Over the weekend I read a great article on The Washington Post about the fact that women are reclaiming domestic activities…ala cooking, canning, knitting and such, and it asks whether this is empowering or a step backwards for women’s progress. I think the article is beneficial because it is rightly painting domestic tasks in a favorable light and shows that women who pursue such things are finding enjoyment in them. But I also think it misses a larger point about feminism and domesticity.
Domesticity can be tied quite closely to self sufficiency and empowerment. Empowerment allows us to throw aside the shackles of slavery… slavery to corporations that provide products and services to us because we are not able to provide them for ourselves. The lack of these domestic skills is not empowering, as many modern feminists have tried to make us believe all these all years. Women were encouraged to look at their duties and situations as a homemaker and home “producer” and see it as something that was holding them back from “real power”.
Those feminists were wrong though. Women had power already. They had the power to provide for their families, take care of them by nurturing them with real home cooked foods, and heal them when they became ill. They were producers rather than just mindless consumers. They worked with their partners to create good lives and healthy families and their contributions were every bit as valuable as men’s. In my opinion modern feminism did a lot of destructive things but one of the worst was that it made women shun domesticity.
Women traded away a skills set that made them self sufficient, wise, and powerful. They traded it away because they thought it made them equal to men when in actuality it worked to enslave them AND their families to corporations and businesses who saw the potential in this movement to create consumers dependent on them for survival and basic necessities.
I think it is great that women are realizing that they find joy in domestic tasks and deciding that it is “feminist” of them to pursue whatever joyful path they want. But instead reclaiming domesticity simply because it is fun, why not encourage it because it is smart and empowering? And this isn’t just about women either. Men and women need to reclaim domesticity. It is not a duty that subjugates them. It is a powerful life choice that makes them more self sufficient and in control of their finances and future. It is actually incredibly sad when the idea of taking care of one’s self is considered a radically new idea or an antiquated one. How did taking care of one’s self ever go out of style? How did we ever buy into that load of malarkey? I will leave that to the social anthropologists.
One thing IS clear though, domesticity is making a comeback because we have so many broken systems in this country that are failing us. We cannot trust big agricorp or food corporations to feed us safe and nourishing foods. We can only rely on them to provide us with something that resembles food and that may or may not be tainted with toxic ingredients and chemicals. We cannot trust other corporations to provide us with safe household products, clothing, toys, and housewares either. When profit comes first we get lead laced, pesticide laden, planet killing products. We get bodies burdened with chemicals and carcinogens we never even dreamed we were being exposed to. We get government agencies working right alongside them to tell us that “all is well. We’ve got your back.”
Reclaiming domesticity is about standing up and telling them they are no longer our master. We can do that thing our ancestors did from the time of hunter-gatherers. We can take care of ourselves dagnabbit! Sure it may look a little different now and it may be a long road to learn some lost skills but every step we take to reclaim that part of our heritage is a step closer to self sufficiency and freedom. Oh, and it is kind of fun so that makes it easier.
Where to start? Usually the easiest place to start for many is with food. You can start making more of your own food from scratch and growing some of your own food. We have even better tools and gadgets than our ancestors did and there is no shame in buying them if the end result is going to be a better nourished and ultimately more self sufficient family. Get the right tools to Create a Real Foods Kitchen and start learning how to bake, cook, preserve, pickle, marinade, soak, sprout, ferment, etc. Growing your own food can start with one or two crops like some potted herbs in the window or a potted tomato plant on your patio. Start small and go bigger as you can and as experience allows. Square Foot Gardening is a classic book that shows you how to grow food in small spaces. I also like books like The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It. It gives you insight into new ways to increase your self sufficiency from butter making, to curing your own bacon (if you eat it), to making bee boxes. For a more modern and romantic twist I absolutely adore any book by MaryJane Butters but especially MaryJane’s Ideabook – Cookbook – Lifebook. She is the Martha Stewart of farming and homesteading whether you actually live on a farm or in the city.
Winter is the perfect time for planning your new endeavors and also to try things like sewing, quilting, knitting, and soapmaking. If you already do these things then work on teaching your kids, boys and girls. These skills need to be passed on! I sew myself, but I have never quilted so that is something I really want to pursue this year. Take classes or learn from family if you need to but LEARN. Other ideas to think about include raising animals for their products, food foraging, making your own beauty products, making your own cleaners and detergents, woodworking, composting, wildcrafting, learning about car mechanics or solar energy installation, masonry… the list is endless and the amount of knowledge you have access to at your local library is vast. In fact I have have read some amazing books lately that delve into this area and all are new releases. Domesticity is really catching on eh?
Tales From the Sustainable Underground: A Wild Journey with People Who Care More About the Planet Than the Law – This book is all about becoming an activist for social change through homesteading and self sufficiency. It has lots of great info about intentional communities, alternative energy, and it also delves into some areas that are culturally taboo, like pot growing. It is partly about green anarchy and partly about smart self sufficient choices. It is a fun and entertaining read though it may be a bit “out there’ for some. ;)
Chicken and Egg: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes – A lovely book that has lots of backyard eggs/chickens stories, photos, and recipes. I just love personal stories mixed in with yummy recipes.
Farm Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of Country Life – Reading this book is like picking up the journal of a whimsical farmer/artist. It talks about all sorts of farming topics and give instructions and diagrams but all are hand drawn. It is an amazing collection of knowledge but also a work of art. Look at the cover art and you will get the idea.
The Wisdom of the Radish: And Other Lessons Learned on a Small Farm – This follows the story of a young couple that graduate from college and decide they want to be farmers, without any actual experience with farming, and what that entails… complete with successes and failures. It is a fun read and applicable I think to anyone who wants to get into small scale farming, whether it be for business or for self sufficiency.
When making our New Year’s Resolutions every year we need to think about what we can do or what we can learn to be more self sufficient and dare I say it… domestic.
What is on your list?