Monday, 20 December 2010
A few years ago, P and I decided we needed a new bed. P was going to the city on other business, so he decided to go and check out beds in a certain retail store while he was there. A week later, I went down with him to check out the bed he thought best. As we entered the store, the saleswoman greeted P with a smile, then turned to me and said, “And this is the farmer’s wife!”
I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from answering, “No, actually, this is the Library Assistant, ex-teacher, ex-archaeologist, wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, artist, writer, musician, lover of chocolate and hater of semolina pudding…” ‘Farmer’s wife’ would be last on the list of things I use to describe myself, yet it is how I tend to be perceived when I’m out with my husband. Even when I held my first art exhibition, the write-up in the local paper began, “Farmer’s wife, Katie Stewart…”
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being a farmer’s wife. It’s the connotations that go with it that I don’t like. “Farmer’s wife” conjures two images as far as I can tell. First there’s the sweet, middle-aged lady in her hand-knitted, homespun cardigan, turning out jam sponges and bottled fruit between stints of shoving sheep into yards and going to CWA meetings. Or there’s the other type of ‘farmer’s wife’ in her Akubra and elastic-sided boots, working side by side with her husband all day and heading to the pub with him at night. I’m neither of those. Not even close. Actually, I can’t say I know any farmer’s wives who do match that image completely.
Where does stereotyping like this come from? Is it carried into books and the media from general perceptions, or are general perceptions brought about from what books and the media portray? I love books and films where characters go against general stereotypes, against everything that is expected of them. That’s why ‘Billy Elliot’ and ‘Educating Rita’ are two of my favourite movies, why Jean Valjean is my favourite book character.
Writing characters like that is my challenge. It’s so easy to give a character traits that people would expect, so much harder to make them three-dimensional and interesting, to give them personalities that constantly surprise. But it’s fun and gives me a reason to read lots and study the people around me. That part is never hard.