Dissent down on la ferme

January 12, 1996

Views of traditional farming in rural France are bound up with family values which keep women in a subordinate role, according to Lise Saugeres of the Rural Geography Studies Group.

Ms Saugeres, a research student in Manchester Metropolitan University's department of environmental and geographical sciences, has been carrying out research among farming families in Rignac, a market town in the south of France, which was largely unmechanised until the late 1950s. She found young men and women had significantly different views of modern farm women.

The men saw the farmer of the past as having had a natural affinity for manual work on the land, and felt mechanisation had forced modern farmers to turn into business managers. But farmers' wives were seen as having worked the land, not because they had a close connection with it, but because their role was to support their husbands.

Men and older women idealised the traditional peasant family as everyone living in harmony, and accused farmers' wives who now work outside the farm of breaking down family ties. The men tended to explain the increasing numbers of women working away from the farm as an economic necessity. When asked if there might be another reason, a few said modern women wanted to have their own jobs, but Ms Saugeres said it was clear they did not understand why.

But young women who worked outside the farm said they felt the need to have a profession, while most of those who continued to work on the farm wanted their own area of responsibility.

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