Placeholders and Changemakers: Women Farmland Owners Navigating Gendered Expectations

Document Type


Publication Date



© 2016, by the Rural Sociological Society Gendered expectations are central to the continuation of agricultural land tenure systems that concentrate land and power in the control of men. These expectations about how land should be used and by whom are communicated through cultural narratives and maintained through social interactions. Through analysis of qualitative data collected through in-depth interviews with women farmland owners in Iowa, this article identifies a pivotal person without whom the success of these stories is in jeopardy: the “placeholder.” In this article, I identify how cultural narratives place two gendered expectations on women in the placeholder position: (1) that women landowners maintain farmland through the continuance of its use and preexisting land agreements with tenants or co-owners, and (2) that women landowners defer their authority as landowners to men. Further, I identify the “changemaker” as an emerging character within cultural narratives—one who refuses to fit the expectations of placeholder and whose behavior may or may not be accepted by the community. Finally, I find that alternative social networks provide enabling environments for changemakers as sites of potential narrative revisions or shifts.

Publication Title

Rural Sociology