Thursday, October 14, 2010

Feminism, Femivorism, and Homemaking

After reading this article, I believe the best way to respond to it is point-by-point. You will see my comments in blue. I have written a conclusion to my thoughts at the bottom.

You can read the original article at

The Femivore’s Dilemma
by Peggy Orenstein

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, (Also a haven for liberal feminists) the high church of Alice Waters. (*An American chef, restaurateur, activist, and humanitarian. Nice resume compared to what is coming to describe a traditional homemaker…wait for it.) 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. (She is probably very confused about how someone making a living could long to be at home with her children, caring for her home, and being a helpmate to her husband. I know, it is hard to understand human nature.) I don’t think that’s a coincidence: the omnivore’s dilemma (I have no idea what that means) has provided an unexpected out from the feminist predicament (You mean they aren’t all satisfied with hating men and the women who love them?), a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Betty Draper. (There it is…we are compared to a fictional character on a TV show; she couldn’t even find ONE example of a homemaker that represents the essence of the role that is honorable and decent) “Prior to this, I felt like my choices were either to break the glass ceiling or to accept the gilded cage,” says Shannon Hayes (That’s because you have no imagination or creativity and suffer from the need to have your peers accept your life choices, and since they all loathe the traditional homemaking role you are trying to gain their approval by turning homemaking into activism instead of accepting what it really is—a sacrificial act for the betterment of all society.), 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. (The actual problem is women buying into the feminist line—what you do isn’t important or admired.) A generation and many lawsuits later, some women found meaning and power through paid employment. (Was it really meaning and power they were looking for or, was it out of necessity? Or, was feminism trying to convince them they shouldn’t be content with their lives as they were?) Others merely found a new source of alienation. (They were alienated from their peers who had all bought into the feminist line.) What to do? The wages of housewifery had not changed — an increased risk of depression (show me the statistics), a niggling purposelessness (repetitive word choice, and why is homemaking and living a simple life without purpose?), economic dependence on your husband (God forbid if we were to depend on someone other than ourselves, we wouldn’t be fully human, and we might have to show appreciation instead of contempt) — 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 (another term invented to avoid being called homemaker or housewife) may argue, quite rightly, that caretaking is undervalued in a society that measures success by a paycheck (caretaking is undervalued by people who have to label others as femivore because they have devalued homemaker and housewife for so long they would seem hypocrites if they were to now change their minds that those roles were, indeed, valuable), their role is made possible by the size of their husband’s. (Again, I say that feminists don’t want to give credit to the men who take care of their families financially, and second, they have no idea what homemaking is all about.) In that way, they’ve been more of a pendulum swing than true game changers. (AH, homemakers don’t get the approval of feminists yet again. DANG. I didn’t know I was being recruited by the feminist movement to change the game, I just thought I was doing what was best for my family.)

Enter the chicken coop.

Femivorism is grounded in the very principles of self-sufficiency, autonomy and personal fulfillment (a.k.a. not playing on the family team, separate from their families, and just plain selfish) that drove women into the work force in the first place (which really aren’t the reasons women went to work in the first place, it was so they could help provide money for the family, simple as that—which by the way is completely honorable). Given how conscious (not to say obsessive) (again devaluing the importance of what even the femivores do, according to her definition) everyone has become about the source of their food — who these days can’t wax poetic about compost? — it also confers instant legitimacy. (Oh yes, because what homemakers were doing before wasn’t legitimate.) Rather than embodying the limits of one movement (in other words, they rejected feminism), femivores expand those of another (gave their own personality to being a homemaker, which is what we all do by the way): feeding their families clean, flavorful food (wouldn’t want to offend the foody feminists); reducing their carbon footprints (wouldn’t want to offend the environmentalist feminists); producing sustainably instead of consuming rampantly (wouldn’t want to offend the communist feminists). What could be more vital, more gratifying, more morally defensible? (Seriously? Why do homemakers have to meet your standards of morality?)

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 (No, in fact, it wasn’t conventional feminist wisdom, it was and is still called economics.) — not to mention to guard against job loss, catastrophic illness, divorce or the death of a spouse (trying to scare us into submission to the feminist gods). 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. (Same feminist line, different office.) 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? (The one who is a partner and helpmate to her husband, together facing the hard times, is the one who will survive. It’s why God created man AND woman.)

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. (What was old is new again. What was rejected is embraced.) She interviewed more than a dozen families who were pursuing this way of life. (There are more than 300 million people in America and she interview 24 – 50 of them. Who were the control groups?) 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 (How lovely, now I am no different than a backwards religion in her eyes because I don’t want to buy into a health insurance system that is bankrupting our country and homeschooling my children because I don’t want to send them into the war zone that is our public school system. I am so glad she respects my way of life.), except with a car (no more than one, naturally) (I have two cars, thank you--one is even a gas guzzling truck that I drive daily.) and a green political agenda (no green agenda here).

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 (YUK), 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? (Uh Oh, sounds like you are being infected, better get to a meeting of NOW so that you don’t waver on your feminist beliefs.)

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. (OMG, she didn’t! Farming is integral to the human race’s existence, I think we can all go without Wally World if we had to.) 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. (She doesn’t get that homemaking has never been about an identical job description for every woman who chooses to put on an apron. Each homemaker brings her unique personality to her home.) Their vehicle for children’s enrichment goes well beyond a ride to the next math tutoring session. (Darn tooten.)

I am tempted to call that “precious,” but that word has variegations of meaning. Then again, that may be appropriate. (Oh please don’t call what I do precious. I really don’t need your approval and certainly don’t want to be patronized.) 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 (Show me the stats! How did she “find” that our enthusiasm flagged?), especially if their husbands weren’t equally involved. (Here we go again; blame the men.) “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. (Is she serious? I have lost my SOUL?) You can start to wonder, What’s this all for?” (Certainly NOT for the simple purpose of loving my family.) 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.

I am so thoroughly disgusted with this article that I want to have an article burning, but I won’t waste the paper to print it. Peggy Orenstein is obviously a feminist who can’t understand why her friends are jumping ship. She looked to another feminist, Shannon Hayes, who jumped ship, but didn’t want to throw her support behind the women she loathed her whole life. So instead, she redefined the homemaker and created a new term: femivorism (a little bit feminist, a little bit omnivore, a little bit activist).

Both of these women have not the slightest clue what homemaking is all about. For ages before the 1960's, women were what made the world go round, although they might not have gotten credit for it. They washed, scrubbed, wiped, and scoured behind the scenes so that their families could go out into the world shiny and beautiful. But that doesn’t even scratch the surface. They were farmers, teachers, writers, chefs, politicians, musicians, among many other roles. They balanced work and homemaking with precision. Some of them made homemaking their main career and by doing so saved their families precious dollars that have always been hard to come by. They cared for every family member, making sure that their clothes were clean and mended, their tummies were full of healthy foods, and their minds were full of interesting and useful ideas. They supported their husbands through their work, giving him the needed encouragement to face his often times tedious and grueling work, and helped to give him a peace of mind that came with knowing his family was safe at home with food on the table. They gave each child the love and affection they would need to venture out into the cold cruel world that awaited them, and were there to greet them with loving arms when they returned. They prayed to God every day that their families would return to them, whole and happy. What could be more legitimate than that?

Each homemaker brings her unique personality into homemaking. Some raise chickens and grow organic produce, others shop at the supermarket. Some teach their children, others volunteer at the local school to help the teachers that their tax dollars pay for. Some work in high-rise office buildings, some work from their kitchen tables. Some are liberal, some are conservative. Some are poor, some are rich. Some are Muslim, some are Christian. Regardless of our personal convictions and political preferences, we are the same in one way; we believe we can best serve this world by serving our families first.

Feminism has always made the mistake in their belief that women wanted something more than an “atta girl.” They believed, and wanted homemakers to believe, that their role was somehow diminished because it didn’t come with a paycheck. How very materialistic of them. They could point to women who did work and say, “look at them, they are earning a living and they like it.” When, in point of fact, these women probably would have preferred not to have to walk the tightrope that is a work-home life balancing act. They tricked the American woman into believing that she would feel empowered if she became the superwoman of the 90's—balancing work, kids, husband, home, school, and volunteering. What they got were sore feet, drained energy levels, and still, they were undervalued.

Why ARE we so undervalued? Because we are looking to others to value us! We are valuable. God created each of us for a purpose and with loving hands. If you need to look any further than your own backyard, Dorothy, you are going to be sorely disappointed.

To Ms. Orenstein and Ms. Hayes: Don’t discredit my profession by comparing me to some ridiculous caricatures of what you believe a homemaker to be. My profession is noble and righteous and always has been. I feel sorry for you because you haven’t found the true importance of being a woman and are looking to others to validate your existence. Be a writer or a femivore. Either is fine with me, but don’t try to discredit me because you don’t understand my way of life.

To the homemakers of today: Don’t listen to this tripe. You are unique and beautiful. Your purpose is true and good. You don’t need to be redefined to be important. Love your husbands and celebrate them for the sacrifice they make for your well-being. Love your children and keep them with you for as long as you can and don’t entrust their lives to the government. Make your homes clean and beautiful with what you have and don’t feel ashamed because your home won’t be published in House Beautiful. Value yourself; don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. Know that you don’t walk this life alone. There are millions of women exactly like you, doing exactly what you do every day. We can’t all be wrong.


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