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.