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Posts Tagged ‘housewifery’

Many years ago now, from the depths of mothering two little firecrackers, I made a small zine. After an epiphany at copy store, I wrote this post which I still believe to be one of my best works. I decided to pin it here to the top of the home page, because it really nails what this blog was all about. Enjoy, and welcome. May you find solace and solidarity within these words.

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I finished my small but satisfying zine recently, on the subject of Getting Shit Done (With Kids). To clarify, the shit I am referring to is all the same ‘sustainable home’ stuff that I generally write and obsess about. Growing some of your own food, responsibly sourcing the rest, cooking everything at home, consuming a minimum of our world’s resources, finding the smaller and simpler pleasures in life– all in the context of homemaking.

After finally getting the zine all laid out, I spent a few hours at Kinkos printing it. While I stood organizing my piles of pages, I felt myself and my work laid naked before the world. There it was for any passerby to glance at– the Apron Stringz cover page. What at home had seemed clever and spunky suddenly seemed trivial and indulgent. Embarrassing. I felt a tiny crash in my heart.

I’m so excited? I wrote a zine about being a housewife?

Here, in this corner of cyberspace, we are together. All of us strange people who value home work. We come here to remind each other that we are important, to take shelter in one another. But out in the big world, people still think housewifery is for women who can’t get a job. People don’t understand what we might be doing all day, at home, and even if we explained what we were doing they wouldn’t understand why. Why go to so much trouble to make something you can buy at the store for $1.99?

As much as I want to believe that I am this strident renegade who doesn’t give a damn what the world thinks, it’s not true. Of course I care, everyone worth anything does. It’s destructive and beautiful, but absolutely human– our pack mentality, our sensitivity to others.

So I go along, carrying my secret work in my heart, brandishing my beliefs occasionally in public too loudly and with too much passion. Confusing well meaning relatives, alienating myself and consequently those who try to be close to me. It’s a hard row to hoe, and I would be lying if I claimed to never have had a breach of faith.

Having kids is hard work. You know. Unbelievably, previously unimaginably hard work. Sometimes I find myself wondering why on earth I try to do anything else. Why do I spend so much time and energy with this whole punk housewife thing? Is it really so important? Isn’t the “revolutionary” tagline in my header just tongue-in-cheek? Who do I think I am that what I do matters so very much. What precociousness!

My lonesome Kinkos moment was just me, out in the real world. Remembering that I am a freak. Questioning my self, my motives, my outcomes. Not feeling at all sure of the answers.

It was somehow much easier to keep a grip on the import of my ‘work’ when we lived in Alaska. My daily activities just seemed more revolutionary– even after having a kid reduced my efforts to the household realm, at least I was making stock out of deer bones. We drank wild salmonberry juice and picked chantrelles out of the mossy forest. Whenever I needed a good jolt of ‘why’ I had the big wild mountain right there out the window.

Here in the city, the sustainable lifestyle looks less radical. I make my stock out of plain old chicken, even if it is from the farmer’s market. We buy organic juice concentrate from Whole Foods, and locally grown shitakes that come in a plastic box. Is this revolution? Really?

Maybe not revolution exactly, but inglorious though it may be, this work needs to be done. Figuring out how to live happily in a thriving wilderness ecosystem will not save humanity at this point (though it well might be our salvation in the future). Right now we need to figure out how to sustainably keep large populations happy and healthy in cities where their concentration is most efficient, we need to come down off of the drug of convenience slowly and explore the genuine possibility of change. There is much work to be done to turn cities and urban homes into sustainable working systems, and it is helpful to have someone actually in the home to do the work.

Wendell Berry is, arguably, the grandfather of the now very fashionable ‘local’ movement. He writes about farming primarily, about staying in place and owning up to land use, but he always honors the home itself as the nucleus of everything. His monumental book, The Unsettling of America was the first place I ever read the word housewife used without malice. It is obvious that he reveres the traditional rural housewife, but– perhaps because he himself is the farmer and not the farmer’s wife– he doesn’t focus much on the role.

Wendell and the local food movement broke ground, but Shannon Hayes was the first public voice I heard with the balls to say, without mincing any words, that choosing not to have a paying job, and instead staying home to care for yourself and your family is radical political action and will effect significant change, change that we desperately need.

Shannon’s book Radical Homemakers, gave us some real meat to chew, a fat gleam of pride. But like Wendell, she lives rurally. Although some of the people in her book live in the city, the overall effect is the feeling that if you’re going to quit your job, you’d better move to the country and start raising your own grass-fed beef.

Then came Harriet Fasenfest with The Householder’s Guide to the Universe. Dramatically less academic and achingly more intimate, Harriet lays out her own struggle to turn the farmer’s ethic of thrifty, hard working, conscientious living into an urban reality. She uses the genderless word ‘householder’ to describe this more tightly focused work. Harriet started right where she was, with what she had, and there is great inspiration in that. But Harriet’s kids are mostly grown and she has has been able to give incredible energy to the task.

I feel that there is a great untapped labor force– people like me, and maybe you– stuck in the city, partner working full time, little kids providing the greatest motivation for positive change that mankind has ever known and simultaneously carving our time and energy down to within an inch of it’s life. We can’t get anything very big and impressive done, but there are so many of us. Our actions might be small, but our potential is big.

This post is not meant to be a declaration, an imperative or a manifesto. Purely an explanation, to myself above all. Because, although it is absolutely true that I do what I do because I love doing it, it’s also true that I often don’t love it at all. Sometimes it’s a downright shit job, a literal shit job, and I do it anyway (mostly). DIY punk housewifery as described herein is dirty, tedious, time consuming and, after the inital high of aquiring the skills, often flat out boring. Today I need to remind myself, and any of you who haven’t had a good pep talk lately, why we do this thing.

Let’s be frank.

I believe the world is fucked up. We have ravaged the wilderness into near oblivion, sucked the life out of every arable piece of land, bombed and enslaved our fellow humans, all in order to provide for our extremely decadent first-world lifestyle. I know I can’t change things to any significant degree, but neither can I turn aside and pretend I haven’t noticed. I cannot, in good conscience and healthy mental condition, proceed at full speed. Over time I have accepted that I can’t and don’t want to withdraw from my countrymen into the wilderness. In fact, since having kids I find that I am drawn more and more back from the fray. I am guilty of participation at every level, but I cannot reconcile a life that does not at least try for something better. If I am weary with effort, I will know I am doing what I can do.

And here’s what I can do.

If I believe that massive-scale agriculture is defiling our land, and corporate food products are defiling our bodies, I can base our diet instead on whole foods from local farms.

If I believe that using fossil fuels supports global bullying and violence, not to mention environmental degradation, I can make the time to walk and bike whenever possible.

If I believe that the immense resources sucked down and shit out for every piece of plastic crap we think we deserve is inexcusable, I can mend broken things, reuse materials, buy second hand, do without.

But you know damn well those choices are not so simple, and that is where the skill and craft and countless hours of housewifery become meaningful. After the romance of changing the world has subsided, it all comes down to the number of hours in a day and the number of dollars in your bank account. In case you’ve never been to a farmer’s market let me tell you that local, sustainable food is enormously more expensive. If I want to be able to afford the luxury of responsible purchases, I need to defray costs by cooking everything from scratch. Creativity in the kitchen is worth money– stretching that costly ethical meat by picking every last shred off of last night’s roast chicken and cooking the bones into stock; planning ahead for variety and convenience so that we are less tempted by the many corporate foods surrounding us on a daily basis; and ‘adding value’ at home by making our own jams, yogurt, granola, and bread.

Although cooking tends to monopolize my own housewifery, cleaning up after everything is a law, like gravity. It has to be done, and someone has to do it. The infinitely humble task of washing dishes is radical political action, because after cooking your ethically and sustainably raised chicken into stock to make a second or third meal out of it so that you can afford to keep supporting that righteous local farmer, there is a pile of greasy dishes to be done. If a=b and b=c, than a=c. In other realms, it doesn’t take very complicated math to realize that eschewing 2-3 years’ worth of disposable diapers, per kid, has radical environmental impact.

And if you want to quit your job so that you can be home to do all this radical chicken cooking and diaper washing that means that you probably can’t afford day care for your filthy little angels, which means you will be involved in the now political act of picking up the floor on a more or less continuous basis.

Welcome to my world.

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I was going to title this post “Master of My Domain” but honestly, part of me has been wondering who the hell had this big Clean House idea anyway, because shit is this some work!

My house is clean. Not immaculate, but pretty darned clean, even in the unders and behinds. It’s been more or less clean for about a week, but the upkeep takes all my spare moments, and then some. Including, significantly, those moments where I’m just dog tired and want to take a load off. On top of the upkeep, even though I feel like I am “done” with the deep cleaning, every day I seem to think of something else that I haven’t gotten yet, and had somehow told myself I didn’t need to get. But then I can’t stand to have the house clean except that one stupid little projects, so, okay I’ll clean under My Man’s desk/wipe down the weird brown drool in the freezer/move the kitchen cabinet and clean underneath because what is that rotten smell whenever the heat comes on and blows under there anyway…?

At first I thought I was just taking a long time to truly finish up, but a couple of days ago I realized there will probably always be something. Every day will have a “project” in addition to the hours it takes to keep all the toys picked up, floors swept and vacuumed, counters wiped, clothes washed/hung/folded/put away, every. single. god. damned. day. Are you kidding me? This is ridiculous. It’s not driving me crazy yet, I’m still high on the thrill of having a clean house. But christ, when the buzz wears off, I fear the sloven I will revert to.

The only reason I’ve been able to clean and keep clean in the first place is that everything else is going kind of easy right now. The Babe (dang, Toddler now?) has really hit his stride lately, advanced to where he can truly interact with his environment, and is therefore soooooo much easier to keep pleased. The 3YO has been easy for awhile now (knock on wood) and can happily play solo for hours on end. She was playing with just her hands today for 25 minutes, some elaborate pretend, rife with dialog. Don’t get me wrong, they are both every bit the passionate, opinionated, feisty little bites they always have been. They just seem to be getting what they need and want lately, and it shows.

To really spoil me, My Man had another 5 days off of school after we got back from our trip, in which I was a Tasmanian devil of rags and hot water. And even since he started back, it’s the begining of the semester and life is easy.

Breaking point or no, I truly don’t think I would have been capable of this sort of Filth Recovery in November, or really any other month since The Second was born. Until now. All the forces converged, and my house is clean and it’s great, and I’m proud and cleaning house is so much more satisfying when you have a clean house at the end of the day, yaddah, yaddah.

But nevertheless. Seriously? This is how much work it takes to keep a clean house? Day in and day out? There can only be one word to sum it up, sorry to any tender ears out there.

Fuck.

I don’t know if I have it in me.

I want to have it in me, I really do. I want to have a home clean enough that it’s relaxing and inviting. I want my kids to grow up in a reasonably clean space, where the tables have space for a coloring book, and floors for rolling around. I want them to grow up thinking that people put things away when they are done, generally, instead of leaving them in piles to fester for weeks or months to come.

So, in an attempt to make cleaning the house a bit more efficient, I’ve devised a small plan. Conveniently, we have six rooms in our house, just as there are six days in a week (minus Saturdays, which are my day off, not to be used for cleaning). My idea is to give every room a good clean once a week. This won’t keep my whole house spotless, but I never asked for that. I’ll start at the front on Sundays, and work my way back. The bedroom is an easy one, so I’ll use that day to catch up on laundry, which I’ve been known to leave clean in the basket for weeks at a time.

I don’t know how I will like this. I am a hopeless creature of habit, but have never been a creature of scheduling. We’ll see. I just want a way to streamline the whole caper, so I’m not feeling like I’m cleaning the entire house every day. My efforts will be concentrated for maximum punch. One room at a time, right. A 6 Step Program?

I’ll keep you updated.

I posted Someone Has to Wear the Apron over at Homegrown yesterday, and after I did it, I felt a bit awkward. Homegrown is all about gardening, homecooking, preserving, crafting and other DIY goodness. Suddenly my post on cleaning the house seemed so very prosaic. But as unfashionable as it may be, life is a messy business, and someone really does have to wear the apron. Every DIY exploit ends in someone cleaning up. In fact almost everything that’s good in life ends with cleaning. Without a doubt topping the list of messy business? Kids. God love ’em.

A few months back the 3YO said to me, out of the blue one day,

“Mama, are you the cleaner?”

I laughed humorlessly, “Yeah, I guess I am.”

“Oh. I’ll be the mess maker!” she said joyously and started throwing her crayons on the floor.

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That last post was apparently fairly popular. More views than any post yet on this here blog-o-mine. Which leads me to believe that feminist housewifery is a hot topic, and that perhaps quite a few ladies, errr, womyn, out there are grappling with these same issues.

About a year ago, when I was scheming my next venture (my last was a zine and then blog, called Subsist/Resist), I sketched out ideas for a name on a scrap of paper. Apron Strings had been kicking around in my brain for some time, but I do love me a good subtitle, and I was really torn on whether to use the word “housewife.” Was the punk/DIY/feminist/liberal world ready for such a blasphemed word? I really wanted to see it reinvented, but could it be done? In the end, “Revolutionary Housewifery” was just too clumsy a mouthful. “Revolution Starts at Home” not only rolled better off the tongue, but said succinctly what I meant. “Housewifery” was relegated to the sidebar description. But I still have quite an unusual fondness for the word, precisely because it makes me (and everyone else I know) uncomfortable.

After the popularity of that last post, I can see I am not alone.

I don’t particularly think of myself as a feminist (though of course I most certainly am). I grew up with hippie parents– dad as likely to be cooking dinner and mom as likely to be fixing the plumbing. (Both more likely to be devising a new business plan.) I was shown how to use a power drill at age 6. I never really got feminism at all until I left home. And even then, though I had plenty of opportunities to get riled up, and listened to more than my share of Ani DiFranco when she was still pissed off, Alaska is a relatively progressive place in the gender department. Women hunt, fix cars, cut firewood, all in a day’s work. Check out the Talkeetna Mountain Mama contest.

But even more than that, dogmas tend to get my back up. Liberals make me want to flaunt my hunting rifle, greenies make me want to drink out of a styrofoam cup, and feminists make me want to brandish the word housewife with a teeth-gritted pride.

Because how in the world did the work traditionally and even, dare I say, biologically done by women, get to be so thoroughly disrespected?

Let’s go back to the beginning.

Birth.

I, personally, believe patriarchy started with birth– the most sacred, most complete, most mind boggling power of all. The boys got jealous, and who wouldn’t? We women could do it all. Grow another human being in our bellies, push it out into the world, and nurture it to independence. I thought all this before I was a mother, but now, having seen birth particularly, I really understand the significance. The raw power of a woman in labor is not to be underestimated. Anyone else in the room must feel small. Powerless. Insignificant.

Patriarchy is a big wheeled truck attempt to hide feelings of…. well, inadequacy.

I think over the course of history, our culture became more and more dictated by a giant Napoleon Complex. Men scorned women’s work because they feared it. For a long time women said, ‘Whatever, screw you. We know what’s going down.’ But as time went along, things got worse, and the men with their little ego stoking got out of control. They had invented new kinds of power, and seated themselves as Kings. Women lost eventually patience and got pissed. Enter the Feminist Movement.

But I believe, and I know I tread dangerous ground here, that the feminist movement made a vital mistake. Things had gone too far, and the male mindset had infiltrated our strong female selves. They had convinced us on so deep a level that the work we did was meaningless, that when we looked for change, we took a wrong turn. We tried to claim our own seat in their big wheeled truck. When what we should have done was torched it.

Don’t get pissed off too quick. I am not saying “a woman’s only place is in the home.” Of course a woman should be able to do whatsoever she chooses, and get paid and respected equally to any man.

But in the heat of the moment, let’s not forget that we hold the ultimate power. Let’s not forget to value and respect it. Let’s not forget to kick some ass in our very own, uniquely female way.

Because true revolution starts at home.

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One of my devoted readers sent me a link ages ago that I only just now followed. Why did I waste so much time? It’s was an article in Yes Magazine by Shannon Hayes called Radical Homemakers and it is so, so right on with everything I believe. I went immediately to her site by the same name. The site looks pretty new, not much to it yet. But she’s got a book that I am wetting my pants to read. Oh boy! I do love me a good book.

If you’re reading this blog, you will love her article. I’m not going to lure you with any clipped word-bites. Just go, do it. I don’t want to see you back here till you’ve finished. And I don’t mean computer-blurry-eyed scanning either. I mean, R.E.A.D. it.

Now. Yesterday I read an article from Jen’s Dark Purple Moon, Green, Feminism and Class, asking why so much of the work of greening our lives is put on women, and how is a feminist supposed to feel about staying home and washing nappies. I spent a lot of my day yesterday processing. I had a great upwell of thoughts/ideas/feelings in response, but I’m having trouble putting it all into words. My gut tells me that housewifery is feminism. I mean, of course feminism as we know it falls somewhere between tolerating and abhoring the housewife. But my kind of feminism would honor, even revere the housewife, who after all does some of the most important, challenging, beautiful, rewarding and potentially revolutionary work in the world.

I feel that housewifery’s fall from grace is a true sign of patriarchy working covertly inside our brains.

Instead of wondering why we women often end up as the ones having to do the dirty work, we could see it as that we strong and amazing women choose to change the world by devoting our lives to the home front, and our loving and supportive (hopefully) partners do the boring day to day background work of bringing home some bacon.
Does our society support this idea? No. But, as revolutionaries, do we need a majority appeal?

Discuss.

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