By Gowan Batist
My name is Gowan Batist. I am a shepherd, farmer, writer, and mountain lion advocate dedicated to restoring land damaged by the extractive past of my ancestors. I live and work on unceded Northern Pomo and Patwin land at varying times of the season. I follow around a flock of heritage sheep and dogs, grazing invasive plants to encourage native ones to flourish, and work to restore compacted and damaged sites of former wood mills and shipping docks on the coast. I’m fascinated by ecological relationships and the reflection of the land in the body. My personal aesthetic drifts between “Jazzercise Hour at Baba Yaga’s Hut” to “Shepherdess of the Goblins” to “We Think She’s Somewhere In That Flock of Sheep.” As a farm owner respected in my community I now have the freedom, respect, and power to explore this personal aesthetic. When I was younger, things were different.
What a male dominated workplace meant to me in my late teens and early twenties was having nowhere to pee. The guys would all line up and piss in the ditch, but I was left holding it or crouching behind the work truck, ass out for anyone careless or malicious enough to walk around. At the time, and in the place I worked, I was the only assigned female person working on the farm crew. It felt like an assignment I was failing, but a class I couldn’t drop.
The contempt from my coworkers was an ambient hostility that imbued every aspect of the field for me. Tasks that they would generally help each other with, I was left to do on my own. The guys thought nothing of picking up the other end of a heavy pipe for another guy, but I was never helped. When I was “taught” to use the cultivating tractor, my coworker had me sit in the tractor seat, then he put it into gear and just stepped off. “You have 400 feet to learn to shift!”, he yelled after me to general laughter. Whether it was out of a desire to avoid looking partial to me in front of the other guys, or an ongoing attempt to convince me to quit, or the expectation that I prove myself, I will never know.
I didn’t get along with the wives and girlfriends of the farm crew that congregated in the farm stand or picked the sunflowers along the lanes. With my shaved head and heavy canvas work pants, I wasn’t accepted into a farm girl sorority, but neither was I accepted by the men. I responded to the general unease of not belonging by doubling down on “wearing” masculinity as hard as I could. I never wore clothes made for women except for tight sports bras, and I wore the gnarliest roughest canvas and denim I could find. While those hard pants and overalls that could practically stand up without me in them did keep me safe from barbed wire and rough tractor implements, they weren’t actually comfortable to work in.
Farming is essentially a series of complex squats, and the heavy pants I wore weren’t made for squatting. In the muddy wet seasons I spent all day kneeling in wet canvas, and actually got raw skin and blisters behind my knees and on my calves from the constant rubbing of the bunched coarse fabric. After more than ten years in this field, and moving from a field hand to a manager to a co-owner, I have noticed that my personal aesthetic and clothing choices have gotten softer in proportion to the amount of power I have. Being able to move freely without restriction or injury, and to be free of unnecessary weight, is a blessing and privilege.
I see young women and feminine people of all genders entering the field of farming now, and in many cases receiving more ease and comfort than I did, and I am grateful for that change. While I have had to learn different mentoring skills rather than recreating the way I was taught, the additional process has been good for me too, a way to reach back in time and give my younger self the gentle instruction I didn’t get. After a decade in the field, I have made my bones. I no longer feel the need to project roughness and toughness. I enjoy the full range of motion and ease of movement that embracing softness- and soft pants- has given me. It is good to see a crack in misogyny that allows some men the freedom to do this too.