When you think of someone who’s tough, what comes to mind? Strong, sure. Smart, definitely. Stoic, steadfast, and reliable, too. What you won’t say, but is often implied, is a person who doesn’t share or admit to their emotions. Someone who stays strong for the people around them but never actually asks for help themselves, because they’re tough. Ironically, the phrase and concept of being ‘too tough’ is most often applied to men and toddlers. A post from a friend on Instagram lately has me wondering: Are farmers too tough?
Intrinsically, we want to be tough because in our minds, the opposite of toughness is weakness. And being considered weak is the worst kind of insult. Like an “I’ll meet you with pistols at dawn” kind of insult. We want everyone to believe that we know it all and always have everything under control. We proudly work 100 hours a week and don’t need things like sleep or a social life. Because we’re tough. We don’t need your help or support because somehow, we’re superhuman, not like those “non-farmers” who need yearly vacations and “sick days.” Pfft. What’s a sick day? We project this image of “You can’t hurt us” because “We can’t be hurt.” And I think it might actually be hurting us.
Consumers seem to think that we don’t care. They think that crop farmers don’t care about the environment and livestock farmers don’t care about the animals. As long as we make money, what do we care? I know that farmers care. There could be a case made that farmers care too much. We practically care to the detriment of our own health and relationships. But for some reason, we don’t want that to show. We want others to see that when we lose a calf or a corn field gets flooded out, we just keep going. And we do, to a certain extent. We grieve. Silently and privately, but it’s definitely grieving.
Thanks to us millennials, I think there’s a new definition of tough making the rounds. Some of it’s still the same: strong, smart, and reliable. But I think physical toughness isn’t being valued as highly as emotional or mental toughness. And to that I say FINALLY. Crying alone in the calf barn occasionally doesn’t make me weak. Admitting that I’m depressed because my corn is either withering or drowned doesn’t make me weak (thanks for nothing 2021). Showing that you’re struggling but still moving forward is my new definition of what tough is.
I’m not telling you to post a video on Instagram, but why shouldn’t we at least let the people around us know what we’re feeling? You can be strong for the people you love and still need them to be strong for you. So, puff out your chest, take a deep breath, and have a good cry. You’re a farmer; you’re all the definitions of tough.
The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.