Saturday, March 13, 2010

Feminist agricultural law

Femivore's Dilemma
Let me begin with a scholarly confession: Ever since I read Helen Fisher, Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray (1993), nearly two decades ago, I've longed to write an article called Feminist Agricultural Law (or, alternatively, Agricultural Legal Feminism). Fisher's observations on agricultural technology stirred my blood:
Horse and plow ... and manThe Plow. There is probably no single tool in human history that wreaked such havoc between women and men or stimulated so many changes in human patterns of sex and love as the plow. [Id. at 260.]
Alas, it never came to pass. I envisioned Feminist Agricultural Law as an offshoot from (or at least a section of) the anticipated conclusion to my would-be "Vanderbilt trilogy" of articles on agricultural law: The American Ideology, 48 Vand. L. Rev. 908 (1995) and Of Agriculture's First Disobedience and its Fruit, 48 Vand. L. Rev. 1261 (1995). I never did finish that third article. To be sure, I salvaged some of my work in Fugitives and Agrarians in a World Without Frontiers, 18 Cardozo L. Rev. 1031 (1996) (which, in the fashion of I'll Take My Stand's Stark Young, preached agrarian ideas by remote control from New York City), and in my subsequent scholarship on Wickard v. Filburn. But neither the grand conclusion nor Feminist Agricultural Law ever emerged from my fingertips.

Read the rest of this post . . . .Women farmersMy own failure to finish what I started, however, takes nothing away from the idea of feminist agricultural law. At least one Australian legal scholar, Malcolm Voyce, has devoted his career to sex-based differences in farmland tenure. Organizations such as American Agri-Women (on Twitter as @women4ag) advance the cause of women farmers. As a global matter, perhaps nothing contributes more to preparedness in times of disaster — let alone overall social justice — than the complete economic and political empowerment of women. As an open supporter of Feminist Law Professors (the blog) and feminist law professors (the group as a whole), I'm glad I made this point in the latest edition of Disaster Law and Policy.

The role of women in farming is as old as agrarian society, and it remains every bit as relevant and as contested as ever. Just today, Peggy Orenstein, author of the memoir Waiting for Daisy, performed a very clever twist on the theme of Michael Pollan's classic, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006). Her New York Times essay, The femivore's dilemma, highlights a middle way that has drawn women seeking to avoid both the glass ceiling and the gilded cage: joining the growing cohort of chicks with chicks.

Eleusinian mysteriesFrom the depths of remembrance and heights of romance, I now reach present time and real space. In the here and now, I remain painfully aware that I will probably never write a comprehensive piece called Feminist Agricultural Law. But I shall not flinch from promoting the idea, even if by so doing I am effectively assigning the mission of completing that piece to another scholar. I shall continue to ponder feminist agricultural law and agricultural legal feminism. These ideas lie close to the project — the one and only project — I regard as the sole legitimate expression of legal scholarship, that of translating legal knowledge for real-world use, that of realizing the dream of the law made flesh.


Blogger Unknown said...

Try again to write the piece - there are a few of us working on this issue on the ground who are otherwise isolated. In Iowa, women's landownership is equal to half the land and they are half the land owners, but even here we do not see a full expression of their land ethic.

3/15/2010 9:25 PM  
Blogger rachel said...

I am a first year student at the University of Denver and, after my torts professor mentioned feminist legal theory in passing, I immediately tried to learn more. I am deeply passionate about local and sustainable agriculture and I assumed I would find links between the two. Unfortunately, my professors couldn't point me to any scholarship on the intersection of the two.

Do write the article! Or, if that just won't happen, can you suggest a bibliography for the interested student, aside from those mentioned in your post?

(I have constitutional law this semester and I found your article on Wickard in Con Law Stories. Thanks- it was helpful!)

3/23/2010 3:06 PM  
Blogger Jim Chen said...

I appreciate the encouragement from Jean and from Rachel. I am especially pleased to hear from Rachel, who is not only a law student but also a splendid food blogger in her own right. With fan mail like this, I just might write Feminist Agricultural Law.

3/24/2010 1:00 AM  
Anonymous Leigh Adcock said...

Be aware too that there is another organization working to support women's full participation in agriculture in the US, particularly of the sustainable, food-growing variety:

3/25/2010 2:18 PM  
Blogger Jim Chen said...

Thanks, Leigh. I'm delighted to hear from Feel free to pass word along and invite other organizations on women in agriculture to comment here. I hope eventually to collect the responses and post a list with links.

3/25/2010 4:09 PM  
Anonymous Nick J. Sciullo said...


This is very important work. I hope you continue to pursue these ideas. When I wrote my feminist criticism of the the 2002 Farm Bill I became shocked by how much was not out there in the scholarship. It was demanding work, but most worthwhile work is, especially when it's addressing issues that folks don't often consider.

Hope you get around to finishing the article.

Article cite: "'This Woman's Work' in a 'Man's World': A Feminist Analysis of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002," 28 WHITTIER L. REV. 709 (2006).

5/26/2010 10:42 AM  
Blogger Lisa R. Pruitt said...

Can't believe I'm just seeing Jim's post, especially given that I write about fem legal theory and rurality (though not ag per se). Here's my own post about Peggy Orenstein's March essay in the NYT Magazine: Even more interesting is this post from a student in my law and rural livelihoods class about the Slow Food Movement's impact on women:

There is a very rich literature on women farmers, mostly by rural sociologists from around the world. "She" is often referred to as the "invisible farmer." In fact, I heard an Australian rural sociologist complain recently about too many "invisible farmer" papers/studies and too little theorizing on gender and ag/rurality. So, there's another invitation, Jim. LRP

8/12/2010 9:11 PM  
Anonymous Carrie de Silva said...

Working in England in agricultural law. Particularly interested to explore women's land tenure, historical constraints, current data, comparative studies, developing world, impact on succession, impact on business - finance and development ... Your blog has resurrected the ideas, as yet unformed. Done some studies in Iowa (not on this subject) - Drake and Iowa State, so interested to hear Jean's comment.

8/18/2010 2:59 PM  
Anonymous Tyrone Hayes said...

The concept of mobility is always an issue - so another small-scale garden greenhouse starts to attach to vehicles - such as this mobile greenhouse spotted in Brooklyn.

10/06/2010 3:54 AM  

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