Women & Beekeeping, a Follow-Up
By Charlotte Hubbard
In March, I facilitated a discussion on this topic at the State of Michigan bee conference and used much of the feedback we received from our request for more information in an earlier newsletter. Thanks everyone! If you have further comments or insights, please share them via KelleyBeesEditor@gmail.com; we’ll keep this topic going if there’s interest.
The discussion was with some great women beekeepers, and three brave, helpful male beekeepers who I think just happened to wander in, perhaps accidentally.
I started the presentation with the goals—of both the presentation and this topic in the newsletter. The goals are
- Explore likely gender-based differences.
- Identify ways to help each and all beekeepers.
After all, there may be some things women do differently that we can share with others. There may be things women shouldn’t be doing where we can identify workaround. The last thing we want to do is exclude or offend anyone. The world needs as many beekeepers as possible.
Through the discussions at the conference and with others, and through the emails we received, it appears there are many reasons folks keep bees differently. They include:
Who was the mentor? We tend to do what we’re taught. Our practices likely don’t vary much if our instructor was of a different gender, but rather, vary by instructor.
Why are bees being kept? Commercial beekeepers are more prone to requeen at the first signs of possible failure while folks with just a few hives approach beekeeping differently. They generally have more of an emotional investment, instead of a financial one.
What’s the beekeeper’s age? It seems that women are more likely to keep bees chemical-free, but so are the folks who are just becoming beekeepers. Women, one of the fastest growing segments of beekeepers, are possibly more likely to keep bees chemical-free not because we’re women, but because that’s a growing trend and we’re entering the field in record numbers.
In answer to the question, “Do women keep bees differently than men?”, the input at the session and from readers included:
“Yes, of course, and they should! Women also use the bathroom differently, and keep house differently. As I (constantly) tell my wife about how I load the dishwasher, just because I do it “different” doesn’t mean I do it “wrong.” Male beekeeper
“Women keep neater apiaries, cleaner tools, and smell better. I like all of that.” Male beekeeper
“Women tend to wear much more clothing; they don’t like being stung. Guys would rather take a few stings and be cooler than wear protective gear.” Female beekeeper/instructor
“Women are extremely gentle, slow and deliberate. This is not necessarily a good thing. You need to get in and out of the hive.” Female beekeeper/instructor
“Women smell better.” Female beekeeper
I heard that response about women smelling better more than a handful of times. Does that really matter? To fellow beekeepers—yes! But to bees? Sure, bees have an acute sense of smell, but does what smells “bad” to a human smell “bad” to them?
“Women are more holistic thinkers. They know from experience that you don’t feed kids all sugar; thus they knew instinctively not to do that to a colony…where men tend to want proof of why replacing honey with sugar is bad.” Female beekeeper
“Men focus on sight; women use all senses, especially smell and sound, because we don’t have the physical strength men have.” Female beekeeper
“Men are less patient. We put in the effort, show us the money—er, honey! We want results and don’t worry about smashing bees when we put the cover back on.” Male beekeeper/instructor
“I wish I had the wood-working knowledge and tools to do what guys do so easily. I know I can learn, but there’s enough to learn about bees without also having to learn about joists, wood glue, and nail sizes.” Female beekeeper
“I’ve found the males in my bee club as nice as can be, but maybe I’m shy or they are. They don’t seem to want to help much. Or they are overwhelmed by how much I don’t know.” Female beekeeper
“I am very uncomfortable when women get emotional around bees. Bees will die. It is part of it. You will also kill bees, sometimes intentionally. Deal with it and stop crying.” Male beekeeper
There were some great hints people shared that may help some of the issues of beekeeping, many of them often encountered by women. They include:
- Use 8-frame, all medium equipment.
- Work in teams—great for the heavy lifting, and two pair of eyes are always better than one.
- Wear clothing that fits. You don’t want to get tangled up in extra-long or too-wide suits while carrying a box of honey. (By the way, Kelley’s carries protective wear tailored to a smaller shape.)
Other things? Please email us at KelleyBeesEditor@gmail.com. We’ll be happy to share your thoughts and suggestions.