Musings of a Heretical Feminist
Yesterday morning, I decided to take the kids thrift store shopping. This is more detail than you need; the main point is that I Planned To Go Out. And in the process, I noticed how easily I convince myself that my family and I live like “normal” working-class Americans.
So anyway, while I was preparing to leave the house, it was exactly and abundantly clear how “progress“ and “feminism“ has sold us down the river, especially children, but all of us, really. We collectively suffer because we collectively still, in 2022, have zero appreciation for the importance of “women’s work” except when we are paying other people to do it.
It takes roughly an hour, give or take, to bring a good-tasting meal from concept to the table, quicker and more involved possibilities notwithstanding. This isn’t taking into account the planning, purchasing, and other logistics involved in not-wasting food, and the fact that you can’t frontload the meals themselves; no matter the advance prep, the eating-of-the-food has to happen at intervals, fairly evenly spaced throughout the day, even if you are intermittently fasting (and trust me, this is not a popular concept among my children, all of whom no longer have eating disorders).
While one should never say never, it is true that my family has not eaten “take out” or a restaurant meal in possibly five or more years, so pretty much: we never eat out. Organic or regenerative whole foods that are as local as possible totals about ~$95/per day, which feeds the seven people in our family. Since health is our most important asset, one might say the value of our meals is priceless; we spend more than a third of our income on food.
And then, of course, there is the preparation, since almost nothing we buy is ready to eat except apples and butter.
Yesterday, I was trying to help a child make breakfast, cook lunch, bake bread, and plan meals for the weekend (plus feed myself, plus clean up Baby, plus coordinate a couple of homeschooling lessons), all before putting Baby in for a nap and leaving the house at 10:30am.
Often I will look at this challenge, of leaving the house early (or at all!), and I will feel embarrassed, thinking I should be able to fit my organizing into a narrower window or accomplish as much as “other people” (what if I simply had to be out the door to bring kids to school prior? What if my spouse couldn’t work from home?)
The crazy thing is that our “simple” lifestyle, of having one parent staying home with the kids and choosing to make meals, is only possible for us because my husband and I are lucky: 1. to each have a supportive partner in the other, and 2. because our single income is high enough.
Big Pharma and their politician minions would like us to think that “health” involves consuming their drugs, and that “educational opportunity” is best provided by state-sponsored or private childcare I mean schools. Suddenly in our modern world, for a family to attempt what up until extremely recently was simply what humans did (Personally Feed and Care For Families and Friends) - is far, far LESS socially and economically acknowledged as “good” than at any time in history.
It is easy to come up with conspiracy theories about why this might be the case, and that’s even without my discussing the ways in which our particular family’s choices have involved us not-using various costly Pharma drugs while healing symptoms that Pharma’s medical system deems incurable (but, happily for them if they were making their diagnoses, treatable with a lifetime of costly drugs).
Occasionally I need to say out loud: my unpaid work is important, dammit! It is important for the sake of our personal health and education, it is important for public health so that I don’t saddle the world (or at least my community) with a bunch of sick, unpleasant children, and it shouldn’t be something that only rich people can do.
No lobbyists are working on this issue, because it involves reducing rather than expanding the exponential growth curve that capitalism requires.
And it turns out that you can’t actually have everything. Or even close to it! Which is part of why modern feminism is based on mythology. My husband and I could BOTH have money making careers and pay others to make at least half of our food and do much of our childcare…OR we can have one homemaking parent and choose to make our own food, and take care of our own children. The both-working-parents thing can only work (as in young children not regularly falling through the cracks) when two spouses have engaging careers that pay WELL. But most Americans have no such luxury, most women are pushed into the workforce by necessity, and this economic tradeoff can’t even pretend to be appealing if the job in question pays minimum wage. (The sort of work that I would gravitate to if I joined the “workforce” would pay similarly). How on earth can one work full time and feed oneself and even one child (plus good childcare, plus rent) on $10-$20/hour? Answer: not well enough. And in that case it doesn’t matter how “filfilling” the outside work is, it is not fulfilling enough, either.
Not to slide too far down the hole of economic theory, but suffice to say that yesterday, what I managed to remember eventually, through the haze of busy-ness, is how the work of home making is truly my most counter-cultural act. And the actual reality is that if an adult in a family is going to cook three meals per day from whole, nutritious foods, plus homeschool ones children, it is very difficult to maintain a lifestyle that involves frequently going out.
All this implies that a large percentage of us are actually still wage slaves, even if the jobs and employers are pleasant. And maybe this isn’t weird at all, since female (or any gender) empowerment has never ever been the goal of industrialization.
I have until recently been convinced of the necessity of feminist theory. As I’ve pondered what the future holds for my girls and boys, I’ve become less sure, especially with the modern version of “girl power” feminism. And then I learned quite recently how the feminist movement actually began with a concurrent conviction that our economic system and property ownership would need reform in order for working class women to stop being treated as chattel. This never happened, and (financially) poor men are still treated as chattel anyway, so the entire movement kind of steamrolled into Identity-politics which has little relevance in today’s world, where female college students outnumber males virtually 2:1, poor women face many of the same hurdles (plus possibly even poorer health) than their peers did a century ago, and boys are also not doing well by any health or educational metrics.
I find it helps a lot when other people agree with me. So I was happy when, yesterday afternoon, I read two interesting and relevant articles. I also got a letter from a friend, G., on the same topic:
The “miracle” of processed food was the one single technological “breakthrough” that “liberated” moms from the kitchen to the “freedoms” of full-time employment outside the home.
In retrospect, the cost of living was simply recalibrated to a double-median-income household, thus no net financial gains for the “middle class,” but the Ruling Class now get two Workin’ Stiffs for the price of one, just like before even first-wave feminism.
A genuinely socialistic solution to the mid-20th century Crisis of Overproduction would’ve been to pay moms a full salary for life, “just” for being moms.
That way marriage & motherhood vs. career would genuinely be a choice instead of a de facto ultimatum, including for single men & women who must compete in an economy that has been recalibrated to a double-median-income household.
In retrospect, Western 2nd-wave feminism was equivalent to Soviet & Red Chinese “androgynism”: it erases women & destroys childhood & transfers power from the Workin’ Stiffs to the State.
The Reality of cooking only real food from scratch is that it’s a big job! And to win ones children over from pop cultural junk food influences, the stay-at-home parent’s cooking has got to be damn good!!!
The original denigration of women was the denigration of “women’s work.”
In the Battle of the Sexes, only the Ruling Class can claim victory, and the children continue to be the biggest losers!
In a recent article, Mary Harrington writes:
"One of my central contentions is that while some liberalisation has benefited some women, especially bourgeois women in the developed world, radical social liquefaction across the board is catastrophically bad for women - and especially those of us who are mothers. Interdependence is a defining feature of motherhood, from gestation onward. Family life is the archetypal template for those ways in which, as humans, we thrive when we belong to one another."
Harrington continues her ideas in a different essay:
"I ruined a batch of home-made bread over the weekend. This is quite an achievement, as dough is forgiving stuff. But I succeeded: I didn’t just forget about it, I forgot about it in a too-warm place, where I put it because I wanted it to prove in a hurry. The yeast over-bloomed, then died. Goodbye lovely, living dough; hello inert, beige slurry.
"A regular loaf of leavened bread has four key ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast. But reading the wrapper on the shop-bought bread that replaced my failed loaf, I discovered not four ingredients but 27. Why?
"It struck me, while rinsing off-white gunk down the sink, that the reason for this is that bread has a fifth essential ingredient: time. And the difference between my home-made ingredient list and the longer shop-bought one is mostly additives that reduce the need to treat time as an ingredient.
"But this goes well beyond just bread. Much of what’s distinctively modern about modern life can also be understood as the consequence of waging war on time in the name of productivity. And if this drive for time-saving seems at first to have no downsides, the costs are growing increasingly apparent."
Charles Eisenstein adds some thoughts about Time in his recent essay:
"Those of us who long both to be less and more busy, trapped in cycles of procrastination and hurry, sloth and stress, even mania and depression, might find that motivational tips and tricks and New Years’ resolutions and the habits of highly successful people offer little long-term benefit. What has helped me, though, is to recognize the authenticity of my longing—my longing to be busy with a life I love, to hold my time sacred, to be put to the very best use. Grounded in that truth, I become less susceptible to the forces that would keep me busy with anything else. Holding my time sacred, I naturally hold others’ time sacred, too. I become reluctant to comply with anything that puts anyone to poor use."
I have just been offered an amazing role in a musical that I love, which will be occupying me for the next six weeks, mostly logistically and also intellectually, since it will basically be an enforced reduction in the amount of time I can spend obsessing over the utterly criminal nature of Big Pharma, Big Food, and their increasing numbers of politician minions plus their enablers in Big Media.
It feels like a good thing, to put in some time at playing at the theatre, hanging out with people, doing a sort of fun and useful storytelling intensive to augment my normal work. Maybe storytelling and theatre will be important in the coming days and years? Maybe it’s “just” fun and engaging right now. In any case, I love it. I get to try out a German accent! It isn’t maybe as revolutionary as making dinner, but I’ll be bringing some counter-cultural spirit to the role I play on the tiny stage. And I’ll have my lunch in a thermos.