When I saw this essay, I immediately wanted to read it because I was sure that I would learn things. Despite the fact that Quebec farm products are everywhere in my fridge and in my fruit bowl, I know too little about them, like many of my fellow city dwellers I have the impression, about where all this come. And I wasn’t wrong: Sortir du rang is both a 101 course on the structure of Quebec farms and an activist feminist text advocating new models for managing these businesses.
His observation is powerful: the traditional family structure that puts the man at the top dominates the model of Quebec farms and makes women’s work invisible. This is reminiscent of the first pages of the dusty old book Politics, by Aristotle, where, before thinking about the social hierarchy, the most famous of Plato’s students thinks about the architecture of a family. We guessed it, for him, a family has a master, the man, who would be naturally suited to command, while the others, to put it briefly, are naturally made to obey. Sure, it cringes every time I talk about it, but still, it’s still a surprisingly popular thing. Even among young Quebecers, who love YouTube thinkers like Jordan Peterson and Andrew Tate. Ask any philosophy teacher these days in CEGEPs, and a young man has surely already touted one of these unrepentant masculinists.
It so happens that here, I learned from the pen of Francœur, the existence of a single accredited agricultural union, the UPA, puts us face to face with a structure which has as a collateral consequence the family pyramid of always. For example, in order not to pay for two union certifications, a farmer in Quebec will often register only one member of his family in the union. Guess which one is there most often. I learned that, and I understood things about Quebec. Of course, this is not necessarily what happens, and there are other patterns. And it must also be said that if it happens, it may be wanted voluntarily, but let’s say that it blocks certain advances by women.
A key idea of Francœur is to criticize this concept of complementarity in a couple on a farm (the man in the field, the woman in the house), because it relegates women to roles where they are not masters of their fate. “Completing” each other is so often another way of prioritizing the family where one of the couple members fulfills themselves and the other supports them in the shadows. These social microstructures are precisely what makes our world.
Francoeur, as a good sociologist (and also a descendant of farmers, it is pertinent to add), told me that she would never blame individuals for the situation. The productivist model in agriculture, established politically before the Quiet Revolution and at the heart of which are the ideas of growth and exploitation of resources, is the other major target of the essay. Other modes of production, collaborative and more modest, in harmony with the ground, are rather often led by women, she says. The latter would be less inclined to the exploitation of nature (the famous ethics of care is mentioned two or three times). It gives hope to see change. Because otherwise, before the end of my own son’s life, the productivist model will lead to serious problems getting anything out of our depleted soils, she pointed out to me over the phone.
Of course, it crossed my mind, while reading: is this a book for city dwellers looking at the countryside from afar? Is the desire to de-essentialize gender roles on a farm a realistic objective, or is it destined to remain the business of utopian micro-projects on the edges? In any case, by advocating the diversification of the agricultural union offer in Quebec, one can only think that those who are interested in this kind of new models would feel less in a fight to live in accordance with their values. And I’m sure the good Aristotle would agree with that, if he ever passed by a farm here to dip his donut in a glass of fresh milk. The organic baskets in the park next to my home in Montreal follow the harvests, and give the natural cycle of things back their rightful place. The nature of a farm is found in the land, not in the respective roles of those who cultivate it.
This is the first book by Julie Francœur, who sought to make accessible to the general public the results of her research on the agricultural world at the master’s and doctoral levels. To write it, she left her usual job as an editor. Having myself recently gone the opposite way, from writing to publishing, we agreed on this beautiful word in the face of our new experiences, “formative”, which is also the one that leaves me in mind the reading this essay.