This paper critically examines traditional 'explanations' of the gender division of labour on the family farm as a function of the life cycle - which poses a 'compensatory' relationship between women's domestic household labour responsibilities and their participation in other areas of work on and off the farm. It seeks to demonstrate, at a theoretical and empirical level, the inadaquacy of this explanatory framework for the analysis of women as 'farm wives' in 'family farming'. The paper draws on survey and ethnographic evidence from two study areas in southern England. It argues that to understand the position of women as farm wives requires a theory of gender relations as power relations within which ideologies of appropriate gender roles are shaped and reshaped in the everyday work practices of the family farm
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