Last week, the New York Times published an article titled "The Femivore's Dilemma," combining two of my favorite topics: food and feminism.
The writer, Peggy Orenstein, argues that there is a new branch of feminism sprouting from our nations growing obsession with local and organic food. Femivore's are women who have focused their energies on growing and providing organic, healthy and flavorful food for their families. They've gone past just maintaining a small vegetable garden. They now jar their own jams and buy chickens to provide them with eggs.
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. Rather than embodying the limits of one movement, femivores expand those of another: feeding their families clean, flavorful food; reducing their carbon footprints; producing sustainably instead of consuming rampantly. What could be more vital, more gratifying, more morally defensible?
Then there's the economic argument for women going to the coop instead of the boardroom:
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. 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?
I can understand a parents need to explore avenues where their children can get the best possible nourishment, and I think people deciding to grow their own food, if they can, is great. I also really like the idea that feminism can mean a lot of different things, and that it can be expressed different ways.
My worry here is that encouraging women to go back to the land is just another way to keep them from heading to the boardroom. And of course, it's not every woman's desire to be a CEO or chief legal council, but the business and academic world will never be made more female friendly if more and more women flee it. This, then, brings up how much each woman is responsible for furthering opportunities for other women. If a woman quits a high paying job to start growing tomatoes and canning pickles, does it become a detriment for all women trying to make their way up the corporate ladder?
It's possible I may be getting ahead of myself here, in regards to this piece. The NYT declaring Femivores a new trend might be like the way they declared the "opt out revolution" a trend years ago: it focuses on a small group of upper class women. Because the ability to not have to work is a luxury in and of itself, and really is only an option for Americans whose spouse makes a lot of money.
In any case, it's an interesting read, and writer and self-declared femivore Jessica Knadler writes about her difficulties combing feminism and farming in this post at her blog, Rurally Screwed:
The irony is that while there’s no question I’m more resourceful and frugal and self-sufficient in my new life, I actually fell like less of a feminist than ever.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Number one, DIY living, as far as I’ve experienced it, is still pretty much a man’s game. Much of the local economy revolves around construction and, to a lesser degree, farming, whereas satisfying, reasonably well-paying jobs for women are few and far between. So a lot of my peers end up staying home to raise the kids. For some, this is a wonderful opportunity. For others, I get the feeling it’s for lack of anything better to do. The result is that a masculine blue collar ethos holds sway. I’ve been to more than a few dinner parties where the men end up dominating the conversation discussing chain saws and diesel engines while the wives try to get a word in edgewise (or maybe that’s just me?), or else drift off to the kitchen to hang out with the children. Maybe there’s similar segregation at Brooklyn dinner parties, I don’t know – I left NYC before my peers started having kids — but I always find myself thinking, how very The Waltons. And not in a groovy, DIY homesteading kind of way but in a weird, retro 1950s kind of way.
It seems that even when women flee to the coop, the roosters are still in charge.