Tempered radicals are change agents who experience the dominant culture as a violation of the integrity and authenticity of their personal values and beliefs. They seek to move forward whilst challenging the status quo. Does the concept provide a useful analytic lens through which the strategies of women and men farmer innovators, who are ‘doing things differently’ in agriculture, can be interpreted? What are their strategies for turning ambivalence and tension to their advantage? The paper uses research data derived from two wheat-growing communities in Oromia Region, Ethiopia, an area characterized by generally restrictive gendered norms and a technology transfer extension system. The findings demonstrate that women and men innovators actively interrogate and contest gender norms and extension narratives. Whilst both women and men innovators face considerable challenges, women, in particular, are precariously located ‘outsiders within,’ negotiating carefully between norm and sanction. Although the findings are drawn from a small sample, they have implications for interventions aiming to support agricultural innovation processes which support women’s, as well as men’s, innovatory practice. The framework facilitates a useful understanding of how farmer innovators operate and in particular, significant differences in how women and men interrogate, negotiate and align themselves with competing narratives.