Emily Matchar recently wrote an excellent article for the Washington Post raising the question of whether the “new domesticity” was a step back for women. She asks if the burgeoning popularity of Gen-X jam making is a betrayal of the career-mom-and-microwave-meal life made possible by Baby Boomer feminists, and if radical homemakers risk setting our daughters up with the burden of domestic obligation:
“Around the country, women my age (I’m 29), the daughters and granddaughters of the post-Betty Friedan feminists, are embracing the very homemaking activities our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shucked off. We’re heading back to jam-canning and knitting needles, both for fun and for a greater sense of control over what we eat and wear.
“But in an era when women still do the majority of the housework and earn far less of the money, “reclaiming” domesticity is about more than homemade holiday treats. Could this “new domesticity” start to look like old-fashioned obligation?”
There is a temptation here to draw a straight line from dishwater hands subjugation to feminist equal-opportunity empowerment to punk domestic retrograde domesticity. But feminism is not a static fight against an unchanging Goliath. The enemy of my mother is no longer my enemy. Women of my generation aren’t feeling particularly oppressed by Fortune 500 companies that won’t promote us past the secretarial pool.
Why should we? Irene Rosenfeld is the CEO of Kraft, Indra Nooyi is the CEO of PepsiCo and Patricia Woertz is the CEO of Archer Daniels Midland. No, our fight isn’t with the chauvinistic hiring practices of Kraft, PepsiCo and ADM…it’s with the companies themselves. With a tremendous thank you to the feminists of the Boomer generation, you have succeeded and made possible a world where women can be the enemy every bit as much as the men.
When the true fight is with the pervasive influence of a food system gone toxic, it doesn’t matter if the hand signing off on the strategic agenda is decorated with a sport length neutral tone spa manicure.
These companies shove non-food into brightly colored boxes and follow it with multi-million dollar ad campaign chasers designed to get four year olds to nag parents to death until they give in to a chicken puree-corn-soy-salt concoction masquerading as dinner.
Today’s radical homemaker feminist shows his or her disapproval for the food, the tactics and the subsidy system that makes corporate box-o-crap food economically possible by pulling household dollars away from these products. We respond by turning off the tv and the ads. We respond by making dinner.
The political act of making dinner often means stepping away from convenience. Sometimes it means we cook our own damn chicken, thank you very much, or we make our own jam or we grow our own tomatoes. We do this because eating is casting a vote, and we refuse to vote for brightly colored boxes of frozen soy-corn-chicken sculpture or federal corn syrup subsidies or tomatoes picked by virtual slaves in Florida.
Ms. Matchar’s take:
“Women like me are enjoying domestic projects again in large part because they’re no longer a duty but a choice. But how many moral and environmental claims can we assign to domestic work before it starts to feel, once more, like an obligation? If history is any lesson, my just-for-fun jar of jam could turn into my daughter’s chore, and eventually into my granddaughter’s “liberating” lobster strudel. And as . . . delicious as that sounds, it’s not really what I want on my holiday table in 2050.”
She is making the very good point, as many of us who write about this stuff do, that it is best not to get too carried away by the political when we are making dinner, lest the whole thing backfire into a mess of guilt and unsustainable expectations. But those Boomer feminists fought the good fight that made it possible for Irene Rosenfeld to rise to the top of a company that peddles $40.4 billion of Mac-and-Cheese, Oreos and the like, every year. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them down by not fighting the good fight for homemade mac and cheese on my own dinner table.
Feminism is a philosophy of greater choice and opportunity for all. It’s easy to miss this subtlety, what with “female” being right there at the root of “feminism,” but it is a philosophy that must support men in the freedom to be home, pursuing masculine domestic bliss, just as much as it supports the right of women to climb and conquer the corporate mountain. Feminism must be dedicated to expanding options, including the option to not compete in a traditional corporate sense, for both women and men, or it loses its relevance.
Men and women have equal claim to build a healthier world for their kids. They have equal incentive to seek out, make and grow food they can trust. They have equal cause to take up the the fight for a less commercial homefront and a new kind of modern domestic sovereignty.
They can certainly both enjoy homemade baked mac-and-cheese with crunchy breadcrumb crust. You know, just like dad used to make.1
Being a feminist means having choices. Growing my own tomatoes does NOT equal me forfeiting my choices. And I firmly believe my dollar is my loudest choice, where and how I spend it has larger consequences than my presidential vote.
Green Bean says
Fantastic post! It doesn't matter who is on top – man or woman – I still want to have a choice in what I do and how I feed myself and my family.
The difference between the old microwave meals and the "new" microwave meals is that one has cooked ahead and frozen or canned the ingredients…. Pop the top of home canned soup and nuke. Take out a frozen homemade dinner and pop in the oven…. Just as easy – but homemade so you KNOW what's in it 🙂
And thanks for the "just like Dad used to make it" comment, and sliding this more to equality and not just a feminism thing. I think both dads and moms are striving these days for the same things for their families, and I know my sons are as involved in it as my daughter.
Good post 🙂
Annie Jones says
Feminism must be dedicated to expanding options, including the option to not compete in a traditional corporate sense, for both women and men, or it loses its relevance.
I think this is where we lose "traditional feminists" (and yes, I know that seems like an oxymoron). The idea that some people (men and women) would choose a domestic lifestyle and would choose to not be competitive in the corporate world is beyond them.
harriet Fasenfest says
As the price of food continues to rise and our health continues to fail, as our soil continues to be despoiled and our air and water is unfit to breath and/or drink, as jobs continue to disappear and debts continue to mount, this entire conversation will shift from post feminist concerns to environmental and economic strategies in the face of very real problems. Perhaps that's when folks will realize we weren't in it for the freak'n jam. Or some of us weren't.
Thanks for the balanced perspective and for pointing out that the guilt can come from both sides of the equation. It is possible I think to have a foot in both worlds without betraying the ideals of either. (And I for one am never giving up KD or homemade mac and cheese – I love them both!)
I'm the full time Nanny for my 7 month old grandson (after his lowlife Dad left my daughter for another woman). I also maintain an incredible urban farm and cook dinner 5 nights a week while my wife and daughter are otherwise at work. Does that make me an angry "masculinist" :)?
I love the phrase “angry masculinist.” My dad used to say nothing made him a feminist faster than having two daughters.
Tanya @ Lovely Greens says
Great post Erica! Feminism really is about empowerment of choice – whether it's having the right to vote, equal opportunities in the work place, family planning options or simply choosing to stay at home and create a healthier lifestyle for you and your family. Choice manifests itself in so many ways…
Deb Fitz says
Two thumbs up, Erica! I'm sharing this one!
Great post. Being 61 feminism is dear to my heart. I had to fight a huge power company just to get hired and to be accepted into their apprentice program back in the 70's but in the 80's when I started having children, I was able to choose to stay home and raise them. It's all about choice.
Incredible Post! I read that article over the weekend and was wavering between yah, she's got some points here and Geez, she's totally missing the what this home-front movement is all about!
Some people still cling to the idea of feminism as 'women…free yourselves from the drudgery of your unappreciated housework and hit the work force'. My personal interpretation of feminism (and I grant you, I'm a Gen X'er) is that it is about women and men making a choice..paid work, unpaid work..and it is a choice that is supported and respected regardless of path. I appreciate your comment "Feminism must be dedicated to expanding options, including the option to not compete in a traditional corporate sense, for both women and men, or it loses its relevance.". Bingo.
My choice, No Thank You world of consumer madness and faux food. The few green-backs that I have to spend will make my political statements for me.
Thanks again for the great post!
The High Desert Chronicles says
"The political act of making dinner often means stepping away from convenience. Sometimes it means we cook our own damn chicken, thank you very much, or we make our own jam or we grow our own tomatoes. We do this because eating is casting a vote, and we refuse to vote for brightly colored boxes of frozen soy-corn-chicken sculpture or federal corn syrup subsidies or tomatoes picked by virtual slaves in Florida."
I love it! Great article!
excellent post, better at hitting the point of the matter than the original article, imo.
Not watching t.v. frees up time that I usually direct into growing, washing and cooking vegetables. However, I think most people don't cook "real" food because no one ever taught them how. Most people also now don't realize how good vegetables from the garden taste. Do you have a plan for how to teach your kids to cook? We have 5 and 7 year old boys.
Kristy Lynn says
That was so inspiring! I feel like sometimes bloggers avoid too much of a political stance with respect to food because they don't want to alienate people – despite the fact that our food ways are highly political acts. As a self-identified feminist, I can say that ethical eating requires choice not only of what we put into our bodies, the bodies of those we care about, and the planet. We need to consume in ways that do the least amount of damage to those producing the food, those eating the food, and of course, the food itself… but also with respect to how we engage with that food and our lives – corporate ladder, hippie commune, or something in between.
I love this! Well done!
K. Coghlan says
OK, I tried to stop myself from responding, but I couldn’t. In response to the statement above about the “traditional feminists” (I guess that’s what I am) not being able to understand “that some people (men and women) would choose a domestic lifestyle and would choose to not be competitive in the corporate world” is just wrong. Of course some people (men and women) can’t understand it, but many of us who have actually lived in the corporate world very much understand why many would rather not be there, but we don’t have that “choice”. Unless you came into the world with an inheritance that will last your entire life (or made that kind of money and then quit) you either make money to survivie or you live off someone else. That can certainly be the agreement between the corporate world worker and the person who has the domestic lifestyle, but some of us married like minded people, they want to be with their families, too. I can’t ask my husband to work in a killer corporate world because I want to garden. The goal is a world where there are more options for all, but living off the labor of a person I love is not an option for me, because that’s not what he wants either.