Wednesday, May 01, 2013

A Feminist Kitchen



I read the recent Salon article, "Is Michael Pollan a Sexist Pig?" with raised eyebrows. I enjoy a lot of Pollan's work and don't remember being particularly enraged by it, and while it didn't turn me against Pollan, it did make me think. Inflammatory headline aside, the article is mostly about the current popularity of homesteading and DIY pursuits, and how the ones making fresh baked bread from scratch and grinding soap for the family's laundry detergent tends to be the ladies. On the one hand, I agree with the premise, and it makes me a bit uncomfortable to think that I am essentially sending myself back to the kitchen. I can't help but wonder how many more words I could write, how much more money I could make, if I just said to hell with it and survived on Indian takeout and frozen pizza. On the other hand, cooking and gardening and working towards self-sufficiency gives me a satisfaction that has nothing to do with the fact that I have a uterus. I feel deeply that living close to the earth is an essential part of being an authentic human being, and that it's a worthy pursuit. So the problem, as I see it, isn't that women are embracing a "new domesticity," but that they aren't sharing these new chores (as joyful as they may be) with the men in their lives.

(And I hope it's obvious that the experience of this "new domesticity" is one that is rooted in the middle class, with the assumption that the people who are pursuing these hobbies and this way of life are doing so by choice, and not by necessity. Hobbies are only fun when they're not mandatory. Also, this whole discussion is very heteronormative, because that's my experience. I would love to hear how gay homesteading couples divvy up their chores.)


While Nathan and I share the duties of house cleaning and yard work equally, the kitchen is where we depart. I am absolutely the person who does the meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking. And while I enjoy those tasks, I occasionally feel resentful about the fact that his interest in cooking begins and ends with putting a frozen veggie burger in the toaster oven. This is the main difference in our personalities - Nathan eats to live, and I live to eat. But it's a flimsy excuse, and I think the bigger issue is that he's never felt the need to learn how to make more than two or three dishes. Is this because he's a man, and men aren't expected to do a lot of cooking? Is it because I like to cook and claimed that chore, while he takes charge of other things, like cleaning the bathroom? (And thank god for that, because I hate cleaning bathrooms.) It's hard to tell what chores we've been drawn to naturally, and what influence society and gender expectations have had. Asking those questions is both annoying (why can't I just do the things I want?) and fascinating (why do I want to do these things?). 

Rachel sums up the article and a few responses nicely on her blog, and the comments on her post are worth a read. Rachel also discusses the book Radical Homemakers, which I've added to my summer reading list, mostly because of this description: [the book is] pushing families to become units of production (raising/growing/making their own food, sewing their own clothes, trading skills and homemade goods with other families, etc.) instead of units of consumption.


I read that line, and I thought: YES. While it may seem that my goals are cute baby chicks and fresh baked cookies, a charming line of clean laundry in the backyard and a bustling garden in the raised beds, these are all symptoms of a bigger, more important desire - the desire to take care of ourselves, and each other. As far as homesteading goes, we're absolutely beginners. We learn as we go. Our failures nearly outnumber our successes. And yet those mistakes are part of the process, along with figuring out to balance chores and duties, and how best to share - and enjoy - the work of living.  

9 comments:

  1. Interesting reflection. I do the kitchen and my man wash the dishes. Very nice equation and I feel like I'm the winner hahaha.

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    1. We usually do that as well, except I tend to clean as I go because I'm a neat freak. ;)

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  2. Lady, you and I are on the same wavelength these days as we think about thoughtful consumption. I found that Salon piece yesterday but have only skimmed it so far and really, really feel inspired to read and write a reaction to it. The way we care for ourselves and others is such an important and deep topic. I do think that from a fly-over analysis, Michael Pollan has ignored all the 50s and 60s housewives who were happy to be able to serve processed foods to their families because it meant they weren't forced to do all that kitchen labor themselves.

    I kinda feel like with both feminism and vegetarianism, Pollan wants to ignore the higher ideals that drive those movements. The question is, Why? Is it because he doesn't want to offend men for a sexist division of labor? Or that he wants to feel that his decision to eat meat is holy or sacred? Or even that he doesn't want to blame people for their own bad eating habits? After all, feminism didn't force anyone to drink soda every day. And what about all the mothers who have struggled to get their kids to eat vegetables, ANY vegetables at all? Do we blame them for their kids' poor eating habits?

    I generally like Pollan's thoughts, but he definitely pushes buttons for me!

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    1. I think part of the problem is that Pollan is writing from a place of privilege, which he seems to forget pretty often. It's easy to talk about how great cooking from home is, when you're a successful male author in 21st century America. That said, I believe the quote from him was taken out of context - from what little digging I've done, he tends to say both anti- and pro-feminist things, depending on who he's talking to. ;)

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  3. Oh I just love this post. Really great thoughts and observations!

    David is the same as Nathan on the cooking thing. I really like to cook (most of the time) so I always take the lead. I know he enjoys my cooking, but he'd be happy with takeout as well. And I agree about the hobby of homesteading being fun since it's not something that is a necessity. I don't have to keep chickens, I could just buy eggs from the store, but it's about so much more than that. I heard about Radical Homemakers a while back and put it on my to read list but haven't gotten around to it yet, so I need to read it!

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  4. I LOVE to cook. I mean I honestly adore it. It's fun for me so I cook 99% of the time. My husband enjoys laundry... not sure why exactly, but I'll take it.

    I honestly probably haven't done 10 full loads of laundry since we've been married for almost 10 years. He hasn't cooked more than a sandwich for a snack more than a handful of times. You just figure out what you like to do, and do it. It all has to be done.

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    1. That sounds like a good deal! Kind of like how I've never cleaned the bathroom since we've been living together. :)

      I agree that everything needs to be done, but what if there are certain chores that no one likes to do? How do you decide who gets stuck with those? Or what if you're good/better at something, but don't like doing it? Then things get complicated.

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  5. I guess I would say that I enjoy cooking, but I haven't really delved into things that one might consider homesteading - growing vegetables, raising chickens, making soap, spinning wool....

    Currently I do about 60% of the cooking, 40% of the kitchen clean up, 10% of the grocery shopping, and 70% of the meal planning in my home. Mark does the rest. I enjoy cooking (and baking especially) a bit more than he does, but he is quite competent in the kitchen. And that was really useful when he was underemployed or unemployed as he was for much of the past three years because it meant that there was no "second shift" for me really at all, as he did all of the vacuuming and annoying errands like picking up dry cleaning.

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    1. Ha! I love that you broke it down into percentages! It would be unfair for me to do that right now - because of our schedules, I work from home, while Nathan is often gone for 12 hours or more at a time for school/work. So I tend to do more of the smaller household chores, just because I'm here and I can't focus in a messy home. Once we're both out of school and have regular schedules, though, there will be a reckoning!

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