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Farmer Wants a Wife is not a dating show, it's propaganda

Mona editors Lauren and Kat sat down for two painful evenings to watch the new season of Channel 7's Farmer Wants a Wife and they can’t help but ask why this show hasn’t evolved from its cringy format and on-the-nose settings. How is it still somewhat popular after 12 seasons? Perhaps it has something to do with how we all feel about farmers.

Anyone with a pinch of life experience understands that the idea of romantic, love-at-first-site connection is complete bullshit. Yet the Channel 7 TV series Farmer Wants a Wife slogs on with this notion that if only these wholesome men could get themselves in front of some women, hearts will leap, and matches made.

The glaring truth is we’re afraid, that these people are not being matched, they are being played. And so are we.

Welcome to country Australia. Where patriarchy still thrives and is idolized as a pure example of ‘romance’ and ‘honest family values’, whatever that means.

What could be more of an exceptional example of successful country life than a woman giving up career opportunities, her individuality, and her community to move out to an isolated farm? Let’s not forget she will inevitably be expected to work for free, most likely with no superannuation or retirement planning that’s not tied to her husband or his property, take on a second job to compensate for the years of negative cash flow and debt, and raise children with minimal support (cause the men work all day, right?).

Whoa there! We hear you say. That’s taking it a bit far! Not at all women connected to farming are in those situations and the women who are, CHOSE that life, what’s so wrong with that?

A lot. But that’s not what we think is problematic with Farmer Wants a Wife, believe it or not.

Farmers are one of the most trusted jobs in Australia. Right up there with medical staff and scientists. They are trusted more than teachers and even charity organisations! But has this trust been earned, or manufactured?

When you consider it’s an industry that has its beginnings in family run businesses based more on tradition rather than qualification and training, there must be more to it than simply us thinking they’re good at their job.

Farmer Wants a Wife perpetuates the idea that farmers are the perfect picture of Australian values; hard working, self-sacrificing, tough and humble. It celebrates that farmers are men, and those men are almost always the landowners while the women marry into that life. Most frustratingly however, is that it portrays, just like most other consumable regional media in this country, that the people with the knowledge and expertise of working the land, are white.

What’s actually the reality?

Firstly, misogyny and sexist gender stereotypes are rife in country communities. Women in regional Australia are far more likely to experience domestic violence (DV) than women in urban areas and access to support services is almost nonexistent due to overwhelming demand on a few, under-funded, under resourced providers. Despite DV being at epidemic levels, it is still not talked about openly and honestly in communities due to prevailing attitudes that ‘family problems’ are personal issues to be resolved in the home. The geographical distances women must travel as well as the stigmas that exist continue to impede those wanting to leave abusive relationships.

Secondly, agricultural industries are overwhelmingly male and it’s even worse the higher up you go with women only representing 19% of management positions across agriculture, aquaculture and forestry. The pay gap that exists in these industries is one of the worst in Australia with a roughly 20% difference between what men earn and what women earn. So really, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the only female farmer this year (and the first in the show’s history!) was the only contestant who was an employee, not a business owner.

Lastly, the wholesome family farm battler Farmer Wants a Wife celebrates basically doesn’t exist anymore. Australia's food and fibre sector is dominated by large, multinational corporations whose goal is generating exorbitant profits for shareholders and overseas investors (whilst receiving healthy subsidies from tax payers). Despite their marketing campaigns, these companies don’t care about what’s environmentally sustainable, or what’s good for the communities they operate in, their business models simply don’t accommodate this. Yet they enjoy the stellar reputation shows like Farmer Wants a Wife portray which keeps our communities from scrutinizing their practices and demanding genuine progress and reform.

Shall we continue with how the agricultural industry established itself on a foundation of theft of land and genocide of Australia's First Nation's peoples? It all forms a part of the truths that are swept aside in favour of the stories Farmer Wants a Wife keeps alive.

Why is any of this important?

Stories matter. They shape our understanding of who we are, where we have come from and where we want to go. When superficial, simplistic stories are told again and again about country communities they normalize the myth that ‘this is the way it’s always been’. What results is generations of communities believing that gender inequality, racism and misogyny are unchangeable, unmoving, and the way things will always be. But there is a solution.

Self-awareness is where it starts. We all need to acknowledge that we very much still live under a male-dominated, colonial agenda in this country that is particularly heightened in regional communities and that this agenda is set by deliberate choices that can be changed. As inconvenient as it is for us to accept, Farmer Wants a Wife, while seemingly harmless and ‘light-hearted’ good fun, leans in to particular manufactured stories about regional communities that perpetuate patriarchal and colonial values and erase anything that challenges those ideals. We need to start sharing stories that are a true representation of our towns; their diversity, their richness, but also their horrors, their struggles and their uncomfortable truths.

We'd like to hope that the contestants this year find themselves happy, healthy relationships, although, let’s be serious, that’s most likely not going to happen on a reality TV show. But we're not buying what Farmer Wants a Wife is selling.

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