I am visiting a farm, as I do frequently for my job.
The Hispanic workers help me set up some of my equipment. The "girl" can't possibly carry and attach all this equipment on her own. I finish attaching 12 units while they struggle with their second and third.
"Wow, this hard job for you, girl!"
I get the impression he is impressed.
A different worker walks past me, avoiding eye contact. He mutters in Spanish, something about bonita. He is testing me to see how much I understand. I can't catch my reaction quick enough, and he sees that I understood.
He starts talking to me every chance he gets, in broken English. He tells me I look like a princess. He tells me all the workers say I must be a princess. I'm wearing three layers of clothing and I'm spattered in cow manure. The only skin showing is my face, acne on full display. I try not to get flustered. I mention my husband. He asks for my Twitter handle. I lie, telling him I don't have one. He talks to me every chance he gets for the next ten hours.
I make small talk with the farm owner.
"My niece is a female police officer!"
Does he think I forgot her gender between the words "is" and "a"? I think he brought it up because both her and I have chosen "male" careers in his eyes.
The milk truck driver arrives to pick up the milk. He wants to chat.
"You must be a lucky girl (sarcasm)! All the Mexicans on these farms must ask you on dates all the time!"
I laugh nervously. I make an awkward reference to the fact that I'm married. I try to get back to my work.
"This is a really hard job for a woman. I mean, it's a hard job for a man sometimes. I can't believe you're doing it."
I brush it off, telling him just last week I worked a farm three times this size. Maybe I should mention that nearly a third of my co-workers are female. I keep working.
"So does that mean you are one of those tough ladies then?"
I make a face and tell him I'm not sure what he means.
"You know, can you go more than seven hours without using the bathroom?"
I don't even know what to say to that. Caught of guard, I mention I went 14 hours without a bathroom on Monday. I try to change the subject. I tell him soon I will be milking my own cows, and then I won't have to worry about it.
"Oh so you're going to help your husband farm?"
I explain that no, I actually meant I am going to farm. I have a four-year degree in dairy science and I own 20 head of cattle. My husband has no background in farming, but he helps out sometimes.
"Wow, you got a city boy to farm with you? You must be persuading him somehow. I can imagine how..." *wink*
He walks out the door. I go back to work.
When I get back to my hotel, I can't help but cry. The first ten years of surprising people, of defying people's stereotypes wasn't so bad. It was exhilarating to prove the misogynists wrong. It was great to smash all their stereotypes. It used to make me feel special, unique, different. Somewhere in there, I got tired. Tired of constantly having to hear the same surprise, the same doubt. Tired of constantly feeling like I am invading male spaces just by doing my job. Now I just want to do my work.
Maybe when I start milking my own cows they'll believe me. Maybe then I can work in peace.