horticulturist working throughout west sussex

I’m told I’m ‘good at my job’ as long as I stay in my gender assigned role

What type of person do you picture when you hear the occupation ‘gardener’ or ‘landscaper’?

A middle-aged, well-built white man with a van who mows the lawn, cuts hedges and is very capable of doing jobs you can’t do yourself?

What type of person do you picture when you hear ‘female gardener’?

An older, white, partly-retired lady with a few hand tools and who loves flowers?

I work in a white, middle-class town in West Sussex that lives by social norms and conforms to gender stereotypes. Attempting to work as a young female professional can be difficult as my knowledge, strength and capability is disputed everyday. I’m told what I can and can’t do; this is very frustrating.

I often lose out on work as people believe that I am not up to the task because of my gender and age. Regardless of this, if you are a gardener, you are already kick-ass; we are clever people that aren’t easily intimidated by larger, more complicated tasks.

These outdated views are not always held by my ‘older’ clients and it’s refreshing to be encouraged/trusted by these clients to do my job.

Although these comments aren’t meant to be malicious, assigning stereotypical gender roles causes unequal and unfair treatment; it can also cause difficulty in relationships.

A few of the comments that I receive on a daily basis:

  1. “You’re only a gardening lady”
  2. “Don’t hurt yourself, we’ll get a man in to do it”
  3. “That task is too big/complicated/difficult for you, we’ll get in a professional”
  4. e.g. I split my own wood, “Does your boyfriend help you with that?”
  5. “Is gardening just your hobby… something to keep you busy?”
  6. “Do you know any men that will do that for us?”
  7. “It’s a cute, little gardening business”
  8. “Do you know what you’re doing?”
  9. “Are you alright reversing your van out the drive? *client walks behind van, chaotically waves arms, gets in the way*
  10. “You want to buy a van..ok..here’s our most feminine model van” *points to a nondescript white van in a row of white vans*
  11. “Don’t hurt yourself trying to use this power tool, we’ll get a strong man in to do it *winks*”
  12. “My sister likes gardening too, pottering about the the garden, deadheading and weeding”

If you feel you’re in a safe space, you can challenge these stereotypes and speak up; often people don’t realise they are stereotyping or conforming to bygone social norms.

A new wave of gardeners are appearing; people of every age, gender and ethnicity. I am excited that learning to garden is becoming more enticing; house plants and GYO are especially popular at the moment.

13 Responses to “I’m told I’m ‘good at my job’ as long as I stay in my gender assigned role”

  1. Ali

    Well done for highlighting this. As you say, people say this stuff unconsciously, completely unaware of the impact it has on all of us, not just you personally, but for our collective consciousness about gender roles.
    I wrote a post about flower names, which is kind of related!

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  2. Sharon

    This continues to be the part of bias and any ‘ism’ that is mostly unchallenged. I think it’s the most pernicious, the stuff we do unconsciously, unthinkingly. Thanks for raising it and I feel your frustration – keep on challenging and questioning. It’s the only way!

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  3. BizzyLizzy

    I am a part-time female gardener (age 59), but I have a good set of horticultural qualifications, and have previously worked as a head gardener. I believe training, skill and experience are worth more than brute force and ignorance, any day. Although I sometimes turn down ‘heavy’ work myself, as I know my own physical limitations, my clients are mostly more senior than I am (age 70-90+) and I know I am more agile than they are any day, and they are grateful for my skills. P.S. I also have a part-time indoor job as I can’t physically work enough hours to support myself just from gardening, but I can’t bear to work full time indoors.

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    • eleanorowensgardening

      Yes this is it. People playing to their strengths. Strengths that aren’t determined by their gender – more about people doing what they want rather than doing what society tells them too! You are part of the core gardening group that keeps the passion alive!

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  4. Beki

    I have to say… I’ve been in the horticultural profession since I was 17 ( some 25yrs now) and have had a great deal of encouragement in my career from the start by male and female mentors. I’ve never encountered any problems by my Male peers. I have had nothing but encouragement and support over the years by all I’ve worked with. I’m proud of my achievements over the years but have many to thank that from both men and women… Think as individuals (men and women) in my opinion and experience are judged upon their experience . Gardens accross the UK have a good mix these days . I’m proud of where I am today but not because I’m female, it’s because I’ve worked hard at my trade and feel confident in my ability 😊

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  5. Brian Karth

    Stereotyping is someone’s ignorance of the fact you are educated in horticulture & have a passion beyond what that person tried to downgrade you. When I was in landscape maintenance, I was sweeping up cigarette butts and garbage at a 4 star resort area a.d a woman opened her car door and dumped her ash try 20 feet from me. I looked at her, smiled and walked away, not giving the rich snob satisfaction of trying to degrade me.

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