I Just Ate a Feminist Salad

Just kidding! There’s no such thing.*

At the Lady Economist Headquarters today, we’ve been talking a lot about the New York Magazine article on “feminist housewives” who are “leaning out” of the workforce and staying home. Dorothy has already penned a brilliant response based on bargaining theory. But we’re still uneasy with even more fundamental questions: Can a Stay-at-Home-Mom be a Feminist? Is choosing to forgo paid employment and focus on child-rearing/home-making ever a feminist act? The knee-jerk reaction (“oh hell no!”) seems too judgmental, even for the blogosphere. We’re still uncomfortable with women appropriating feminist language to justify every decision they make.

A woman can choose to stay at home and still believe in feminism. Being a feminist isn’t a club you have to get voted into. If you say you are one, we’ll gladly accept you, unless of course, your way of thinking is anti-feminist. (Lisa Miller, the author, and Kelly Makino, a women featured in the article, tread dangerously close to anti-feminist sentiment when they suggest that women and men have different “natural” abilities when it comes to taking care of children.) For those of us who are aggressively pursuing our professional goals, it seems odd. It’s honestly never occurred to me that I wouldn’t work and that I wouldn’t work hard.  Ms. Makino’s story made me feel a little sad, like I was the witness to a woman who had let the air out of her ambitions, and was seeking approval or validation. But those are my judgements based on my values. I would way rather be engaged in international humanitarian work than baking cakes.
cake_n

For some women, being a feminist is a full-time job. For others, it’s part of their belief system but not necessarily how they spend their working hours. Even for women who are not employed in the women’s movement or other social justice causes, there are a lot of ways to walk the walk and live out their feminist values. They could potentially go through the day making many micro-decisions that I’d consider feminist: taking an intern out to lunch to coach her on her career, smiling at (or giving money to) the Planned Parenthood canvassers on the street, talking to a little girl without mentioning her cute clothing. But some of the things she’ll do, like enjoying a delicious frozen yogurt, getting an oil change or a manicure, won’t be feminist, and that’s okay. Women who don’t work outside the home have  opportunities to engage in feminist activities too, although maybe less often if their sphere of influence is smaller. Or maybe they’ll have more opportunities if they spend time volunteering or engaging in other civic activities. But the bottom line is, even though it’s sweet and loving to find new recipes for your husband’s favorite dish, it is not a feminist act.

*Although if there ever were a feminist salad, it would probably be a photographed on this incredible new food blog. For more pictures of women not engaging in a feminist act, check out the Hairpin’s classic post Women Laughing Alone With Salad.

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Categories: Angry Feminists, Means of Reproduction, Means of Reproduction-1

7 replies

  1. I would love a conversation about the interplay between feminism and capitalism. Sheryl Sandberg’s call to lean-in just struck me as “let’s overwork to make the owners of capital some profit.” I like the premise of women broadening and strengthening our leadership roles, but I’d also love to see some discussion about the intersection between our shifting gender norms and our economic system. I think this might help shift the discourse away from blaming each other for our choices so that we could have a broader conversation about the structures we all struggle to navigate.

  2. I agree. While many of my posts tend to take capitalism as a given, my interest is very much in the questions you’re raising. We’d love to have this broader discussion about the structural issues here. Thanks for your feedback- and please let us know if you’d like to contribute to the blog!

  3. That would be fun! I also have a small project for you all that could help promote your blog. I’ll contact you directly.

  4. Whoa. One really important feminist thing a stay at home mom can do is to raise her children (boys and girls) with feminist values. This is powerful and has ripple effects through society and generations. I’m a Baby Boomer. We found it harder to compromise at all on what it meant to be a feminist. Working more than full time (for me, as a lawyer) was de rigueur. In retrospect, it wasn’t necessarily the best for our families, but, for some reason, we were too unsure of our positions to insist on family friendly working conditions — for men and women. I’m happy to say that I see that changing. Both men and women professionals are demanding more family friendly working conditions. (P.S.: I do sometimes try to find new recipes for my husband’s favorite dish (although I failed miserably last night). The man is a feminist, so making sure he keeps up his energy by eating right—-is a feminist act—even though I only do it because it’s “sweet and loving”. 😉
    PPS: My husband’s sister is a “lady economist” — although in our family, she is known as the “girl economist”.

  5. Love it! I am long overdue for a feminist haircut.

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