Based in Portland, Oregon, Harriet Fasenfest gardens, cooks, writes, teaches, and speaks on the issues of food security and justice. Her book, A Householder's Guide to the Universe, was published in fall 2010. She is currently working on a new book and curriculum guide for teaching householding and householding economics.
It’s funny, the way I get so cerebral about homemaking. You’d think that, after talking to my mom and her friends — now in their 80s — I’d be more down-to-earth about it all. Certainly that’d be the case when I heard what a chore it was and how happy they were when they could finally stop cooking, cleaning, and raising kids (not all did, to be sure, but enough did). Right?
Having been raised in an era of über-options for women, I might never have looked back, never considered homemaking a thing to be valued. Or, at the very least, I would understand the socio-political consequences of relegating any one gender to a life without many translatable career skills. It’s risky, to be sure.
I mean, how many women found themselves on the short end of the stick after their husbands took off for greener pastures? Or even if they didn’t leave (and many wished they did), how many women found the daily chores of homemaking brain-numbing to the extreme?
Certainly we know the stories of lonely and frustrated suburban women downing cocktails and Valium in their meager stabs at freedom.
So why do I keep revisiting this thing called “homemaking” (or, more rightfully, “householding”) in my head? Well, because I believe we threw the baby out with the bath water.
I believe there is much to be found in a life of home stewardship, but to find it, we will have to challenge many of our assumptions and stereotypes. We will have to question our notions of success and how they have been dialed into an otherwise unexamined economic doctrine.
But mostly, I make the case because I am a woman with enough chutzpah to do so. Without a doubt, if this movement gets any traction there will be legions of naysayers to challenge “the right of return” I am calling for. But I am not afraid. I’m butch, and I bake cookies.
I’m a mother and wife, but not because I’m afraid to be otherwise. I am making a case for revisionist gender politics as it relates to homemaking. Some are good at it and some are not, and it has nothing to do with what’s under your skirt (as it were).
Now that I’ve made that clear, I want to connect the dots, or revise the dots:
In essence, I am making a call for a return to the home as a political act, an economic stance, and a spiritual movement. I am making a call for a return because we need one. I am making a call because the more creative minds we put to the task, the better the solutions. I am making a call for a return because someone needs to be home when all the “important” work out there is done. Someone needs to meet our children at the door and listen to their stories. Someone needs to create the quiet, safe, and unhurried spaces of our inner lives.
Who shall it be now?
Let me be honest: Sometimes the effort is brain-numbing, but other times (most of the time) it’s infused with the renewed logic of home stewardship and sustainable economics. Certainly our current economic crisis has shown us just how fragile/corrupt the mainstream system is, but we did not need the crash to see it. Not if we wanted to think through it.
These days, when I go to the grocery store I look at products with new eyes. From an anthropological perspective it amazes me to see how effectively they (whoever they are) have turned everything I can do for myself into something they will do for me — for a price.
But what is the price? What has been the price of jobbing out our lives? What has been made of the environment? What has been made of our families? What has been made of our spirits, our economy, and our souls? Those are rhetorical questions, because most of you know the answers.
Certainly some have found themselves returning home for reasons outside their control and are struggling. Others (and their numbers are growing) are making a conscious choice to do so. Whatever the reason, I believe a great opportunity for transformation is upon us.
Creating new economies, home economies, economies based on reasoned and prudent systems of supply, demand, production, and consumption, will take a hands-on, homemade revolution. It will take a stepping-down from the mainstream marketing matrix. It will require a re-evaluation of wants and needs. In the end, it might well require a radical new legion of butch cookie makers to challenge the dominant economic paradigm.
Oh yeah, now that’s what I’m talking about.
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The great Sicilian-Neapolitan kitchen rivalry