Pinterest and Patriarchy

Sheila shared this article on Facebook a while ago: DIY, Pinterest, and the Rise of the New Domesticity.  In it a Christian blogger confirms a WaPo writer’s fear that the current rage for crafting and home cooking is connected, at least sometimes, to women’s sacrifice of career opportunities – but as an effect, not a cause:

In the case of my peers, generally young Christian women, the return to crafting and baking and decorating has accompanied a renewed emphasis on the importance of family life. We see marriages crumbling around us, children struggling through cookie-cutter schools, and so for many, the solution comes by devoting themselves full-time to their families. They’re educated women with more than a heaping of gifts, but they choose to become SAHMs because they really believe that, at least in the early years, they can best care for their families there.

But the truth that many are learning the hard way is that staying at home isn’t without sacrifice. In the eight years that I’ve been at home, I’ve discovered that little ones don’t often want to discuss French existentialism or world events, and major life accomplishments have been reduced to having everyone clean and fed at the same time. It doesn’t take very long to realize that staying at home can be less than stimulating.

Hannah then shares an awesome Dorothy Sayers quote about the universal human need to be occupied in some way, and the vacuum left when the Industrial Revolution took over much of “women’s work.”  The rainbow of projects displayed on Pinterest signifies, at least for SAHMs, the creativity, beauty, and meaningfulness of work that is always in danger of becoming mere drudgery, and even the most frivolous crafts do more good to the world than the internet surfing and TV watching that mainstream America asphyxiates its leisure with.

Working women, however, have nothing to fear from Pinterest.  The nice thing about modern domesticity is that it is still lightened by a huge number of labor-saving devices – in particular, the washing machine.  I remember seeing my great-grandmother’s iron as a child: it was a horrible dark monolith of – what else? – solid iron, and it had to be heated on a wood burning stove to iron EVERYTHING, even sheets, because there was no permanent press back then and everything dried stiff as boards.  My great-gran had a mangle for squeezing out water – the thing could crush the bones in your hand if you weren’t careful.  She had a laundry bat, for agitating clothes in the tub, I believe; and she once forced my grandmother to whup a bully with it.

I had bloody-minded, ass-kicking farmwives on both sides of my family: another great-grandmother could skin a rabbit in one tug.  They didn’t have the luxury of wringing their hands about work-life balance.  Stuff had to get done and they did it.  For the modern urban woman, however, canning your own jam is the task of a weekend.  You don’t have to drop out of society to participate in fun, DIY trends – even if you feel seriously that you are helping your family’s health by gardening and canning, these things can still be done in your leisure time, in lieu of TV watching, blog reading, or gaming.

Honestly, aren’t men bored with corporate toil as well?  Does anyone fret if they take up hunting, fishing, building their own computers, woodworking, auto repair, or any number of hobbies that nourish self-reliance?  Not really – because these activities do not flow insidiously into the bottomless pit of bearing and caring for children.  Making your own baby food, sewing a baby wrap, stenciling the walls of the nursery – these are the slippery slope.  You could end up working from home, surrounded by kids, blogging about making baby food!  Unfortunately for no-gender-roles-ever feminists, this sounds like a dream job to a lot more women than men.  Not that men don’t dream of working from home as well, but even after decades of attempts to even things out, it’s still more socially acceptable for women to be the stay-at-home spouse.

But I think that the resurgence of domesticity, such as it is, is more serious than you would think from browsing through mason jar patio lights and homemade peppermint marshmallows on Etsy.  The heart and soul of the movement is not fluff, but food: nourishment, sustenance, daily bread.  Those urban homesteaders and backyard poultry enthusiasts from the WaPo article have picked up the torch from my rabbit-skinning great-grandmother: there is stuff that has to get done, and they are getting it done.  Rothman gets it right when she quotes a scholar who says that the educated young woman’s new love of domesticity is “a reaction against a broken food system in America.”

Not that Rothman herself is convinced:  “Clearly, knowing how to cook (or knit, or garden) is good and useful. Some of us — myself included — find it enjoyable. But is it a moral and environmental necessity? Is it not good enough that I earn the cash to buy the jam — or the pie, or the loaf of bread, or the scarf?”  Well, not being able to bake a pie is not so serious.  It’s when you don’t know how to roast a chicken or make a simple vegetable soup that I think it can be said that no, you don’t know how to take care of yourself.  If you can’t cook, you give yourself over to the dubious “care” of restaurants, delis, and canned and frozen entrees.  Unless you’re such a high-roller that you can afford a private cook (so pre-war), you end up as a culinary nomad, with no knowledge of what a proper portion size is or how food tastes before it’s salted.

A broken food system.  Strong words, but look at us: we’re getting fatter and sicker every year.  The health system is breaking too, under the weight of preventable, diet-related chronic illness.  And why is the food system broken?  Because of male-run agro-business and food-marketing, sure – but also because women voted with their dollars and their time and bought the idea of convenience food, of food as fuel.  As something they didn’t have the time to worry about.  Sure, it would be nice if we women weren’t seen as the “guardians of family health” – if men had realized that two working spouses meant sharing that burden equally.  But men didn’t pick up the slack.  Americans worked more hours than ever, and both men and women dropped the ball on making sure that family meals happened, that our food had integrity.  And if more women are deciding that “guardian of family health” is actually a pretty badass and essential job, why discourage them from hogging the lion’s share of it?

I called this post “Pinterest and Patriarchy,” but I barely touched on the patriarchy bit.  Rothman dives into it here:

Their domesticity can be seen as an effort to repair on an individual level what isn’t being fixed at a governmental or societal one. Pro bono. Because, as important and fulfilling as housework may be, it’s unpaid. And in a world where college-educated women still earn, over the course of their careers, about $713,000 less than college-educated men, that’s no small thing.

She wants to sound nitty-gritty and pragmatic, but to me this just comes off as petty.  Why should women strive to be that jerk at the cocktail party who wants you to know how much more money he makes than you do?  If you’re not factoring in discrimination, but only lost opportunity costs, why is this wage gap so unacceptable?  This is a really unpleasant side of feminism: a materialism that reduces all of worth to what it might cost in the marketplace.  Chesterton nails it here:

There is a plutocratic assumption behind the phrase, ‘Why should woman be economically dependent upon man?’  The answer is that among poor and practical people she isn’t; except in the sense that he is dependent upon her.  A hunter has to tear his clothes; there must be somebody to mend them.  A fisher has to catch fish; there must be somebody to cook them.  It is surely quite clear that this modern notion that a woman is a mere ‘pretty clinging parasite,’ ‘a plaything,’ etc., arose through the sombre contemplation of some rich banking family, in which the banker at least went to the city and pretended to do something, while the banker’s wife went to the Park and did not pretend to do anything at all.  A poor man and his wife are a business partnership.

About flirtyintrovert

I love reading blogs more than talking to people. I'm trying to change that by writing a blog.
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4 Responses to Pinterest and Patriarchy

  1. Finicky Cat says:

    Bravo! I rarely comment – but just wanted to say again how much I enjoy your blog.

  2. Sheila says:

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, and … YES. I think I agree with every single thing you said!

    The trouble is, as both men and women have moved outside of the home, we’re discovering a huge void in our lives — the lack of all those things that can’t be outsourced. Childcare is the main thing. Children like to be with their parents. School is often treated as childcare, and in a way it is, but there’s a clear difference between the kids with moms available to pack their lunches, go over their homework, or come to the school with a set of dry pants; and those kids who don’t have anyone around till five p.m.

    But there are others. It’s expensive to outsource vacuuming and scrubbing toilets, impossible to outsource “making your house look homey and individually *yours*,” and unlikely that you will ever be able to outsource food production to the standard you want while there are people who stand to make a profit selling you inferior food. The trouble is that our washers and dryers and dishwashers have made these things not really a fulltime job … but they still have to be done. Shall we shove them in the corners of our other lives, knowing that they aren’t getting the attention they deserve, while we burn ourselves out; or will we just say “oh, the heck with it,” quit our jobs, tend our homes, and be told off for not being busy enough and not having a “real” job?

    My solution has been to make my job a fulltime job: have enough kids to keep me busy; homeschool them because I have the time; make from scratch to save the money I’m not earning; grow REAL food in my garden. It can also be helpful to take in at-home projects, paid or unpaid, like transcription or translating or blogging. More than anything, it’s important to remember that no man, in fact no ONE, is the judge of whether I’m busy enough or whether what I do with my free time is valuable. I’m tired of hearing “If you’re so busy as a mom, why do you have time for all that blogging?” No one asks my husband, “If you’re so busy with that job, when do you have time for Words With Friends?” It’s just that his work is confined to eight hours per day while mine is spread throughout. Just because I am not earning a paycheck does not mean I no longer have the right to leisure time and hobbies. I just shove them in where they’ll fit.

    My latest craze has been dystopian novels (starting with The Hunger Games, of course; highly recommend btw) and I’ve noticed in every single one, no one grows their own food. That is always illegal. Some grow, some process, some serve; no one does the whole thing or they would be able to survive on their own.

    Kinda makes my frontyard garden feel like a lot more of the rebellious, fiercely independent act it is, rather than the pottering around out of boredom that people write it off as. If we want to maintain our freedom, we are going to have to be ABLE to do the most necessary things ourselves, with no outsourcing — even if, for whatever reason, we are currently choosing not to do so.

    • I revile and abhor the American Cult of Busy-ness. Women in particular feel like they have to drop shibboleths like “multitasking” and “juggling it all” to be considered Good Enough, and no one’s getting the amount of sleep doctors say we should get to stay healthy.

      • That women think they must do that is a (nearly) uniquely female problem. It fits in with the myth of low self esteem and several others that so define womanhood, when women may like to actually define that individually Id imagine

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