Tuesday, March 16, 2010

An Unexpected Out


In The New York Times, Peggy Orenstein introduces us to an exciting new type of woman known as the "Femivore," who seems to be an urban bourgeois version of a farm wife.

All of these gals — these chicks with chicks — are stay-at-home moms, highly educated women who left the work force to care for kith and kin. I don’t think that’s a coincidence: the omnivore’s dilemma has provided an unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Betty Draper.
The "feminist predicament," as far as I can tell, is that feminism somehow overlooked the fact that women are often expected to be Domestic Goddesses whether they have careers or not. Now, once again, the miracle of constrained choice is bringing women's expectations into line with that bedrock reality, to the seemingly inexhaustible surprise of cultural commentators who write for The New York Times.

Once upon a time, Orenstein explains, "middle-class housewives" were "trapped in a life of schlepping and shopping." And then, "a generation and many lawsuits later, some women found meaning and power through paid employment." But "others merely found a new source of alienation," perhaps because relative semi-equality in the workplace did not necessarily translate into equality in the home.

Femivores have apparently managed to resolve these issues by tending chickens, which, as Orenstein portrays it, seems to combine the transgressive thrill of feminism with the rich cultural rewards of doing what's expected.
Femivorism is grounded in the very principles of self-sufficiency, autonomy and personal fulfillment that drove women into the work force in the first place. Given how conscious (not to say obsessive) everyone has become about the source of their food — who these days can’t wax poetic about compost? — it also confers instant legitimacy.
As usual, the NYT treats the women in its demographic to an interesting mixture of cheerleading and contempt. There's an implication that educated, middleclass women are the only ones who matter, and that they're trendy and shallow and neurotic, and that any neo-traditionalist drudgery to which they submit, willingly or otherwise, comprises some sort of obscure rebuke to feminism and is therefore novel and newsworthy.
Conventional feminist wisdom held that two incomes were necessary to provide a family’s basic needs — not to mention to guard against job loss, catastrophic illness, divorce or the death of a spouse.
That doesn't sound like "conventional feminist wisdom" so much as realism. More to the point, conventional feminist wisdom also recognizes the reality of patriarchy and misogyny. That's more than you can say for the average NYT article on "the feminist predicament," which tends to take place in a rhetorical world that has been carefully stripped of explicit references to male domination. It's a bit like extracting figures from a film of a storm, and presenting them as mimes who are merely pretending to walk against the wind.

Anyway, feminism said you have to have two incomes to survive, but Femivorism extols the time-honored virtues of home economics.
Femivores suggest that knowing how to feed and clothe yourself regardless of circumstance, to turn paucity into plenty, is an equal — possibly greater — safety net. After all, who is better equipped to weather this economy, the high-earning woman who loses her job or the frugal homemaker who can count her chickens?
Beats me. I suppose it might depend on who carries more debt.

Even if Femivores are smug, trendy obsessives who seek "instant legitimacy," we still have to give them credit for expanding their consciousness beyond the dreary confines of "conventional feminism."
My femivore friends may never do more than dabble in backyard farming — keeping a couple of chickens, some rabbits, maybe a beehive or two — but they’re still transforming the definition of homemaker to one that’s more about soil than dirt, fresh air than air freshener.

You can transform the definition of "homemaker" all you like, but as long as it's applied primarily to women, it's going to be problematic. As Orenstein actually does acknowledge, sort of, finally:

[I]f a woman is not careful, it seems, chicken wire can coop her up as surely as any gilded cage.

Of course, it's not "chicken wire" cooping women up, in Orenstein's scenario; it's men who refuse to engage in "a genuinely egalitarian relationship," and a culture that still sees this refusal as normal, if not ideal. Looking at it that way, without any coy metaphorical distractions, you can see that there's something a little bit unseemly about advising would-be Femivores to be "careful," lest they create "a dangerous situation."

As if they have no one but themselves to blame if things go wrong. As usual.

6 comments:

Jazzbumpa said...

So much of social commentary carries the implied subtext that middle aged white males rule the business world. True as far as it goes, but this is usually the jumping off point for a composition error. What is true of the CEO was never true of his lesser-connected not-quite-clones, frex: me, a far more typical white male.

This, by the way, does not deny any of the real inequalities and inequities faced by women and minorities in the workplace. Or at home, for that matter.

I'll posit that anyone, regardless of gender or race who expects to find "meaning and power through paid employment" is highly likely to end up working for some ass-kissing dip-shit, and otherwise profoundly disappointed. The business life of quiet desperation is far too common. Of course, you never know until you try.

Orenstien's article strikes me as a clump of CA pop-cultural clap-trap, that is little more than a vehicle for her glibness.

chicken wire can coop her up as surely as any gilded cage..

Ter-fuquin-rific.

JzB

Phila said...

What is true of the CEO was never true of his lesser-connected not-quite-clones, frex: me, a far more typical white male.

Well, one feminist response to this might be that the "lesser-connected not-quite-clones" still benefit from privileges that are denied to women and minorities, and have a tendency to exercise them whether they're fully aware of it or not.

That doesn't mean that they're horrible or unkind or brutal people, of course. It just means that it's more difficult to disentangle oneself from this machinery than some people realize.

I'll posit that anyone, regardless of gender or race who expects to find "meaning and power through paid employment" is highly likely to end up working for some ass-kissing dip-shit, and otherwise profoundly disappointed.

No argument here. Though as you note, some people end up more disappointed than others.


Orenstien's article strikes me as a clump of CA pop-cultural clap-trap,


Yeah, pretty much. My first reaction was personally hostile. After reading it a few more times, I started to see it less as conscious propagandizing and more as an unwitting (?) product of the rules that govern this sort of commentary.

It's an important distinction that I don't always remember to (try to) make.

grouchomarxist said...

So I guess the Rabbit Lady in "Roger and Me" was just ahead of her time in anticipating this femivore trend. (Warning: The linked clip is pretty gruesome, if you've got a tender tummy.)

I wonder how long it will be before one of Orenstein's femivore friends runs smack into the laws most urban/suburban localities have concerning the keeping of livestock.

Southern Beale said...

"Femivore"?? No. Just fucking no. NO. NO. NO.

I hate this linguistic vomit. At Gawker the other day I heard Kathryn Bigelow referred to as a "jobsexual."

Just cut it out, people. Everyone is so eager to coin a phrase, it's fucking stupid.

Phila said...

"Femivore"?? No. Just fucking no. NO. NO. NO.

Oh, come now. "Femivore" is a perfectly cromulent word.

Jeez. You are, like, such a femineologismophobe!

liliannattel said...

Chicken shit stinks. I can tell you that from personal experience. It doesn't stink any less from the NYT.