Fightin’ Words?

Rebecca Cusey’s post yesterday about “The New Domesticity” is receiving some strong reactions.   I thought the piece was funny and thought-provoking, but many readers jumped in to defend themselves against what they saw as an attack on their choices.  What provoked the first somewhat controversial reaction on our sweet, little Mommy Blog?

I think that the words “silliness” and “symptom” might have done it.  They seem to indicate that Rebecca is feeling judgmental toward the women we presume are feeling judgmental about the rest of us.  I sympathize with her here.  My first reaction to new trends that I’m not interested in or feel too tired try is often judgment, and far worse than any Rebecca implied.

Whether intended or not, though, using words like “extreme” and “symptom” and “silliness” and “unnecessarily burdensome” are fightin’ words.  If we say that the behavior of the “hipster moms” is a “symptom” of wealth, then we are claiming – at least somewhat – that the hipsters are sick in some way.  Or maybe we are saying that wealth is in and of itself sick and that its symptoms are manifest in canning mothers.

I see this logic played out in so many places these days – where the choices afforded us by one form of privilege or another are demeaned simply because they come as a result of privilege.  Sure it’s a privilege to buy artisan-made whole grain brain over the Wonder Bread I grew up on, but that doesn’t make it silly.  It’s no more a luxury to can tomatoes that you grew in the back yard than it is to spend an afternoon blogging, which is how I spent my afternoon today.  They can both be frivolous wastes of time, and they can both be decadent blessings to us and those around us, depending on why and how they are done.  We make and then own choices, and those of us with more power have more options available and more choices to own.

Something about that power, I think, makes us uncomfortable.  It makes us quick to defend our choices, and slow to listen deeply to those who make choices different from ours.  I see some of that in Rebecca’s piece and certainly in the responses.

Deep listening would help us see to the positive values that often motivate “extreme domesticity.”  In Rebecca’s comment on her piece, she calls washing out Ziplocs an “unnecessary burden.”  But I may wash out my baggies because I don’t want to contribute to more plastic production or larger landfills.  I don’t happen to wash Ziplocs, but I have the luxury of time if that’s where my priorities lie.  Or maybe, since I have so much time, I might wash them and save a few extra dollars to send to children starving to death today.  Again, I don’t do this.  But seeing it as an “unnecessary burden” probably doesn’t get at the motives of the woman doing it.

As to the “silliness” of rejecting modern food supplies, for most of the women I know who DIY-it for everything from mittens to mutton, it’s not primarily about rejecting anything.  It tends to be that case that they are embracing a rootedness that can be hard to attain in a modern, “privileged” world.  I was once in a group who was reading through some Mennonite literature on growing, canning, preserving and otherwise spending a butt-load of time on food.  I remarked that this seemed like the opposite of simplicity; it was far more complicated than stopping at Whole Foods on the way home.  My husband remarked, “It’s simple because it’s all you do.  You can’t live like this and run kids to ten activities.  You can’t live like this and spend hours each night disconnected from life by plugging in to the computer or the TV.  You stay put and slow down.”  You tend your garden with your kids and slaughter your urban chickens with your urban husband.

I haven’t chosen that life, but it doesn’t sound silly, or unnecessarily burdensome, or symptomatic to me.  What do you think?

And more important, perhaps, what is going on with modern motherhood, especially those of us who wealthy and well-educated?  Why are we so defensive about our choices?

  • http://www.confessionsofapagansoccermom.com MrsB

    I make my own bread, grow veggies and herbs, which I dry, can and freeze. I make homemade yogurt, wash out my baggies and make my own cleaners. I’m neither wealthy nor a hipster. I am a writer who’s lucky enough to be able to stay at home with my kids because of the choices our family has made. I happen to enjoy gardening, enjoy eating fresh foods, enjoy cooking and yes, enjoy staying home with my kids.

    Rebecca Cusey’s article smacked of accusations that people like me are pretentious hipsters or neurotic nut-balls, all the while in comments saying she respects people’s choices. Really? Because it sure didn’t sound like it.

    You’d think in this day and age, women would be passed judging each other based on whether they stay home with their kids or not, or whether them might enjoy baking a loaf of bread. I guess not.

  • http://thosecrazycrunchies.blogspot.com KAS

    You women are [obscenity edited]. And I’m not afraid to speak the truth, so there ya go. Mrs. B was insanely more nice about it than I’m capable of being right now.

    • Tara Edelschick

      Geesh.

  • http://www.imnothannah.com Heather

    I like this thoughtful response. It’s good that folks can understand why talking about moral imperatives and using words like “symptom” and “neurotic” and “silly” grate against others’ nerves.

    Moving on from that, I think that your husband had it spot on. For many women, the baking of bread and growing and preserving of food and making of clothes is a conscious decision to embrace a lifestyle that (at least from the outside looking in) encourages learning skills and an “unplugging.” I think people get defensive about these decisions (on both sides–you don’t demean somebody’s conscious choice as silly unless you feel like they are judging you) because they force us to examine our roles as women and to try to fit ourselves into tidy societal boxes. I wish we could get rid of those boxes–and that women choosing to do things like bake bread or sew clothes wasn’t a newsworthy item.

  • http://www.imnothannah.com Heather

    Hang on, KAS. Did you read Tara Edelstein’s post? It was a measured and thoughtful response. I’m not sure what you called her, but it seems as if that’s an extreme reaction to a woman who wrote: “As to the “silliness” of rejecting modern food supplies, for most of the women I know who DIY-it for everything from mittens to mutton, it’s not primarily about rejecting anything. It tends to be that case that they are embracing a rootedness that can be hard to attain in a modern, “privileged” world. ” It doesn’t seem fair to bash folks who are giving a perspective that tries to be sensitive to all involved while offering honest reasoning behind her actions.

  • http://www.thedonovan.com John of Argghhh!

    Heh. My wife and I raise chickens, guineas, peafowl (and now three “heritage breed” Bourbon Red turkeys, along with 12 goats (though that will change, since a few are “with kid” and rabbits, and have two horses, 5 dogs (livestock guardians, with the coyote/raccoon fight scars to prove it) and nine cats. Beth shears the goats (Angoras, they produce mohair) and the rabbits (also Angoras, but they produce… angora… hey, I don’t know how it all evolved) and the processes, dyes, and spins the wool and sells it. Me, I have a more conventional office job, but why do we do it? Because we want to. We like being wrapped up in our 80 acre cocoon, and lots of people come visit the zoo.

    And when the zombies come, most of our friends will be heading for our place, too.

    It’s a choice. We’ve both been the high-pressure cube dwellers, and we tired of it. I have a low-pressure cube-job, and Beth farms. As the late John Denver used to warble… “Life on a farm is kinda laid back…”

    We still buy groceries, though from the farmers market when we can (where Beth sells, too) and we get meat from a local full-service butcher. But we still hit the supermarket, too!

    • Rebecca Cusey

      Good for you. It sounds like you’re happy. Perfect.

      And, as I’ve mentioned in other responses, I’m counting on my hound dog who lives to chase squirrels, to give me some meat to barter with you for wool when It All Goes Down. (In my scenario, I always survive the zombies.)

    • Rebecca Cusey

      I also just noticed your name. John of Argghhh! Made me laugh. Nicely done.

  • Joana

    There’s nothing new under the sun. My husband and I did all these things, as did many of our friends, but in the late 80′s and early 90′s. People figured we were holdover hippies, and for some that was true. We gardened (although I’m glad we weren’t dependent on our crops), we ground wheat and baked bread, and I sewed clothes for the kids and for me. We got used to being asked if our home schooling was legal. It took a few years for me to find funny the assumption that I was uneducated and unambitious b/c I was a stay at home mom. I arrived the day that I told an interrogator that I home schooled b/c it was just too much trouble to get up early enough to put the kids on the school bus. Now, knitting, sewing clothes, and baking bread are cool. I see blog posts on thrift store finds and making quilts out of salvaged cotton shirts. A niece asked about making her own velcro-closing cloth diapers. People thought we were nut jobs. People will think you are a nut job. Just look at your children. Look at yourself in the mirror. Watch your husband. If you see happy people, then go on being a nut job–you’re doing it right.

    • Tara Edelschick

      I grew up doing it all too. My mom resented it, though, and as soon as we had some cash, she never made us another dress again. But I have these warm fuzzies about canning, and making apple sauce, and hanging clothes on the line. And now even my mother, who couldn’t get rid of her Mason jars fast enough, enjoys my occasional forays into tomato jam and composting. I mean, who doesn’t like a good compost pile?

      • Joana

        You know, it’s sad to hear that your mom resented some of those things, but you still brought a lot of good memories out of the experience. I can’t say I loved everything I did to make ends meet (and that was a major motivation!), but I did love our life, and I still do. If my daughter makes different choices, I’m determined to support and encourage her, but I confess that it makes me really happy that she loves cooking for her boyfriend and all her friends at college, that it’s important to her to make her dorm a home, and that she plans to home school her children some day. I don’t think she will ever make a quilt, or even willingly sew on a button, and I would bet the farm on her using disposable diapers. She will most likely wear makeup every day–and she surely didn’t get that from me. And that is such a blessing to me–to see her becoming her own person, not a little me but not an anti-me either. You know how people tell you to enjoy your children when they are small b/c the days will fly by? They are right, and they do. But these days are really awesome too—there’s so much good stuff all along the journey.

  • http://www.thedonovan.com John of Argghhh!

    Rebecca – the homestead is called… Castle Argghhh! (Oddly enough, *not* a Monty Python reference, but we don’t want to hijack our host’s comment thread) We won’t need meat, but we could always use some spot labor! There’s *always* some poop that needs shovelin’ and fences that need mending.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      Ha. Yours might be the farm on which that would be fun to me. Look for me when the zombies come.

  • Jackie F

    I don’t do any of these things, but I try to buy organic when I can afford it & go to the farmers market on Saturdays when Saturday isn’t filled with the stuff I can’t get done M-F because I have an office job on top of taking care of my family. My only two issues were questioning if this was a counter-feminist notion (No – it isn’t…. & let me tell ya, I don’t think I would make old Gloria what’s-her-face proud any given day of the week) and the statement that we have a safe food system (which for the most part, the answer is no) There were a couple of times when I felt like Rebecca was a little harsh – but maybe she was crashing from a salty, sugar laden non-food snack as she was writing ;) I got where she – personally – was coming from… She’s a person who embraces the uber-convenience of the super-center & doesn’t really “get” the people who do all this extra work when you can just go to Bi-Lo or Publix or wherever. Like that friend who hates EVERYTHING about camping…. How can your friend hate camping when it’s so great??

  • Christy

    I think that part of what offended me about her piece (in addition to the choice of judgmental words you already mentioned) is that these choices ate presented as a wealthy woman’s problem. We live below the poverty line. And I work full time. And my husband is on disability. And we try to live as naturally as possible– homeschooling our kids because it is the right thing for our family, canning fresh veggies (that we sometimes bartered for), sewing, and doing things the old-fashioned way not because we’re bored, overeducated hipsters looking to make life more complicated, but because they are A) our efforts at doing the Right thing for our family, and B) frequently cheaper.

    You can’t afford organic? Grow your own. Prices of all natural stuff at stores are REGULARLY too high for a low-income family to afford. So, we bake our own bread instead of buying artisan loaves. We are busting our cans to find creative ways to give our family things that are safe, healthy, and meaningful on a shoestring budget, and to have that unapologetically mocked by someone who clearly HAS the money to provide or her family (without fear) stings, and reeks of judgment of lower to lower-middle class families’ choices (no matter what their education levels).

    • Tara Edelschick

      Christy,

      I know what you are saying about the assumption that people doing this are all wealthy. To defend Rebecca, though, the Post article was precisely about people who are doing it primarily for reasons other than money.

      On the other hand, there is a much bigger issue here. Many of us claim not to have choices when we do. Because I homeschool, I have less money than if I worked full time. But I could work if I chose to. Women who work often claim that they don’t have time to do many of these domestic arts. But they could chose to live in smaller houses, not go on vacation, etc, and grow a lush garden with their children. I’m also friends with women who live well below the poverty line, who cannot find work but want to, and who chose to eat cheap, often unhealthy food because that is what’s easily available in their neighborhood. It does no one any favors to ignore that we all make many, many choices, whatever our circumstances.

      I admire the choices you’ve made to care for your family, and I appreciate you writing in.

      • Rebecca Cusey

        Wealth is relative. If you have a full belly, a warm house, and time to do things you enjoy because you enjoy them, you’re better off than a large portion of the world. If you have a car in the driveway and a TV (refrigerator, dishwasher, oven, washing machine, etc), you are wealthy by global standards. Wealth gives us options. Substinence survivors,those who work each day for that day’s food, literally, don’t have choices.

        Therefore, people who choose to do inefficient labor are choosing because their wealth allows it, even if they don’t feel wealthy by American standards.

        • Shane

          You used the phrase “wealthy by global standards.” Have you ever been to a third world country? I have. They do all the things that you deem inefficient labor. Is it wealth that is allowing them to do it that way? Your argument is invalid. If the lights went out tomorrow…the women you are judging for their archaic rituals would be just fine while others struggled to adjust. I know this to be fact; not supposition because the power went out in CT for a few weeks a month ago. While others were fleeing my family stayed in their home and cooked over a fire. My sister and her so called “hipster mommy” friends were just fine.

          • Rebecca Cusey

            I have. Yes.

            They don’t have a choice. American women do. We are choosing to be inefficient, which is a sign of wealth.

            I also cooked over the fire when our power went out. It wasn’t super tasty but it kept us fed and home. That said, I much prefer microwaves.

      • Christy

        I guess the bottom of it for me is that if someone who has a comfortable life chooses to try to do things more naturally because natural living is, for her, an ideal, then I honor that. Just as if someone who has a comfortable life chooses the convenience of doing things the modern way does so because they value the extra time they get with their family by being more efficient, I honor that. And if someone who is below the poverty line (with or without working full time) chooses to do what works for her family, whether it is homeschooling, or weekly treats of ice cream at Mickey D’s, or baking bread together, I honor that. Mocking each other’s choices is unfair and doesn’t seem to be very feminist, particularly when there are real “enemies” out there who would deny us the right to make those choices. Doing some of the things we do– growing things, baking, preparing herb tinctures, etc.– these are family activities in my home, and are things we do together, and it’s time we enjoy having with our kids.

        I guess also I wasn’t quite sure what the post had to do with faith at all, and (as a religious studies academic on temporary hiatus) was surprised to find it hosted by Patheos, which encourages balanced views of spirit and faith. For many people who choose a more natural lifestyle, it is a matter of living ideals. For some Pagans and others who practice earth-based spirituality, it’s a part of our spiritual practice to live lightly on the earth, connecting through simple acts (baking, gardening, line-drying clothes) with the earth and her bounty. For some in other religions that aren’t known for being particularly earthy, it can still be a way to honor divine patterns as held in esteem (as I’ve known many a conservative Christian to practice herbal medicine, raise small livestock, avoid artificial dyes and flavorings, buy/grow organic, and value “simple living”). And for others, perhaps humanists whose values are primarily secular, it’s a way of affirming connection with future generations through trying to… ummm… maybe just not screw up the earth before they get here, not any more than we already have.

        People don’t (at least in my experience) choose to undertake significant life changes that require extra time and work without reflection and extensive consideration, which suggests in and of itself that these are deeply held convictions, even if not spiritually-motivated, that are being held up as silly or pretentious. Hence the strong reactions you’ve received, including my own. People don’t typically appreciate having things that are a core practice of their daily walk made the target of misconceptions and teasing.

        Anyway, I’m glad you took the time to respond, Tara. It does mean a lot, and I appreciate the balance in your post, and your response to me and others.

        • Tara Edelschick

          Hi Christie,

          Your comment about the lack of explicit faith talk in some of my posts got me thinking, I responded in the form of another post. You can check it out here

          Thanks for the feedback.

        • Rebecca Cusey

          Interesting you should ask what it has to do with faith…that’s my next post. Although I will say my idea of faith encompasses all aspects of life. Seamless garment and all that.

  • Shane

    This post is aptly titled. Many of the words in Rebecca Cusey’s article were fighting words to the modern mother, or at the very least grave implications. They would imply that my sister is a hipster for instance. She has four children. She is a stay at home mom. She indulges in many of the practices listed in Cusey’s article including home schooling. SHE EVEN HAS A TATTOO…THAT’S IT…THE JURY HAS REACHED A VERDICT…SHE’S A HIPSTER!!!

    Here is a clue for the clueless…having tattoos does not make someone a hipster. I live in Savannah, GA. We have become a hipster haven over the last decade so I know one when I see one. Let me run down the list of reasons why women like my sister are not hipsters:

    1. My sister does not were her jeans so tight that she can’t fit air in the pockets.
    2. My she does not use the words “You’ve probably never heard of them” at least three times before telling you who her favorite band, author, or artist is.
    3. My sister does not believe that Charles Bukowski wrote the bible.
    4. My sister does not spend vast quantities of money to look like she dressed out of the Salvation Army’s dumpster.
    5. My sister does not wear a pair of Wayfarer sunglasses while doing everything up to and including showering. (I haven’t confirmed that last part…but I feel I can take her word on it since she doesn’t even know what Wayfarers are.)
    6. My sister isn’t pathologically trendy while at the same time condeming others for being trendy.
    7. My sisters haircut doesn’t make it look like she was attacked by an enraged flowbee.

    The level of Judgement found in Rebecca Cusey’s article makes her more of a hipster than the women she is writing about (Baking you’re own bread is just soooo 1895).

    The truth of the matter is this…sometimes when you have multiple children it is more cost effective to stay at home than it is to go out and work. The day care costs on four children alone is enough to offset the profitability of a second income. Cloth Diapers are more cost effective than disposable ones are. Growing your own food has always been cheaper than buying it at a store. Home schooling younger children offsets the cost of preschool. Baking your own bread and knowing what the arsenic level in bottled juice is; just shows that you care about your children’s health. In a world that is being populated by fat, lazy, unruly children…you have found the time to pass judgement on the few women who have decided that McDonald’s is not one of the four food groups, and that the TV is not more qualified to raise their children than they are. By Cusey’s standards; my mother qualifies as a hipster. She bakes her own bread, practices reiki and she has a tattoo on her ankle. I guess I’ll have to buy her a modest mouse album for Christmas.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      A) Your list is quite funny. Nicely done.

      B) I am not advocating moms working. In fact I was lucky to stay home with my kids and still am around when they are. My point was that American wealth allows us to have choices the rest of the world doesn’t have, even if we don’t feel wealthy by American standards. If your back is against the wall, you’re going to earn money to provide for your kids. Choosing to do inefficient labor tasks is a sign of enough wealth to have time to spare, looking at it from a global perspective.

      C) I also have a tattoo.

      Thanks for commenting.

  • Rachel

    Tara,

    As always, great post — thoughtful and thought-provoking. There is so much to think and say in response, but what has stuck with me the most is this: “Why are we so defensive about our choices?” Really good question. Still chewing on it a few days later. It seems like no matter our situation, we have something to be defensive about. We seek to defend “hey, this is my choice!” or explain “hey, this isn’t my choice, but it’s the best I can do under my circumstances!” But regardless, there seems to be this driving need to make other people understand us, validate us. I’ll keep chewing on it. Thanks for facilitating and elevating the discussion.

    Rachel


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