Thursday, July 15, 2010

Modern Feminism? An article about the choices of todays woman.

Good morning & Happy Thursday, everyone! Yesterday I came across this article and I just couldn't resist sharing it with you. Why? Because I LOVE the concept of homesteading! Like the author, so many strong, independent & educated (GASP!) women I know have been forsaking professional careers in favor of the noble pursuit of homemaking. Most of these women? Friends of mine from COLLEGE (BIGGER GASP!) Even a few of my strong, independent & educated MALE friends have begun to get in on the homemaking action (SHOCK!). Why?? Because I believe that America has finally had enough. Without getting too much into politics (because this is not a political blog, after all), many people today are seeing the benefits of removing themselves from the "rat race" and focusing their internal compasses toward home. Just as the below article points out, who better to survive a looming depression than a self-sufficient home?

Published: March 11, 2010
Four women I know — none of whom know one another — are building chicken coops in their backyards. It goes without saying that they already raise organic produce: my town, Berkeley, Calif., is the Vatican of locavorism, the high church of Alice Waters. Kitchen gardens are as much a given here as indoor plumbing. But chickens? That ups the ante. Apparently it is no longer enough to know the name of the farm your eggs came from; now you need to know the name of the actual bird.

All of these gals — these chicks with chicks — are stay-at-home moms, highly educated women who left the work force to care for kith and kin. I don’t think that’s a coincidence: the omnivore’s dilemma has provided an unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Betty Draper. “Prior to this, I felt like my choices were either to break the glass ceiling or to accept the gilded cage,” says Shannon Hayes, a grass-fed-livestock farmer in upstate New York and author of “Radical Homemakers,” a manifesto for “tomato-canning feminists,” which was published last month.

Hayes pointed out that the original “problem that had no name” was as much spiritual as economic: a malaise that overtook middle-class housewives trapped in a life of schlepping and shopping. A generation and many lawsuits later, some women found meaning and power through paid employment. Others merely found a new source of alienation. What to do? The wages of housewifery had not changed — an increased risk of depression, a niggling purposelessness, economic dependence on your husband — only now, bearing them was considered a “choice”: if you felt stuck, it was your own fault. What’s more, though today’s soccer moms may argue, quite rightly, that caretaking is undervalued in a society that measures success by a paycheck, their role is made possible by the size of their husband’s. In that way, they’ve been more of a pendulum swing than true game changers.

Enter the chicken coop.

Femivorism is grounded in the very principles of self-sufficiency, autonomy and personal fulfillment that drove women into the work force in the first place. Given how conscious (not to say obsessive) everyone has become about the source of their food — who these days can’t wax poetic about compost? — it also confers instant legitimacy. Rather than embodying the limits of one movement, femivores expand those of another: feeding their families clean, flavorful food; reducing their carbon footprints; producing sustainably instead of consuming rampantly. What could be more vital, more gratifying, more morally defensible?

There is even an economic argument for choosing a literal nest egg over a figurative one. Conventional feminist wisdom held that two incomes were necessary to provide a family’s basic needs — not to mention to guard against job loss, catastrophic illness, divorce or the death of a spouse. Femivores suggest that knowing how to feed and clothe yourself regardless of circumstance, to turn paucity into plenty, is an equal — possibly greater — safety net. After all, who is better equipped to weather this economy, the high-earning woman who loses her job or the frugal homemaker who can count her chickens?

Hayes would consider my friends’ efforts admirable if transitional. Her goal is larger: a renunciation of consumer culture, a return (or maybe an advance) to a kind of modern preindustrialism in which the home is self-sustaining, the center of labor and livelihood for both sexes. She interviewed more than a dozen families who were pursuing this way of life. They earned an average of $40,000 for a family of four. They canned peaches, stuffed sausages, grew kale, made soap. Some eschewed health insurance, and most home-schooled their kids. That, I suspect, is a little further than most of us are willing to go: it sounds a bit like being Amish, except with a car (no more than one, naturally) and a green political agenda.

After talking to Hayes, I rushed to pick up my daughter from school. As I rustled up a quick dinner of whole-wheat quesadillas and frozen organic peas, I found my thoughts drifting back to our conversation, to the questions she raised about the nature of success, satisfaction, sustenance, fulfillment, community. What constitutes “enough”? What is my obligation to others? What do I want for my child? Is my home the engine of materialism or a refuge from it?

I understand the passion for a life that is made, not bought. And who doesn’t get the appeal of working the land? It’s as integral to this country’s character as, in its own way, Wal-Mart. My femivore friends may never do more than dabble in backyard farming — keeping a couple of chickens, some rabbits, maybe a beehive or two — but they’re still transforming the definition of homemaker to one that’s more about soil than dirt, fresh air than air freshener. Their vehicle for children’s enrichment goes well beyond a ride to the next math tutoring session.

I am tempted to call that “precious,” but that word has variegations of meaning. Then again, that may be appropriate. Hayes found that without a larger purpose — activism, teaching, creating a business or otherwise moving outside the home — women’s enthusiasm for the domestic arts eventually flagged, especially if their husbands weren’t equally involved. “If you don’t go into this as a genuinely egalitarian relationship,” she warned, “you’re creating a dangerous situation. There can be loss of self-esteem, loss of soul and an inability to return to the world and get your bearings. You can start to wonder, What’s this all for?” It was an unnervingly familiar litany: if a woman is not careful, it seems, chicken wire can coop her up as surely as any gilded cage.

Peggy Orenstein, a contributing writer, is the author of “Waiting for Daisy,” a memoir.



  1. As one of the aforementioned homemaking males (with a strongly feminist wife, too!) I think this is a dangerous idea, but one that, if handled properly, is a strong part of feminism.

    In the old days when women HAD to be homemakers, it was a cage, a trap, a fate from which you couldn't escape. Feminists came along to open up the field of possibilities, to show that women could have careers just as successfully as men.

    And frankly, that battle is far from over. I am appalled every time I see statistics on what women make versus men in the same jobs. I am appalled that the same people who would be horrified by a racist joke about Barack Obama made awful sexist jokes about Hilary Clinton in the last presidential election. I am appalled that women still have to fight so hard to be taken seriously in many workplaces.

    But while that side of the battle is super-important, it's also important to give women the largest range of possibilities available, the most choices they can have. So allowing women to choose homemaking, if that's what they desire, is also a part of modern feminism that's worth pursuing. The idea is to let women choose whatever path they want. And homemaking is a valid path to choose, just as being CEO of a big company is.

    The blank stares and confused looks I get from family members when I tell them (after I got my doctoral degree) that I'm going to be a stay-at-home dad for 5 years or so here... well they're certainly not the same as the looks that women get for choosing homemaking as a career... but it gives me a glimpse. Stay strong!

  2. You are wonderful, Scott! I admire you for being a great Stay at Home Dad! Great commentary on the article too. I knew I would get an intelligent response from you. Wish that you & your family lived closer. I would love to get to know your wife & daughters. Thank you :-)

  3. I think the one thing that gets lost today in the role of feminism is the children. As a child I was often left alone to raise myself as my mother pursued her career. The time that I did have with her she was tired and trying to get all the other responsibilities that she had. As a mother of four, I see what an awesome job it is to invest in my children. I am a home schooling, backyard gardening, and loving it mom. I am there for my children when they need me. As my daughter who is nine, starts to enter into preteen years; I am extremely blessed to be there when she needs to talk and ask all those questions that we all had. A career is awesome, but at the end of my life, I wouldn't trade a second I had at home for time at the office.

  4. I love this article. Feminism had/has it place. It was a much needed movement. But now days your hardcore feminist make us wanna be June Cleavers feel like dirt for not joining the workforce and living the dream. I feel saddened for them because they have forgotten that it was all so we as women could have a choice in what we do.

    There is a feeling of I did it that I get when I finished another canning project or successfully grow a tomato plant. (and I so want my own chickens but that's another story. The last paragraph says it all though. There needs to a balance in each woman's life. Whether she sets out to be CEO of a company or of her house.

    And Scott kudos to you for taking that step into Stay-at-home Dad-hood. You have a unique glimpse into the world of motherhood that most men avoid like the plague. Have fun with it and enjoy the kids.

  5. FeliciaE: "glimpse into the world of motherhood" nothin'... I'm glad to be sharing our common world of parenthood with you. :)

    And I agree entirely, that last paragraph is where it's at. I think it's a dangerous proposition to pit feminism against homesteading. Feminist women and men, and homesteading women and men all need to join up in pursuit of their common goal: freedom for everyone to choose whatever path in life they want to pursue.

    The second we start resenting feminists for pushing at the glass ceiling, or resenting full-time moms for not pushing hard enough... well, it's infighting, and a distraction from the real goal.