Growing as a Feminist: Megan Brown of The Beef Jar
by Ash Bruxvoort
Megan Brown calls herself an agriculture industry misfit, but she hasn’t always identified this way. Megan is a sixth-generation commercial cattle rancher who also raises heritage hogs in Butte County, California. She loves cooking, gardening, hunting, and preserving the harvest and holds a B.S. in agriculture business from California State University Chico. She writes about ranching and feminism at The Beef Jar.
Ranching in California, Megan has seen the impacts of climate change firsthand. She’s personally experienced droughts, wildfires, and floods, as well as millions of dollars in damage to her ranch.
“It’s shift the power in our family,” she said. “We don’t look to my father to remain calm in these incidents, we look to the women on the ranch. They have the grit, the first responders look to us when they arrive. Women have been trained to do this. After a catastrophic event, it’s the women stepping up to lead, to reach out to offer help or a place to stay. They see a niche to be filled and they quietly do it.”
Leaving the Ranch
As a self-described ranch girl, Megan says she used to be very defensive about agriculture and widely shared her pro-ag messages on Twitter in the #agtwitter and #agchat communities.
During that time, she also participated in many traditionally female roles on the ranch. One example she gives is working hard all day on the ranch and then making lunch for everyone on top of it. “That was my role. I was rewarded for it. I held that hand that held me down,” she said. Now that she has started to identify as a feminist she has come to realize the impact those actions had on her mental health.
Her journey to feminism began in her mid-twenties, when she and her father got into an argument standing among the cattle. She decided to take a leap into the unknown and leave the ranch. She pursued law school, but decided that wasn’t for her. She worked in a legal office, which exposed her to office work for the first time in her life.
Being away from the ranch gave her time and opportunity she hadn’t had before. While her mother was making a clothing donation she found out the local community theater needed another chorus girl. Megan decided to fill the role.
“Community theater exposed me to a very open, accepting community, where being different was okay. I met people I never would have met working on a cattle ranch,” she says. “I feel like agriculture can be very insular, we basically talk to people in agriculture and are not good at getting out of people in our circle.”
After three years of exploring another world, one where she says she had a 401k and a gym membership, she decided to return back to ranching.
Returning Home With Greater Awareness
In 2016, she began to realize how much sexism was happening in the agriculture industry off and online.
“I started getting more vocal about sexism and I used the word mansplain. That was kind of the beginning of end for me on #agtwitter,” she says.
In an interview on Feedstuffs, Megan said, “Despite what some people believe, mansplaining has been officially added to Merriam-Webster dictionary. They define it as ‘to explain something to a woman in a condescending way that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic.’
Before I knew there was a pop culture term for it, I called it being “Little Ladied.” Usually it entailed a man asking to talk to my dad instead of me, or explaining to me my job, talking over me or not even acknowledging my existence. It was harmful.”
Despite mansplaining being a real phenomenon, her followers on #AgTwitter were not supportive of her speaking out.
“I ended up blocking a lot of my ag peers. They were abusive, mean and horrible, because I was talking about feminism and equality,” she said. “When people have power they don’t want to give it up.”
Being mindful about how she has and does uphold patriarchy and white supremacy through what she says and does is an ongoing process for Megan. She says the tradition of agriculture is beautiful but also ugly and unpacking the inequality that has been handed down is not pleasant. But she encourages more people of all genders in agriculture to talk about how we can improve.
“We are an industry built on patriarchy and racism. More people need to point it out. More people need to be uncomfortable,” she said. “And we must acknowledge that it doesn’t make us bad people. We are focusing on how to be better people.”
Growing as a Feminist
Twitter is still a way for Megan to connect with other people and grow as a feminist, even if it doesn’t include some of her old friends.
“Twitter is a big place and you don’t notice it when you’re only talking to the same few hundred people,” she says. “Now I connect with a lot of different people. People who have never seen farm animals have watched my pigs give birth.”
Some of her favorite feminists on Twitter are Dr. Sarah Taber, Kima Nieves, and Emily Raz. She’s also an avid reader, and books by Roxane Gay and Rebecca Solnit have influenced her feminism.
She says that following other feminists has made her realize the intersectionality of oppression.
“Once you start seeing it you see how it’s everywhere and it makes you want to be a better ally. We’re all making mistakes, we’re still learning and that’s okay,” she says. “Learning about how I react to making mistakes and how to listen has really been my journey this year.”
She says in the past she would take criticisms very personally, but as she’s grown as a feminist she’s realized that there are many valid criticisms about the agriculture industry. Now when she sees criticisms of the industry or herself she gives them space, takes a deep breath, and allows herself to calm down before reacting.