Even though women did become the breadwinners of the family, through bartering household products they made and services they offered, such as cleaning, they mainly let on that men were the breadwinners. This reflected the European farm family value system of: it was “natural” that men should work the land. Consider Smith’s concept of “bifurcated consciousness” here.

  • Reproductive Challenges:
    • Poor nutrition due to famine
    • Defying doctors’ orders of bed rest
    • Pregnant women lost their support systems when their family and communities moved away
    • Pregnant women were often in isolation, far from midwives or medical expertise
summary of ideals presented in bye s article on handout
Summary of Ideals presented in Bye’s article (on handout):
  • KATE:
    • Women married into farming; it was ideal for women to marry in their teens and take their husbands’ names
    • Property/Farms/Crops were owned by men and not women
    • Large families were desired (to work…just as in Roman times, for soldiers)
    • Men were heads of farm families and women were to be subordinate to men; they could legally override their wives’ wishes at any time
    • Men’s work was more valuable than women’s work (Kate worked 17 hours/day into her 70s); women’s pension money was spent altruistically CONTRAST THIS WITH THE RED HAT SOCIETY TODAY
    • Women put their husbands’ needs ahead of their own
    • Men made most major and minor decisions on the farm and in government
    • Sask. Farm families held major positions in Protestant Church of Canada
    • Women were resourceful and valued their own work according to personal satisfaction and social ideals; however, they denied themselves “luxuries” such as trips to visit family or radios
    • Women reinforced their feminine identity according to dominant gender ideals
    • Land was divided among males in the family; things like dishes went to daughters
    • “Work was the sum of a good woman’s life” (Bye, 2004, p. 142). Does this apply to men?
    • Women were often isolated on farms, even when pregnant and raising children
    • Women were responsible for teaching the moral, religious, and social values to their families
    • Gender boundaries were work boundaries: Women and men did each other’s gender-ascribed tasks ONLY if someone was away or ill
    • Farm families were strongly connected to religion
  • Canadian Government: women’s work was just what they did as part of their gender role and was worth little to no monetary value
    • Women were denied land and farm equipment if they were married, keeping men as the head of families
  • Christine Bye (author): her ideals about being a productive and meaningful member of her family were severely disrupted when she attempted to purchase part of her family’s farmstead and was refused on the basis of her gender; her parents wanted to “keep it in the family” so they only sold/gave the land to males in the family.

Yet, people pulled together during the Depression, using gender role differences to unify the farm family. Polish tobacco farmers in the USA during the Depression; what are some distinct clues of gender roles?


Kate’s great-grandmother had “little patience with women who failed to pull their weight or to display the proper attitude” (Bye, p. 143).

This ideal was prevalent among rural farm women during the Depression, despite the fact that women and land were still considered legal properties of men.

Again - Men were the ideal-ized heads of households of the day. Even so, gender divisions of labour reflect the ones we still struggle with today, only the public sphere was “out there” in the fields – men seeded, harvested, did the work with horses and the bank while women were contained within the private sphere of the home – women generally worked in the house and did a limited amount of farming, though a more inclusive history would likely show that they did more work out than what we realize today.

However, role overlap occurred. It was considered “helping out” the other gender, and was not considered serious farming or serious housework. …ever hear this today: Dad is babysitting his own children?

bye p 147
Bye (p. 147)
  • “Kate’s notions blinded her to the integrated nature of the family farm. She could not appreciate the full extent of women’s contribution to the enterprise. Nor could she value women’s and men’s efforts equally. No matter how hard women worked, in the house or the barn, Kate would always see their husbands as the farm’s “real” operators. Men, being farmers, would always be entitled to more rights and privileges than women.”
women put their husbands needs ahead of their own
Women put their husbands’ needs ahead of their own.
  • This represents the gender ideal that it was men who opened up the West because they were naturally better at working the land than women. Remember: Rousseau also said this.
  • Women were not allowed to own land and equipment if they were married. This challenged the agency of rural farm women. … ideals can create vicious circles…
  • Even so, many families were egalitarian to a degree. Women were “allowed” to control the household domain. They were “free” to hire female servants and buy specific dry goods. But, the husband could step in at any time and veto his wife’s decision within that domain. For example, Kate was denied a radio and trips to visit her children because her husband said she could not be spared on the farm – even though she was getting a small pension in her old age.
language reflects ideology
Language reflects Ideology
  • Farmer’s Wife

Women could “divvy up the dishes” (p. 155)

  • Farmer

Sons inherited farms and land and equipment


Do you think men had it easy on the farm in that time? Today, Canadian farmers (males) commit suicide “more than twice the national average” (http://www4.agr.gc.ca/resources/prod/doc/pol/consult/miss/pdf/c15.pdf).

pressures on male farmers (FYI video 3.5 minutes) (Australian situation) today, given that they are still the “heads of households” --- check out any phone book; listen to CTV or CBC.

- Australia (2007 report by http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s1869891.htm): every four days, a male farmer commits suicide

- Canada stats: 2000 report LINK FYINova Scotia resources LINK FYI

FYI: Alberta mental health resources for male farmers LINKFYI: India stats (note the gender implication): 2007 report LINK

So, consider how males are also oppressed and disenfranchised through the social ideals of how we are conditioned to operate with natural environments

work ethic
Work Ethic
  • Max Weber (1864-1920)
    • German sociologist
    • Saw how religious values contributed greatly to capitalism/industrialism
      • FYILink to Weber video (information labelled FYI is NOT on exam)
    • Not only did the ideals around work degrade the health and well-being for many women and others, they were part of the ideology behind the mass degradation of the environment
  • Not sufficient to say that the rise in using and abusing the environment “naturally” arose with the onset of industrialization.
  • What happened just prior to 1700s industrial boom in Europe?
the protestant reformation
The Protestant Reformation
  • Basically, a collective resistance to traditional and far-reaching Catholic beliefs which held that you could be forgiven easily and get straight into Heaven if you said your prayers or paid the priests to say them for you.
  • But, the early Protestants were NOT that sure that getting into Heaven was that easy; they could not trust that you could sin, repent, and be forgiven.
  • Protestant church leaders preached that, come the end of a person’s life, God would make a count of all of the good things and all of the bad things that person did throughout their lives and compare the two in order to make the getting-into-Heaven decision.
as you might imagine this created a lot of anxiety in the newly forming protestant congregations
As you might imagine, this created a lot of anxiety in the newly forming Protestant congregations.
  • Many Protestants came to believe that one was “pre-ordained/pre-destined” to make it to Heaven or to Hell.
  • Max Weber (1864-1920)came up with a thesis---an ideal about what he witnessed: The Protestant Work Ethic
  • (www.freiburg-postkolonial.de/pics/Max-Weber)
work like hell expression we still say it four hundred years later
“Work like hell” expression; we still say it four hundred years later
  • Despite the general idea of being pre-destined to going to Heaven or not, a person could not definitely know their destination – Heaven or Hell.
  • So, because there was a moral sense of pride connected with the belief that YOU were the one going, in fact, to Heaven, you had to ACT as if you were….
  • This meant - you could NOT be lazy, so you had to work hard in order to convince others – and yourself – that YOU were one of the pre-destined Heaven people. And, there was always that off chance that you could counteract your pre-destination of going to Hell if you were a morally upright citizen of the church and state.
    • Remember Kate Graves’ work ethic here
  • Is this part of our social code in the West today: Work hard, earn money, save, get ahead, in order to have the sweet life? Is that why you are sitting here?
  • We have lost the religious overtones of that early Protestant work ethic, yet we still want to “amount to productive citizens.”

Calvinism, an early form of Protestantism spearheaded by John Calvin, 1509-1564, was based on living in ways that reflected high standards of moral worth – the ascetic life – otherwise known as “asceticism” – frugal, humble…remember Kate Graves? She made value judgments about other women using the measuring stick (ideal) of work.

  • (www.mhmin.org/images/calvin.gif)
three main ideas sprang from calvinism concerning western societies
Three main ideas sprang from Calvinism concerning Western societies:
  • 1. WORK– work hard on the farm and in small scale factories
  • 2. DENIAL – rest little, abstain from alcohol (at least to excess), do not be distracted by the finer, desirable, sensual things in life (little entertainment)
  • 3. RATIONALIZATION – these “good” Protestants began to “rationalize” the work they were doing, figuring out ways to maximize order and efficiency

(This is another part of Weber’s well-known theses – “rationalization”) Bye’s article shows that Kate rationalized ++ and wrote her rationalization into her letters.

  • Weber and others claim we are trapped within the ideals we rationalize
more environmental considerations about farm life
More environmental considerations about farm life
  • By the 1600s, The Moldboard Plow, pulled by eight oxen, had one of the most serious impacts on the soil.
  • Before this plow permitted cutting deeper into the soil, agricultural societies cut shallow ruts with one or two oxen pulling a smaller plow.
  • But, with the bigger moldboard plow, the demand for oxen power increased.

Humans’ relationship with the environment is always changing, depending on ideals and technologies of the day.

(Photo from Bell, 2004, p. 133)

this reflects how there was not only a specific protestant work ethic ideal
This reflects how there was not only a specific Protestant Work Ethic ideal,
  • but there was also a widespread “Christian Ethic” whereby people interpretetd parts of the Bible literally, and “MAN” was given domain over the earth – not all Christians interpret this in this manner any longer now witnessing such vast environmental change
  • At the time, and even now in some cases, this ideal stood in direct opposition to Paganism which holds that humans are part of/infused within nature – though Christianity is anchored in it…but, Christianity began to place humans “above” nature…internalizing the message to “inherit the earth” or to have “domain over nature.”
  • “Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has ever seen” (q.f. White, in Bell, p. 132).
  • What do you think?
  • Today, many choose The Greener Side of Christian’s work ethic
  • It is unreasonable to automatically and categorically make a positive correlation between Christianity and the Environmental degradation today.
next class
Next class


(1) SMUO Meston, C.M. and Buss, D.M. (2007). Why humans have sex. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36 (4), 477-507.

(2) NET Bean, M. (2007). Love lessons from the wild kingdom: 5 primal ways to boost your animal magnetism. Men’s Health, 22 (4), 64-65.

Recap of themes thus far

More on the Mid-term paper