By April M. Stewart, Special MWAF Contributor
As the creator of and blogger at The Farmer’s Survival Guide for Women, I highlight stories, resources, and actions to help women in Canada’s agriculture sector find their voices and build their confidence and credibility so that they can claim their space.
But I recently had an experience that makes me question whether I even have the “right” to offer others advice about building credibility (defined as the quality of being true, trusted and believed in) in the first place.
Our town recently hosted our local fair, 113 years strong. As in many rural communities, it’s a highlight of the year for children and adults alike. It’s also a spot for city and country to come together under the banner of fun and learn a little about each other.
But this is not a blog exploring the lessons we can learn from each other at a country fair when farmer and consumer meet. It’s about learning lessons in respect to my own credibility, or possibly lack thereof, and questioning whether I can be believed or accepted as real and honest.
The weekend of the fair kicks off Thursday evening with a parade. The already full street left my husband and I a less-than-strategic position to watch, but it was our daughter’s first time participating so we jostled in as close as we could get. Standing beside us was an older gentleman, whom we will call Mr. Jones, well-known to us both but not someone with whom we frequently cross paths. He recognized my husband and so they started a stream of polite so-what-have-you-been-up-to chitchat as the parade slid by at the speed of thick, wet sand dumped from a bucket.
At one point there was quite a lull in the procession, and we thought the parade was over. Then along came a lumbering semi-truck, air brake hissing as it repeatedly started and stopped.
Mr. Jones’ comment was, “Well, I guess we know now why it’s taking so long.”
Why does what Mr. Jones said matter?
Because a woman was driving.
A woman was driving a semi-truck, something Mr. Jones used to do for a living. And quite obviously she was not up to his standards, the implication being that she couldn’t be a good truck driver because she was a woman.
Her lurching starts and stops, however, were not because she didn’t know how to drive. It was because she was reaching from high above in the cab to hand out candy to excited kids lined up along the sidewalk.
Am I reading into his comment? I’d say definitely not, because he followed up with a sheepish grin and chuckle and said, “I guess I shouldn’t say that.”
I quickly jumped to the driver’s defense. “She’s starting and stopping so much because she’s handing out candy to the kids.”
But here’s what made me turn this interaction over and over again in my head later that night: While in the moment it felt like I was justifiably defending a fellow woman against a sexist attitude, in hindsight it feels more like I was on the periphery of what the real issue was: his comment. THAT’S what I should have addressed.
When he said with a chuckle, “I guess I shouldn’t say that,” I should have pointedly said, “No, you should not have.”
I feel like I’ve inadvertently participated in a type of victim-blaming. Instead of going to the source of the issue – his comment – I politely, diplomatically, albeit totally not on purpose, skirted around the edges of a socially awkward situation by focusing on the actions of the woman rather than the actions/words of the man.
Did I know this when I was in the moment? No. All I knew was that something didn’t feel right, my response felt inadequate, incomplete.
Which brings us to the question of my credibility in terms of helping women navigate the male dominated world of agriculture. How can I be a credible voice for women empowerment if I can’t even recognize an opportune time to use my voice? How can I be the role model I want to be for my daughter if I didn’t recognize a teachable moment in which I could help someone do better?
Meanwhile, I have learned an important lesson about credibility, how valuable it is to me and what it should look like; that simply by recognizing this missed opportunity I’ve learned what it is to be true to my values, trust myself to learn from my experiences, and believe that I can do better the next time.