Fightin’ Words?

Fightin’ Words? November 29, 2011

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?

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