The Femivore’s Dilemma

I read with great interest Peggy Orenstein’s essay over at the New York Times about the rise of the “Femivore” – that is a woman who’s not only gone back to the hearth, but apparently back to 1865. These moms grow their family’s food (including raising chickens for eggs), make their own clothes, etc.

It’s a strange blend of survivalism with progressive (usually green) politics. While 1950s homemakers felt a sense of malaise because making a home had become largely about consumerism, advocates like Shannon Hayes (author of Radical Homemakers) suggest that the Femivore movement offers a way out. You’re engaged in a purpose beyond schlepping children around and, if you avoid spending, you can contribute the equivalent of a second income too!

In our age of food obsessions and mothering fundamentalism, I suppose this has a certain appeal. If you raise the chicken, you can vouch for the health of the egg. Sewing your own clothes appears to save money (that is, if you value your own time at zero).

All these domestic arts also solve the problem of filling your 168 hours with something. While children do need a great deal of attention when they are little, the problem with going the stay-at-home mom route is that they don’t stay little for long. I’ve had full-time childcare since a few months after Jasper was born, but even if I hadn’t, he would now be in pre-school likely 3-5 days per week at 3 hours a pop. If he kept taking his nap or rest time, that would be another 10 hours during the week that would be freed up (if I didn’t have another baby to deal with). That’s 19-25 hours right there that are not available for interaction, and plus, he likes to play by himself sometimes too. Indeed, the other night, for the first time ever since becoming a mom of two, I was able to read something while the two kids played independently!

Then, of course, when kids start school full-time, they are out of the house for at least 30, and usually more like 35 hours a week (when you add in activities). This is an interesting number because “35” is actually the average number of hours the average mom with a full-time job works. I don’t think this is a coincidence.

Obviously, many homemakers re-start their careers in some fashion when their children start school, but others simply believe for whatever reason that if they don’t have to work, they shouldn’t. The problem, though, with being a stay-at-home mom of older children is that then you have to fill your hours with something. Some homemakers volunteer, do hobbies, help advance their breadwinning partner’s career, etc. But housework is what winds up expanding to fill the available space for most people. It seems like it has to be done.

Of course, the problem with no name is that housework is not particularly fulfilling. You can dress it up all you want with fancy gadgets, but vacuuming a rug is still just vacuuming a rug. Unless you imbue it with some larger purpose. You’re not just making dinner, you’re making the world greener by growing dinner! You’re not just making your own laundry soap and thereby contributing financially to your family, you’re reducing your carbon footprint and saving the world!

But here’s a thought: all this raising chickens and sewing clothes is an inefficient way of getting at the concept of having a larger purpose and contributing financially. If you want a larger purpose, and want to contribute financially to your family, what’s so bad about getting a job? If you want to save the planet, get a green job. Or get a job where you can create change; you’ll make more progress on the green front running, say, a utility than you will with your garden.

Meaningful work can be a source of great joy. Certainly as much joy as squawking chickens.

5 thoughts on “The Femivore’s Dilemma

  1. I am surprised by how narrowly you define meaningful work. I’d just put your 168 hours book in my Amazon cart, and look forward to the insights. However, I think a more generous perspective on what brings others joy. . . even squawking chickens. . . would set a more welcome tone. You make some interesting points at first, but then you sound like someone who believes everyone wants to live your version of a big city life. Not so.

  2. Hi Amy- thanks for your comment (and for putting 168 Hours in your cart!) I think you’ll find that the book has a wide variety of ways people bring joy to their lives. Including some gardens 🙂

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