Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I do not want to live in a little house on the prairie.

I had hoped to have some momentous event to chronicle for my 100th post. Alas, I do not. But the very fact that I’ve made it to 100 posts at all is reason enough to celebrate. In fact, Red and I celebrated last night by swigging some soy White Russians. We toasted the Dude and vowed to keep achieving.

My new friend b over at Bitch directed me to this gem, courtesy of the New York Times Magazine. She’ll probably do a better job at taking it apart than I will, but that’s the Internet for you. Titled “The Femivore’s Dilemma” (Michael Pollan is going to haunt me until I die), it lauds these women who are doing the urban-homesteading thing, including raising animals for food, as an alternative to whatever unsatisfactory thing they were doing before. It hurt my head to read all the justifications, but I think the premise is that women who are burned out on working outside the home seem to find a renewed sense of purpose in growing (and presumably slaughtering) their own food. To wit: “The omnivore’s dilemma has provided an unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Betty Draper.” While I think we can all agree that Betty Draper, though enviable for her wardrobe, is not exactly an aspirational figure, I submit that there is slightly more middle ground than is presented.

Why do I think this? Because I live it. I am a loud-and-proud feminist who works 40 hours a week and can’t grow herbs to save her life, but who happily repurposes old pillowcases into produce bags, buys organic from a locally-owned market, cleans with homemade potions her brilliant husband whipped up, and just this weekend learned to make her own seitan. I do all this without killing anybody, for food or any other unnecessary reason. I may not spend my days working at home—sometimes I wish I could—but I do my damnedest to spend them well. I am not interested in “transforming the definition of homemaker to one that’s more about soil than dirt, fresh air than air freshener.” To frame the choice between working a soulless 9-to-5 or building a backyard chicken coop and learning to can tomatoes as the only feminist options is reductive and insulting. But it gets better:
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?
Earning a living wage, I would suggest. But that’s my 78 cents to my husband’s dollar talking again. Or perhaps my latent desire for instant legitimacy. Then I nearly blacked out:
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?
BITCH, DID YOU JUST TELL ME TO GET BACK IN THE KITCHEN?! Ahem. I can unequivocally get behind the notion that knowing how to do for yourself is an invaluable set of skills. I’m glad to have a sewing machine and know my way around at least most of it. I’m thrilled I know how to cook. I love DIYing the hell out of anything I can. I can’t change a tire, but I know how to use a can of Fix-a-Flat, which I defy you to tell me isn’t the next best thing. I like to think that I can, as Red tells me the Marines say, improvise, adapt, and overcome. But we’d be shit out of luck if I didn’t have my job, and I won’t be guilted by pseudo-feminist, self-congratulating omnivores telling me their choices are more valid. Life does not guarantee you unlimited choices, and most of us are doing the best we’ve can with what we’ve got. I’m so sick of the false dichotomies being set up everywhere I turn—bad vegan, bad feminist, bad human. I realize I say this from a position of considerable privilege, but get off the cross and improve your own little corner of the planet without getting your half-assed agenda all over the rest of us.

Shit, I got so spun up I don’t have any energy left to talk about the awful irony of “femivores” exploiting the reproductive cycles of other female animals. Someone get on that for me.


  1. Oh girl, I absolutely canNOT do that better than you did! That's why I didn't even try. Made me so batshit I couldn't even begin to deconstruct it.

    And, THIS: Michael Pollan is going to haunt me until I die. YES. Yesyesyesyesyes.

  2. Okay, first I thought this was the best sentence I had ever read:

    "Earning a living wage, I would suggest. But that’s my 78 cents to my husband’s dollar talking again."

    But then I saw this:



    And then I saw this:

    "I realize I say this from a position of considerable privilege, but get off the cross and improve your own little corner of the planet without getting your half-assed agenda all over the rest of us."

    But this was the clincher:

    "Shit, I got so spun up I don’t have any energy left to talk about the awful irony of “femivores” exploiting the reproductive cycles of other female animals."

    YOU ARE BRILLIANT and this is awesome. I wish I was even half as hilarious as you are. I don't know how you manage to do the funny while still making a point.

    I'm going to go edit my WWW to include this, it is too good to be missed.

  3. something to consider:
    As an ardent vegan, I can still have respect for a woman who tries to live her life outside of our capitalist society - who is a producer instead of a consumer - even if she eats meat. But at the same time: just because this particular article references the Omnivore's Dilemma, and because these four particular women raise animals for food, doesn't mean that the whole movement is made up of meat-eating Michael Pollanites. I agree that the NY Times article is flawed in its representation of the issue, but that's no reason to pick on the lifestyle as a whole.

  4. Thanks for making that excellent point, Miriam. I can see how it would appear that I was intentionally bashing the women profiled. That was not my intention; they were barely profiled at all, in fact. My frustration was mostly directed at 1) the author and 2) the social constructs that deride feminism while simultaneously rushing to label as "feminist" anything that might draw publicity. Indeed, I find many of the goals of so-called femivorism admirable, but am more concerned with the issues of privilege, especially the privilege of choice, that the article failed to question. I hope this clarifies my position a bit!

  5. the clarification was needed (and is appreciated). thanks!

  6. You are hilarious and fabulous, VB!

  7. I am an "urban farmer". I live downtown, go to college, ride my bike, and tear up yards to plant food for a living. I have a business and it feels awesome to help people grow their own food and raise chickens and love the smell of compost. But WTF, Peggy Orenstein?? As if women who eschew careers to stay at home and raise kids/chickens are doing it to avoid the "new source of alienation" of "paid employment". Can't women just live the way we live at work or at home BECAUSE WE WANT TO, not in order to boost our obvious lack of self-importance?

    I really found the quotes of Shannon Hayes to be misleading. The way Orenstein quotes her in the last paragraph makes it sound like it's hard to "return to the world" once your homemaking involves raising chickens. I mean, it sounds silly, right? "Chicken wire can coop you up as any gilded cage"? This isn't the fifties, and inserting that it's "a dangerous situation" for your relationship with your husband to get too into "domestic arts" if you don't have a higher purpose for doing them, is, well, insulting. Hayes is a livestock farmer, and I can see how she might have ish with keeping her life balanced, but don't put that ish on all of us.

    And apparently, Orenstein thinks that conventional feminists got careers "to provide [for] a family's basic needs", or as a means of survival in case our husbands got sick or died. I guess I had it all wrong. I thought women went to school and worked, not just for our families, but also for our OWN betterment.

  8. Raising chickens isn't necessarily for meat or for eggs. Chickens make some of the best compost on the planet and take care of a lot of garden pest issues. Why not give one a good home and benefit from the arrangement.

  9. yep, VB, you perfectly worded my misgivings about this article. I really just couldn't explain it... but it made me uncomfortable. I *knew* it wasn't really feminist...

    Have you heard of Elizabeth Badinter? She's a French (France) feminist writer who has just released a new book, Le Conflit et la mere, and mentions how the environmental movement is basically functioning as a backlash against womens rights.

    and I can see her point.

  10. Ah, I was having trouble finding this link and now, courtesy of Ecoyogini, I've got it. This article irritated me, too. Whether from the author's editing or the women interviewed, but I find the whole idea of politicizing the simple act of gardening off-putting. 100 yr.s ago it was just part and parcel of survival, and now it is the sign of true dedication to one's family and planet. Can't a body just mess around in the yard and be done with it?!?!

  11. "Can't a body just mess around in the yard and be done with it?!?!"

    I love this, Brenda! Thanks so much for reading. Namaste!

  12. Thanks so much! This post was so fun. The aspects you've framed here just seem rediculous! DON'T TELL ME TO GET BACK IN THE KITCHEN-HA! We live in a world with so many choices... Gosh, and I love Jen's comment about just having chickens--not for eggs or flesh, just as yard-friends! Yeah!

  13. I love this post! And I love your blog. I'm new to blogging, and it's such a treat to happen upon something so smart, timely, and hilarious. Many thanks to you and to Eco Yogini, whose post & link brought me here.

  14. I am so late to the party, but that didn't stop me from weighing in with my own blog post today, in which you are quoted. Thank you for capturing the ridiculous either/or behind this movement so perfectly.

  15. what will you do with all the eggs your yard-friend chickens lay? if they all hatch, you'll have a hell of a lot of chickens...