Not everyone is cut out for ‘radical homemaking,’ not even me

No idea what this lady's doing, but she looks like a radical homemaker to me! Image via the Google LIFE photo archive.

Folks, the backlash against “radical homemaking” (also known as ‘new agrarianism’ or ‘locavorism’ or ‘those damn hipsters going on about their Etsy and ramps and baking and whatnot’) has begun.  I remember reading a piece about “The Femivore’s Dilemma” on Jezebel back in March.  Then, a couple of weeks ago, KJ Dell’Antonia wrote “Radical Homemaking is More Fun when it’s Optional” at DoubleX.  And today, via Salon, I see this: “I am a Radical Homemaking Failure” by Madeline Holler (it turns out that the Holler piece was posted around the same time as the DoubleX piece, which responds to it, but I missed it back in my days before we got internet turned on at our house).

Dell’Antonia really hits the nail on the head in her piece.  Holler moves to the midwest so her husband can follow his academia dreams on $36k per year with a couple of kids in tow.  She becomes a “radical homemaker” just to make ends meet on that low salary, and she discovers she sorta hates the drudgery.  And Dell’Antonia points out what should be obvious to anyone who’s even heard of “The Feminine Mystique”: drudgery is not so fun when it’s mandatory, actually.  (Though, I’d point out that Holler’s husband *chose* to leave a more lucrative field, and he had the privilege to choose a more lucrative field by the end of the piece, as well.  Many people have no before and no after– “radical homemaking” as a way of making ends meet is just reality, period.)

Image: "American Housewife" Mrs. Gilbert Ambert, Kankakee, IL, 1941, via the Google LIFE Photo Archive.

Here’s the thing: if you’re reading my blog, you know I buy into a lot of the “radical homemaking” stuff.  I don’t make our clothes or even my own yogurt, but I’m really committed to local, natural, homemade food.  And in addition to my ethical choices about food, I straight up enjoy cooking, most of the time.  But here’s a secret: the minute I start feeling like I’m the only person in my house who cares about what’s going onto our plates? The minute I start to feel like cooking our food is more my job than my choice?  That’s when I start to resent my kitchen.

I think a major reason so many people roll their eyes when they read yet another essay by an upper middle class white lady who has found God in free range chicken farming and home meat curing and knitting is that so rarely do the writers recognize their own privilege.  For one thing, they’re doing all this stuff for funzies, and for another, so many people are doing these things because they have to, even though they’d rather not.  So here’s my revelation: yes, I think eating local, organic, homemade food is a good choice for our planet and our bodies. BUT: I realize that my choices are not for everyone. In fact, they’re not even always for me!

That said, I really have to take issue with this part of Holler’s piece:

Even baking all of my own bread sounded dreadful. For me, kneading dough was the physical manifestation of pushing and pressing all of life’s ambitions into one yeasty ball of carbs.

I’m not sure why all the anti-homemakers have to go after bread baking, but YOU NEED TO LAY OFF THE BREAD BAKING, Y’ALL. I bake my own bread. Even when I had a full-time day job, I baked my own bread. The combining of ingredients into the bowl of my stand mixer (privilege alert: I have a stand mixer, received as a wedding gift) takes all of 5 minutes, and the mixer does the work. 6-24 hours later, I preheat the oven, put the bread into a pot, and I bake it for 30 minutes. Then I take the lid off and bake it for 15 more minutes. Then I take it out of the pan. It’s hardly a soul-crushing commitment, and it’s cheaper, tastier, and healthier than most of the bread available at the store. Even I have my limits, but when there are entire cookbooks dedicated to Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes Per Day, maybe you should be picking a more onerous task to target with your ire, like, I don’t know, those crazies who use washrags instead of toilet paper. (I use the crappy recycled toilet paper, but I have toilet paper, dammit.)

The bottom line: they call it “radical” for a reason.  Just because you’re not willing to go whole-hog into the pioneer program doesn’t mean you can’t make a few changes that might be better for you and the planet. BUT, always, it’s worth remembering that just having the ability to choose these choices is an immense privilege, and even things others consider hobbies can be drudgery to people who have no choice. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a hunk of my soul-crushing homemade bread.

"Housewife Marjorie McWeeney w. broom amidst symbolic display of her week's housework at Bloomingdale's store incl. 35 beds to be made, 750 items of glass & china, 400 pieces of silverware to wash, 174 lbs. of food to prepare." 1947. Image via the Google LIFE Photo Archive.

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on skinny shoppers, food elitism, and gender in the kitchen

You don't have to be a skinny, white, rich lady to get into cooking. Image by Nina Leen via the Google LIFE Photo Archive.

I’m a foodie. I’m an unabashed, CSA-member, local-beet-eating, corn-syrup-eschewing, pickle-making, bread-baking foodie. I write a lot about food, how I sacrifice my hopes and dreams to bake bread, how I experiment with the new and wacky produce that appears in my CSA boxes, how I try to eat everywhere worth eating in my city before I have to leave it.  I also read a lot about food.  I’m a big fan of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and if Michael Pollan wrote it, I’ve probably read it.

This doesn’t mean I *like* everything I read from Michael Pollan. Continue reading

the sanfords, spiritual leadership, and submission

Image via the Washington Post

Image via the Washington Post

I’m with PunditMom: I LIKE Jenny Sanford. Reading this Washington Post piece on Jenny, after her eloquent and, I believe, genuine press statement about her husband’s oh-so-public failing, I get the feeling that she is smart, strong, and looking out for herself and her family. I also get the feeling she’s a genuine Christian, and her example stands in stark contrast to the hypocrisies of men like her husband, particularly this, from The American Prospect’s Tapped blog:

Sanford advised spending more time with one’s family (ahem) and praying together. “I don’t want to be old-fashioned here,” he added, “but I think the father has the responsibility of being the spiritual leader of the house, and there are some lessons on a daily, nightly, morning basis that need to go from the father to the little ones in talking about how shall we then live. And I think that particular responsibility is on the backs of fathers.”

Seems to me that Jenny Sanford is the true spiritual leader in that household.  And that her husband abdicated this role when he disappeared to be with another woman ON FATHER’S DAY.

And here’s the part that I’m really thinking about, pondering, and questioning: doesn’t this traditional gender role, male-as-spiritual-leader system really set a marriage up for failure?

Here’s where I’m going with this.  So the Sanfords believe that, despite having an equal education and career experience, despite an equal role in running her husband’s campaigns and PR strategies, despite keeping the home fires burning in such a way that Mark was even able to sustain his political ambitions, Jenny is spiritually inferior to her husband, in need of his leadership, headship, and “covering.”  She is the one expected (I’m fine if it’s just her freely-made choice, as someone who hopes to be a SAHM someday) to give up her Wall Street VP job to raise kids and bake oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for staffers and reporters.  She’s the one who disappears into home life, to the extent that I’m willing to bet that she wasn’t even the same person Mark Sanford fell in love with in the first place.  And then we act surprised when Mark Sanford, bored with this rigid assignment of roles, perhaps even with his no-longer high-powered wife, decides that a fling with an Argentinian is more exciting?  The entire system is unfair to both Mark AND Jenny.

I’m not excusing Mark Sanford’s actions.  I believe that there is no excuse for cheating on a spouse, and at the VERY least, he should have gotten a divorce before pursuing another woman, preferably not one who is also married (his mistress was apparently “separated” at the time that they met).  However, what I am saying is, this religiously-motivated gender-based spiritual hierarchy that its adherents believe protects marriage and ensures spiritual order actually creates a system in which both spouses are doomed to failure. The woman is left at home with the kids, deferring to her husband constantly, trying not to question him and his spiritual “headship,” and is expected all the same to remain attractive and attracted to her husband.  It’s like asking her to fight with one hand behind her back– how can she still be interesting and challenging and compelling to her husband if, after getting married and having kids, she’s no longer allowed to be the hard-working, high-powered, highly-intelligent person who first attracted him?

And the man is put on a spiritual pedestal, where, instead of answering to his wife, conversing with his wife, being challenged spiritually “as iron sharpens iron” by his wife, he meets with groups of men like C-Street or this Cubby character Mark Sanford seemed to be more broken up about disappointing than he was about disappointing his wife and kids.  And these men, I believe, often feed the very beast they are supposedly trying to tame.

This is why I don’t go in for this “headship” stuff.  I wasn’t looking for a leader, I was looking for a partner.  I wanted someone who can call me on my BS, and who I can call on his.  I wanted someone who would be just as devastated as I would be if I had kids and suddenly lost myself, my biggest fear about parenthood.  And that’s what I have in my marriage.  We see it as “iron sharpening iron,” not one of us inferior to the other.  When I talk about my desire to stay home with our children, my husband asks me if I would really be happy in such a role.  He knows me well enough to know I need challenges and mental stimulation, that I need to feel like I’m being productive and contributing to the world in a meaningful way, using my mind and my talents.  We will raise our children the same way we currently go through life– holding hands and picking up each other’s slack and doing the best we can.  But we’re certainly not going to handicap ourselves with outdated ideas of patriarchal leadership and one-sided submission that set us both up for failure and disappointment.