I can usually count on my blog-crush, Chris Clarke, to get me thinkin.’ And he does that today with a great post up at Pandagon: Quality of whose life, again? Citing naturist, philosopher, novelist and poet Wendell Berry’s fondness for having all of his work typed by his wife, Chris points out that too frequently, the burden of living “slow”, of living “off the grid”, of living a life of “environmental purity” often places a disproportionate burden on to women:
What decisions are environmentalist citizens asked to make? Choosing the green laundry detergent and toilet paper and buying organic groceries. Carrying cloth bags to the supermarket. Using non-toxic cleansers. Adding corporate citizenship to oneâ€™s list of brand loyalty factors and schlepping the Seafood Buying Guide around. Sorting trash into the proper containers for recyclables, compost, and landfilling.
Of course, we men carry all those containers to the curb, which perfectly balances the division of labor. But then you add Environmentalism 2.0 to the mix, and you have the Slow Food (read: hours spent in the kitchen) and Local Food (read: hours spent shopping) movements, and with that kind of scheduling pressure a woman likely wouldnâ€™t even have enough time left in the day to type up her husbandâ€™s poetry.
Since my wife joined me in strict veganism (and she jumped in “cold tofu”, skipping from eating red meat one week to full-on vegan the next without any of the traditional stages in between) we eat out a lot less. The number of restaurants to which we can go has been cut, even in greater Los Angeles, by 90%. With one or two exceptions, the local fast food options are all off the table now. We spend much more money at the supermarket than we used to; we are using the pots and pans more; we are eating out less. All of this is great for the health of the household. But it does do exactly what Chris worries it will — put extra pressure on both my wife and me to avoid falling into traditional gender roles.
The nice thing about eating out all the time was that, well, my wife and I contributed exactly the same amount of labor to the process. Pulling out the Amex and signing the bill is not a labor-intensive activity. The people who made our food and cleaned up our dishes were invariably invisible to us, and we assuaged any small sense of guilt about being waited on by giving good tips. But we eat out less these days, and that means more work for both of us.
My wife made a wonderful stew on Tuesday night, loaded with sauerkraut and potatoes (among other goodies). I packed it into tupperware after we had eaten, and I had one portion for lunch yesterday, another today, and another tomorrow. Yes, I washed dishes and packed leftovers away. But my wife still ended up doing a bit more work than I did that particular evening.
I know well enough that “real feminism begins at home”. If my commitment to egalitarianism isn’t matched in what I do around the house, then all of my public pronouncements are built on a foundation of fraud and hypocrisy. And as Chris cheekily points out, men who think they’re “doing their share” by dealing only with the outside things (like washing the car, mowing the lawn, taking out the trash) often have no sense of just how much less time these traditionally male activities require than the “inside” chores (cooking, cleaning, laundry) that we think of as largely female.
I’m going through a particularly ascetic period these days. I’m drinking a lot of vegan shakes (which come prepacked), I’m eating a lot of raw spinach, lots of trail mix, lots of soy yogurt (with some nice live cultures), lots of vegan organic food bars. Only once in a while am I eating anything that takes much time to prepare. This limited diet has the benefit of being quick and easy, but I’m aware that it’s hardly to everyone’s taste. More importantly, as my wife and I consider having children, we have no intention of raising our kids on little baggies of almonds, pumpkin seeds, and spinach leaves. At some point, our environmentalist and animal-rights commitments will demand that we take even more time than many other parents do to meet our children’s needs for variety and pleasure as well as ethical nutrition. And I’m going to have to work doubly hard not to fall prey to the Wendell Berry phenomenon, where my commitment to the most humane lifestyle possible ends up creating much more work for other people!
So this summer, it’s vegan cooking classes for me. Maybe with my wife, maybe not. But I’ll be danged if I’m going to outsource my justice.