Friday, October 18, 2013

Feminism Versus An Eco DIY Lifestyle

Queen Composter is sharing her review of the book Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity.

I am passionate about gardening, the environment, my family, and making things with my own two hands. Now that I have gotten off my lurking behind and fully embraced social media with a Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest account, and a personal blog, I feel like I have found my tribe. I used to be more quiet about my crunchy leanings, but now I feel more confident to embrace what makes me happy.

After seeing author Emily Matchar interviewed on television talking about her book Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracingthe New Domesticity, I was intrigued enough to buy the book. She spoke about the rising trend of people, with women leading the charge, who are moving toward a more sustainable, eco-minded, DIY lifestyle, and she cites the thousands of blogs about modern homesteading, slow food, natural parenting, knitting, sewing and overall eco DIY lifestyles. Sounded good to me!

The subjects of her case studies are primarily American white, middle class, educated women who have left lucrative jobs because of the economic downturn, disillusionment with the corporate world, or to start a family. This is the first area of her book with which I have problems. This is hardly a wide cross-section of society and it is not representative of all people who are moving toward the "natural" DIY lifestyle.

She goes on to state that women who are growing their own food, raising backyard chickens, practicing extended breastfeeding, and making their gluten free food and personal care products from scratch are not only doing a disservice to the women's movement but are also taking away from the fight for more socially conscious programs and leaving the economically disadvantaged behind. In fact, she feels that these more educated and liberal women may have more in common with their conservative counterparts than they realize. These are very bold ideas that got my blood boiling almost immediately. 

She discusses several groups of women who feel the allure of the “new domesticity” and how they are setting back the women’s movement.

Crafting and food blogs abound.
Some women are stepping off the career track to focus on their home because they do not find a demanding career as fulfilling as they thought it would be, or were told it would be by the previous generation’s women’s movement. They aren't continuing to fight for more representation in management positions or seeking political office to fight for reproductive rights, and instead are glorifying domestic tasks on their blogs that previous generations viewed as drudgery. Some of these women are creating their own employment with home-based businesses like ETSY shops. By creating their own work, rather than pressing for equality in the workplace, they are allowing companies to use the recession as an excuse to claw back on progress that has been made, and to continue to see women as undesirable employees because they are not committed to their job and companies in the same way men are. 

People are growing their own food
for their health, for the environment,
and to reconnect with their food.
Then there are those women who have more environmental reasons for focusing on their home rather than their jobs. They are growing and canning their own food, making their food from scratch, sewing and knitting their children's clothes and making their own laundry soap because they don't want to expose their families to toxic ingredients. They do not trust the government to properly regulate industries and companies, and see the line between industries and government to be too blurred for any real change from within. They are frustrated with greenwashing and so are opting to do things themselves so that they know what is in the products they use. The author feels, however, that by turning away from consumerism, they are not exerting any pressure on the system to make positive, environmental changes. In fact, they may be similar to their conservative counterparts by pushing for fewer regulations, as is the case with the selling of raw milk and eliminating fluoride from water sources. They are turning in ward, opting out and focusing on their own home and family at the expense of others, rather than using their education to push for more regulations for the greater good of all.

Lastly, there are proponents of natural parenting who have taken raising their children to "extremes" (the author's words) with their anti-vaxination views, extended breastfeeding, cloth diapering, cosleeping, making baby food, and homeschooling. They have taken the focus on their individual families to perfectionist heights in their belief that only they can provide the best nurturing and education for their children. They would never allow their children to sleep alone, drink formula, eat sugar, go to daycare or attend public school. The mother is the centre of the family because of her biological role, which is reinforcing traditional roles within the family of the father as the breadwinner and the mother as the homemaker. Natural parenting as a movement is holding women prisoner to their biology (with their babies as their oppressor) in the way that patriarchy has done for centuries. Furthermore, this parenting style is helping to increase the gaps between the Haves and the Have Nots. If liberal, educated people are opting out of public education and public health they are not in a position to put pressure on the system to provide quality care and education for all, including the economically and socially disadvantaged.

The author then goes on to discuss how the more left-leaning liberal DIYers of the new domesticity are finding common ground with conservatives, including the religious right, as if this is a disturbing development. The new urban homesteaders and self-sufficiency advocates may be neo-hippies, evangelical Christians, Catholics, atheists or neo-pagans. I see this as a positive development. Many of our political problems today result from people being close-minded when new ideas do not fit into their chosen ideology or belief system. The environmental problems that we face today will not be solved unless everyone of all walks of life and beliefs can pull together and support the changes that are necessary.

Women are rediscovering the joy
of making from scratch.
I take great issue with the idea that by turning inward to creating an eco DIY lifestyle women alone are threatening gains made by previous generations of women. First and foremost I do not believe that women are putting pressure on themselves to reach new boundaries of perfectionism, which in turn will control women as it has in the past. Many couples that I am aware of, whether gay or straight, men or women, have found a division of labour that is unique to their situation. One person in the relationship is better at cooking or cleaning and one is more patient with childcare duties. Of course if one of the partnership is working part-time or has left the workforce, even temporarily, these tasks will fall on their shoulders more. 

My case may be somewhat typical; I do the bulk of the day-to-day childcare tasks, the cleaning, vegetable gardening, yard work, researching a more sustainable lifestyle and making things from scratch, while my husband does more than half of the shopping, cooking and laundry and is very much a hands-on father and when time permits is happy to participate in the other necessary tasks around the home. I believe that the author is presenting a very narrow view of families today to argue her case. The women that I know realize they cannot “have it all”, and they see that compromises in life are necessary to seek balance and therefore contentment. 

I also believe that it is not fair to dismiss those of us who feel strongly about creating a more sustainable life. By living by example, voting with our dollars and raising awareness by blogging about issues we care about, we hope to make even a small difference with our voice. It is not an all or nothing situation that the author presents; if we make changes in our own lives it does not mean that we do not advocate for change in government and society. Many people, myself included, are beyond frustrated by the prevailing attitude of caveat emptor. Those of us, men or women, without chemistry and biology degrees do not have the knowledge to research every ingredient on the products we buy and we are angry that we cannot trust the government to adequately regulate the products we use.

Growing a garden has become
a political act.
It is time to move beyond the traditional debate about working outside the home versus staying at home, and we must stop pitting women against one another. This is a dated dichotomy with the lines between work and home blurred by telecommuting, home-based businesses and part-time or self-employment for both men and women. Feminism to me means having the freedom to choose my path in life and seek happiness in the way that is best for me. It also means that I must be vocal about my beliefs about equality, reproductive rights, maternity and child care issues, living sustainably and having a social conscience. Perhaps many people are seeking a new way to fight for change that is outside the traditional methods. I believe that opting out and creating one’s own path can provoke change. 

Overall I am glad that I read Homeward Bound because it has given me new insight into differing points of view. It has also strengthened my own beliefs about feminism and how it relates to the choices I have made in my life. I do not, however, appreciate the dismissive tone, inflammatory language and stereotyping that the author uses when discussing her subjects, especially regarding the natural parenting movement. It is clear that Emily Matchar aligns with traditional, orthodox feminism (second wave feminism) and has not included any new feminist thought in her thesis. 


EMMA said...

On first seeing the book title I thought it sounded like my type of book!! But after reading your article I think not! I think I have more your perspective of things. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, great article.

Nicole said...

I think you hit the nail on the head--we have to stop pitting women against each other. Books like this I find ridiculous. Projecting your own gender values onto others.....isn't that what we're supposed to be fighting? Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anybody today remembers what " second wave" feminism was all about--it was not about climbing the corporate ladder! I recommend reading some of the feminist literature of the late twentieth century: you'll find plent of Eco-feminists who shared these kinds of concerns.

Mrs T-W said...

Isn't the ultimate goal of feminism to give women the freedom to choose? Just because I/we have chosen the more traditional lifestyle, doesn't mean we have ultimately betrayed their ideals (I say 'their' as aggressive feminist views like hers make me leery even though a strongly believe women have the right to make their own life choices). It means we have used our freedom to choose the type of life we want to lead. How empowering is that!

Another point is that when you become a parent, your obligation is to your child first. Why bring a being into this world, then pass off the duty of care and guidance to strangers?

This author seems intolerant of others' views if they aren't similar to hers. She is perpetrating a narrow mind set that is as damaging to women as the male chauvinists. It's a shame she took a great title and paired it with close-minded content.

Christy said...

Emma and Mrs. T-W, that's exactly what I thought when I read the title - totally up my alley!

I was looking forward to reading a great discussion about the new ideas in feminism, like eco-feminists, but alas this just sounds like more of the same "mommy wars" we read on the "mommy blogs".

I also find it interesting that the author includes thoughts from some of the incredibly divisive "hard-line" feminists about breastfeeding and nurturing of young children.

It really wasn't a balanced approach to the subject and for that I was disappointed.

Aisling said...

Loved your review! I also think that it is empowering, as women or men, to make a BETTER life for yourself and your family. I am not "in the rat race" because I think there are things in this life that matter more and I save my energy and intellect for those endeavors.

Green Bean said...

I'm glad you reviewed this book. It was on my to-read list but I got bogged down with more important books - like that latest YA dystopian thriller! ;-) Anyway, I am very interested in how the DIY thing actually bridges gaps. I feel like our county is SO divided into liberal and conservative, left and right. I find that the GMO issue and homesteading is a place where you will really find people on both sides of the spectrum and in between. We need to build on these commonalities.

Anonymous said...

Loved your review of this book! Thanks for your insights-- Feminism is still re-inventing itself, and I believe that by following our hearts and doing what we can to extricate ourselves from a context that is patriarchal by nature, we can at the very least get in touch with truly feminine ways of interacting with the world, instead of the knee-jerk-fight-the-patriarchy reactions we've been taught. Then we at last begin to discover the answers and purposeful action we've been seeking. By respecting eachother's paths as women and believing in the efficacy of each path, we're creating a new context that will ultimately serve the highest good.


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