Traditional Stereotypes Dispelled

Student Writer: Tommy Rose Burkhart, Law Enforcement

I always assumed my grandpa wished I had been born a boy. The fact is, when you live in an area and have a career where success is largely determined by your ability to provide and maintain nearly insurmountable feats of physical labor, you typically prefer a person with a bigger frame.

When I was younger, I liked green tractors better than red tractors because that was what my grandfather drove, and I preferred black and white cows over brown ones because those were the kind he preferred. I wore coveralls in the winter and wore holes into my boots in weeks. With my fragile “masculinity,” I crossed my arms over my chest when I talked to new people, and I filled my toy box exclusively with miniature farm implements. In second grade, I cut my hair very short, and my grandfather smiled and patted my head.

Tommy Rose Burkhart with her goat Ponyo

Tommy Rose Burkhart with her goat Ponyo.

I never strove to roll smooth pie crusts or iron stiff collars. Instead, I idolized my grandfather’s patient hands. On a goat’s neck, trying to find the right vein to stick a needle in. In the strength of the grip, it took to hold down an injured doe. In the finesse with which he habitually spun the steering wheel as he backed up to the livestock trailer. And I grew to do those things myself. When on my 10th birthday I received my first show goat, a rite of passage in the Mullen/Burkhart family, I named her Ponyo.

As I spoke to her in an unnaturally low voice, I failed to realize one thing: Ponyo did not care that I was a girl. She did not think I was acting boyish or notice when I refused to wear pink clothing. And she did not blink an eyelash at her new caretaker’s smaller frame. All she cared about was her balanced daily feed, treats, and that she affectionally received an extra pat on the head. As I sat next to her polishing her teal leather chain, she appreciated my careful work and not my sex. When Ponyo and I won Best of Show a few months later, my grandfather’s heart nearly exploded. I learned to stick my chest out whenever I felt proud. I now realize that I was really working toward becoming a better farmer and not a “better boy.” I learned I could do everything my grandfather could do and, in some tasks, such as the taxing chore of feeding newborn foals or the herculean task of collar breaking a goat, I surpassed him. It has taken me four years to realize this: I proved a better farmer than he in those moments, not despite my sex, but despite my invalid and ignorant assumption that the best farmer was the one with the most testosterone.

Student with instructor in law lab

Burkhart and Frith

My junior year, I left my home school to attend Scarlet Oaks Career Campus and I enrolled in the Law Enforcement Program.Again, I found myself in a world traditionally dominated by males. At Scarlet, however, I was surrounded by a more diverse group of people from all walks of life and where the vast majority of whom had heard the word ‘feminism’ before. I began to pick up just what the word meant from my humorously antagonizing English teacher and my incisive friends’ furrowed brows when I described my hometown. Four years of education and weekly argumentative essays taught me the academic jargon. I learned the Latin roots of the word “feminism,” its cognates and its historical consequences.

Student, law enforcement instructor, and dummy

Burkhart with her law enforcement instructor Jennifer Frith in the lab.

And in the law program, I learned that my instructor had been the first female officer hired by her police department.

But the more I read about feminism in books and the more I used it in my essays, the more I realized I already knew what it meant. I had already embodied the reality of feminism on the farm and it followed me to the law program at Scarlet. I had lived it. My goat taught it to me.

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