Fumduckery and Gender Roles

It was around 9 on Tuesday morning, and we’d already had our fair share of fumduckery for the day. However, Asher had gotten the John Deere started and we were moving on; trying to get organized for a big workday. One of the primary projects was the building of our fourth hoophouse, and that had to start by moving our hoophouse hardware from the barn to the new site by the road. As the hoops, purlins and other various metals were already palleted, the natural choice was to use the Bobcat to load them onto a wagon, and pull them all down in one run.

Kelly got the Bobcat, Asher brought the trailer around, and we gathered to make some decisions. I walked up on Kelly and Ed conversing as Asher maneuvered the trailer in ways not easily understandable. “I feel like he should park further up there,” she said, pointing slightly up the hill. I missed the beginning and end of her point, and more-or-less disregarded it.

“It doesn’t really matter where he parks. Do you want to drive?”

Though Kelly – our most experienced Bobcat driver to date – was the default choice for Bobcat operation, I had a feeling the task would make her a bit nervous, and seized the opportunity.

“Well, it does make me a little nervous.. why, do you?”

“I would.”

“… I feel like you really want to.”

I made a move for the ‘Cat as Kelly picked up one of the hoop sections on the first pallet, eyeing it suspiciously. “Is this going to be too heavy of a load?”

“Nah,” I replied, “those things are light.”

“I don’t know man; this thing can’t handle that much weight…”

I got in, roared the engine, and maneuvered the forks under the pallet. On my first lift, I felt my back tires lifting slightly as the Bobcat rocked forward. My adrenal gland kicked a bit of juice into my system.

“It’s too heavy; we should get some weight off!” Yelled Kelly over the ‘Cat’s roar.

“Nah!” I waved her off. I knew if I kept it smooth and avoided any sudden or rocking movements, we would have the weight to get it loaded with no problems. I made a slow and steady move toward the wagon, carefully finessing the lift pedals and drive handles. As I inched toward the wagon, I gently lifted my forks as the ‘Cat hit a slight downhill slope – a dangerous cumulation of factors.

I lifted the forks higher and the ‘Cat bucked suddenly forward onto the forks, thrusting me out of the seat. My foot slipped out of the cab, and caught between the frame and the forks as they slammed down. The pallet rolled into the rear tire of the wagon as I absolutely lost composure, finally coming to a stop after seconds that had seemed like eternity.

I eyed my foot in disbelief– ankle twisted in its trap. Nothing felt shattered. Kelly stared wide-eyed as I yanked it out, leveraging all my inner resources to maintain my outer cool. “Is your foot okay?” After confirming that it was, she walked away disgustedly as Asher, Ed and I pulled hoop pieces off the pallet to lighten the load. I instructed Asher to pull the wagon up where Kelly had originally suggested.

I finished the job safely and slowly, but inside I was deeply rattled. But for the particulars of the fork design, my foot and ankle would have been crushed. In the momentary loss of control, had I pushed my weight against the drive levers, the back of the wagon would have been crushed. I was dumbfounded as I maneuvered the rest of the pallets onto the wagon. Having experienced more than my share of close calls while farming, I knew that I’d lucked out yet again.

I finished up and shut down the ‘Cat. By now, Danny and David had arrived and Kelly had abandoned, leaving a group of men. “Guys, I want to make an announcement.

“Kelly was right. Everything she said was right. She should have been driving the Bobcat; Asher should have parked up there, uphill, like she said; and we should have taken some weight off that pallet. I just want you guys to all know that we should have listened to her.”

“Maybe you should tell her that,” suggested David wisely.

And I did. I told her exactly that she was right; I was wrong and I should have listened. I was going to learn from my mistake. She was gracious and appreciative.  

I worked alone for the rest of the morning, gloomily reflecting. Why did it play out like it did? Some of it I chalked up to factors innocuous. I love driving stuff in hairy situations. I just do. It’s the bit of juvenile adrenaline junkie left over from my childhood and teens. Conversely, Kelly generally airs on the overcautious side. It’s the friend-mom in her left over from her childhood and teens. The two opposing forces just meet sometimes in interesting ways.

But there’s more to it than that. Had it been Oren or Logan on the other side, I’d certainly have appeased, and had it been Ed, David or Danny, I’d certainly have listened closely and given careful consideration. But it was a woman. My cultural default kicked in, telling me that I was the superior driver, and that she probably didn’t know what she was talking about in matters regarding weight, equipment and spatial logistics.

And that sucks. It’s a hard truth, that one. These assumptions are baked in, and they are harmful. They’re harmful and degrading — in our society, in our workplaces, and, yes, even at Rising Sand Organics. I have talked to numerous members about the ramifications of these sexist patterns, and I know they require lots of continuous work. This was a reminder that I have lots of work left to do in this regard. I’m thankful for another cheap lesson.