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.