Show blog for Too Fat for Our Pants on Radio One, 91 FM, Dunedin, New Zealand. Airs Mondays 10 am - 12 pm.

If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.
~ George Bernard Shaw

Monday, 5 December 2011

Reclaiming Domesticity

 Jamie Stiehm posted this blog on the US News in response to Emily Matchar’s Washington Post article about the “new domesticity zeitgeist” which she sees sweeping up her female friends: women learning to knit, sew, bake bread, grow vegetables, keep bees.  While Emily Matchar sees this as a “continuation of feminism”, Jamie Stiehm’s article begins “Reader: beware”.   Stiehm’s concern is that the revival of traditional skills and an appreciation of homesteading is rooted in nostalgia and a fetishization of do-it-yourself-ness, and that the renewed valuing of those skills also necessitates a return to the slightly-more-extreme gender imbalances that accompanied them.  I could not disagree more strongly.

Stiehm's analysis ignores the simple fact that those tasks have always needed to be performed.  When middle-class white women from the global North are not performing them, other, less white, less middle class women are.  And those women are being paid less and valued less, precisely because the middle class white women were not performing those tasks.  The decision not to keep chickens, or to buy bread instead of bake it yourself, or to purchase your clothes instead of sew them, is rooted in privilege pertaining to race and class as well as gender.  Many – even most – women do not have the choice to not do domestic work, and to continue talking about work which is both vital and deingrated is to continue to marginalize and silence huge numbers of women.  The choice of privileged women to not “be domestic” is directly subsidized by other, less privileged women, who then take on many of those tasks themselves.  Someone makes the clothes bought by a woman who is able to choose not to make her own, and that someone is probably another woman, probably of a slightly different colour, getting paid a pittance.  To me, that is not a step forward for women’s enfranchisement.

Stiehm’s analysis also ignores the often very overt – as it is in my case – political stance that is only represented by a return to domesticity.  For many women, including myself, the appeal that this “new domesticity” holds is in its rejection of the corporate systems that underlie all our Northern freedom from domestic chores.  Many of the gains women have made in the last century, at least in the domestic sphere, were products of corporate marketing campaigns and the need to establish entry ways into new markets, what David Harvey refers to as the spatial fix.  Women were freed from an enormous number of hours of labour by washing machines first, and I am in no way advocating for a return to hand-washing clothes, but then, more sinisterly, by pre-packaged, frozen, and processed food.  Food companies created a market by selling specifically women on products which were unhealthy, economically, environmentally, and socially expensive, and they specifically used the language of female empowerment to do so ("Hey, ladies! You don't want to make dinner, do you? No way! Who does? Making food is an awful, awful, thankless task that no one should do.  Let us take care of dinner! Why don't you have a cigarette instead? I like to call them 'liberty sticks'. Love, Philip Morris").

Finally, though the first two points are reason enough for me, there is the simple fact that all these systems of food transport, factory farming, processing, outsourcing of labour, all the systems which have granted some women freedom from the work of sustaining themselves, are based on the assumption of cheap and abundant fossil fuels.  And those are just not going to be around anymore.  We are absolutely going to have to start performing domestic tasks, whether we like it or not, and so we might as well begin to talk about how necessary and valuable those skills are.  And if we can do that, we can also begin to talk about how necessary and valuable the (mostly) women who perform them are, as well.  If anything’s a step backwards for women, it’s an absolute refusal to see worth in the work that is done by women all over the world, to insist that domesticity is “nostalgia”, that it is distasteful, or that it is something to be avoided.  Steihm and those who agree with her are only succeeding in favouring their own privilege over the pursuit of true gender equality, for all women, everywhere.  As marvelous Flavia at Tiger Beatdown once said, MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE BULLSHIT!


  1. Oh thank goddess for words such as yours. As far as I'm concerned, at some point the feminist movement sold out so vastly--by rejecting femininity entirely, and accepting patriarchy's deeply co-opting offer for womyn to become Jr Men in The Good Ol Boys Club. The upshot is that womyn, as far as I can tell, have a much worse place in things than before. Now we are not just unpaid/unpropertied slaves with no choice to but to be background support of patriarchy, now we get to be patriarchs ourselves (well sort of), and participate actively in the destruction of the people, the planet, and the feminine. Now, if we want families but not to be 'stuck in motherhood', we have to do it all. Or, we can 'free ourselves from mother-slavery' and give up the feminine power of childbearing entirely, including it's joys and mysteries...all in echange for money and status (status determined by the MEN).

    Not that it is non-legitimate to forgo children--yes, we must all have this choice. And I've met so many women who gave up motherhood primarily because they knew they could not make it--not REALLY make it--in this man's world unless they remained childless. This, to me, is not a truly free choice at all, but a choice that accepts misogyny and the terms of this man's world to the tune of a deep self-betrayal and every bit as much the kind of 'self-sacrifice' that has kept womyn down all along.

    And now we get to be told, those of us who chose motherhood freely...and those of us who see how capitalism is just another extension of patriarchy that we deeply need to free ourselves we get to be told how to be a proper womyn and feminists by a womyn preaching that we continue to hate womyn and their choices...and continue to uphold patriarchal telling us the 'error' of our ways in practicing domestic arts/sciences.

    Thanks for sounding off on this. Yes, My feminism too, will be intersectional--will be heartful and respectful--or it will be bullshit.

  2. Great article! I too wrote about Matchar's article since it really angered me. I found her piece to be offensive, demeaning and condescending. Here is my article if you'd like to read it: