Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

Simone de Beauvoir Made Me Keep Chickens

with 3 comments

My goodness. When I first read this Amanda Marcotte post on Double XX about the New York Times article on upper-class housewife chicken keepers, I thought Marcotte was probably right about the gist but must be using her characteristic hyperization when she said it was “was yet another one of those expensive NY Times pieces about how some rich ladies found an out from the supposed demands of feminism, a space where they can stay at home without being so bored they have to subsist on Valium.”

But that is actually what the article explicitly says.

All of these gals — these chicks with chicks — are stay-at-home moms, highly educated women who left the work force to care for kith and kin. I don’t think that’s a coincidence: the omnivore’s dilemma has provided an unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Betty Draper. “Prior to this, I felt like my choices were either to break the glass ceiling or to accept the gilded cage,” says Shannon Hayes, a grass-fed-livestock farmer in upstate New York and author of “Radical Homemakers,” a manifesto for “tomato-canning feminists,” which was published last month.

Writer Peggy Orenstein goes on to actually call it “femivorism,” and asks, “who these days can’t wax poetic about compost?” Plenty of people, Peggy Orenstein!

I get that this is a style section article. I think she’s trying to be, shall we say, tongue-in-cheek. But still … She actually suggests that should a wife no longer be able to rely on her husband for financial support, homemaking and chicken-cooping skills may be better positioned to “provide a family’s basic needs” and “guard against job loss (and) catastrohpic illness” than a salary or savings.

Orenstein does end on a skeptical note, to be fair. And it’s not that the article itself is inherently uninteresting (Marcotte made pains to point out that she loves organic gardening and once considered keeping chickens; I’ve got a hallway full of seeds sprouting and a boyfriend who sells raw vegan nut pates around town). It’s just … why does everything women do – and I was going to say outside the realm of paid work, but really, it’s everything: working, not-working, part-time work, hobbies, etc. – have to be considered as a reaction to or against “feminism?” Why can’t we accept that there have, are and always will be myriad ways for arranging domestic, social and professional life, and the periodic, cyclical “discovery” of them by magazine or style section reporters says close to nothing about the state of gender relations, the nature of egalitarianism, feminism or the rejection thereof? *

* said with love, as one whose greatest ambition is secretly to write these types of articles.


Written by Elizabeth

March 15, 2010 at 1:28 pm

3 Responses

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  1. You spelled Simone de Beauvoir wrong.


    March 17, 2010 at 10:33 am

  2. Oh my goodness, I did! Thanks for pointing out!


    March 17, 2010 at 10:42 am

  3. Kick-ass piece, Elizabeth! God, when I read that line about compost, I thought, “Nobody I know!” That line is the height of elitism for the NYT. And I say this as someone who’s been reading for years, and has dreamed of writing a trend piece myself.


    March 17, 2010 at 10:58 pm

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