Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Revolution Will Not Be Crocheted, Preserved, or Canned. Or, Hey, Maybe It Will, But If So...

some of us may be shit out of luck.

Basically, Kim of Bastante Already! has this piece ruminating about her lack of affinity for the traditional womanly arts.

Amid her notes that she hates gardening and cooking and simply doesn't have the wherewithal for making a beautiful "nest" right now, she asks,

In damn near every feminist periodical (Bitch, Bust) and on many feminist blogs, there's this big, trendy push to get all Knitty and Crafty and Womanly Arts with our bad selves.
What is up with that?

Well, a few different things are up with that.

The most immediate answer to that particular question, at the Bitch, Bust, popcultetc. level, I think it's just the same thing that's been true of any number of other "trends:" stuff like knitting groups and gardening clubs become popular for more or less the same reason that stuff like sex toy parties or pole dancing classes becomes popular. Because, well, they involve activities that a lot of people find--dreaded word--"fun." And yeah, one could file preferences for such things into "patriarchal conditioning" (as opposed to, say, a womens' auto-mechanic club, I guess); truth is, I think it's more, "we maybe eschewed these things because we were concerned about what it all Means, or it wasn't available in our neck of the woods, or it simply never occured to us before; when we let that go some of us realized, hey, I kind of like this, it's not what I thought it would be, and actually there are various benefits to this (mentally and physically engaging, develops various skills, social, relaxing, possibly good ol' fashioned small-business venture capitalism in some cases). Personally, I think: hey, and if men want to enjoy these "traditional womanly arts" too, more power to 'em.

None of this is probably "radical" in any sense of the word (not that there's anything wrong with that); for a start, here we are probably mostly talking about how you say, "hobbies," which in itself comes with a lot of assumptions about the hobbiest's resources, spare time, general position in the grand scheme of things. More to the point, it's probably not going to fundamentally overhaul one's total way of life and being, much less the greater society; it's not meant to do so.

What's more overarching is the vision of, well for one, cultural feminism

Many cultural feminists support their arguments by examining the behavior of women in both the distant past and the present. Bachoffen's groundbreaking work on early matriarchal societies is often used as evidence that women were the earliest and most important members of society. [3] In societies led by women, or "matriarchies," there are vastly different rules governing sexuality and marriage, property inheritance, and the distribution of power than those rules operative in societies led by men, or "patriarchies." When women have greater social control than men, less stringent social sanctions are imposed on female sexual activities and choice of partners. Illegitimacy is absent, and inheritance and descent are organized through female ancestors. Matriarchal societies are generally nonmilitaristic, with the dramatic exception of Amazons. Religion, arts, and crafts are organized around female symbols of fertility and anatomy. Engels took the archaeological evidence developed by Bachofen and Morgan and extended their analyses to include changing economic conditions as a cause for the transition from matriarchal societies to patriarchal ones. [4] Succinctly, Engels' argument is that as men accumulated capital, because of technological and social inventions, they altered the norms controlling sexuality, the family, and government. Women became a commodity of exchange who supplied men with both status and heirs. Recent anthropological evidence largely supports the existence of early societies where women had significantly greater power than they do today.

In short, what it boils down to, roughly, is a belief that matriarchy is the once and future Way to Go. It also is the basic premise behind such things as the "back to the land" movement within feminism(s) (there are and have been many "back to the land" movements, of course. We'll get to that).

And you know, in theory, I have to say, I always had a soft spot for this, the basic idea. There's a fair strain of it within neo-paganism, for instance, in which stream I paddle and occasionally do a few laps, although I lean more Phyllis Curott than Z. Budapest. I've been moved byJudy Grahn. I dig Riane Eisler. I dunno how literally to take the herstory/prehistory, but at a certain level, I think, provided one is -not- a fundamentalist, it doesn't much matter: the importance of myth is not that it's literally true, it's. Point being: if one both believes that one is living in an overarching System, i.e. the Patriarchy, and that further this system is inimical and cannot be salvaged, well, what's the alternative? Well--Matriarchy, I suppose, for one. Which could mean any number of things; in my fondly vague imaginings, I had always pictured something more like the bonobos than, say, a beehive.

On the other hand..

Well, to bring us back to the whole, "traditional womanly arts" thing.

See, if you are adamant that these traditional womanly arts are "traditionally womens'" and should STAY such, on account of men and women are different and that's really really important,

to me, it kind of doesn't matter so much that, in this particular framing, those neglected "womanly" values--hearth, home, gentleness, peace was a big one--are in fact superior, which sets this worldview apart from the more right-wing movements that put such emphasis on men and women are really different, 'twas ever thus, shall always be. Because, once you have that essential...essentialism, well...sooner or later, inevitably, it's going to mean that someone ends up in a (yes, this IS was "gender" means) gendered box that sie doesn't feel comfortable in. Also it keeps this sort of endless binary war-of-the-sexes going, which personally I've always found sort of tedious.

But also, all of which, to me, kind of goes against the whole, "liberty, equality...fraternity." Sorority, even. It's one thing to buy (I do) that certain values and behaviors that have been coded as "female" or "feminine" or "yin" or whatever you like are, by and large, looked down upon, in this culture, and that this is a problem. It's another to insist that those values, behaviors, etc. are the -sole property- of female-chromosomed/genital'd/even identified persons.

Curiously enough, fundamentalist Christian women can sound some familiar notes amid the o-my-Lord-what-are-things-coming-to-why-does-no-one-respect-Godly-AUTHORITAH:

According to this plan, who was to teach the womanly arts? Who was to teach the young women how to love and be subject to their husbands, how to love their children, how to be sensible, how to be pure, how to be a worker at home, how to be kind within the home and to extend kindness from the home? It was the older women. The womanly arts were to be transmitted from the older women to the younger women.

Please note that no male was assigned this task...

... Beyond the obvious impropriety of male involvement one must question the value of male instruction in the womanly arts. The simple question is: What do men really know about the womanly arts anyway?

What man has ever birthed a baby? What man has ever nursed a child? What man has ever related as mother to a child for even one day, let alone twenty years? What man has ever or will ever fathom the intricate complexity of God's design in woman, and the urges and emotions, unique to us, which God has built into our very beings that we might naturally and easily and yet with a profound skill which defies textbook description or explanation, nurture the next generation for Him?

Is it not obvious that men do now know, and that they cannot know? Is it not clear that they are not even equipped biologically to know in any experiential way what they would pretend to teach as experts?

Apart from the "teach the young women to love and be subject to their husbands" riff, (and -maybe- the bit about "impropriety," there's nothing here that wouldn't fit comfortably into a cultural feminist narrative. She is, in fact, making a case for a "womens' culture,"* albeit a womens' culture that is framed very specifically within the precepts of her (Father(s)-headed) Church, yes.

What makes all the difference, according to some, is the presence or absence of that Father-headed System. Get rid of the Fathers, the husbands, the priests, the God, and we'll be free.

Which, well, perhaps. But besides the very real "so, what about the Men?" question that arises in that scenario (i mean, if we're peaceful-loving we can't just -kill- them all, fun as it sounds; and, well, they're still there, at best wondering what the hell to do with themselves now that they can't be Patriarchs anymore and all the women are off having Birthing parties and frolicking on the land and such)...well, I'm not so convinced that that WOULD be enough to bring about utopia, as opposed to, well, just another communitarian experiment, subject to human (which women, lest we forget, are) failing as much as any other.

So that's one thing.

The other consideration is, getting back to the more practical side...well, first of all, of course there are other reasons beside grand sweeping Visions of the End Goal to buy into a cultural/separatist/communitarian set-up, feminist or otherwise. There are a -lot- of back-to-the-land movements these days, have been ever since the advent of Industrialization, really; the ideology behind far left to far right, but one of the basic principles is self-sufficiency (as opposed to Owing your Soul to the Company Sto', or Big Brother, neither). An antidote to the alienation of modern life: get your hands dirty, Do It Yourself, and probably bond in loving fellowship with like-minded peoples.

Which all sounds great, you know, and I've been a guest, at least, at a couple of "intentional communities" which I might talk about at some point. I admire it all, again, in theory.

There's just one small problem:

I live in the city.

Well. I live in the city, and my idea of foraging in the wilderness is finding a decent takeout joint, AND, due to a combination of 'burb-based relative privilege, urban/cultural family background (my NYC-derived grandmother, once, sitting on her Sun City astroturf porch, shooing away the quail: "Yeah, cute, but those fucking birds crap all over the place. I don't like nature. I'd rather have an ice cream soda"), and general murky Fears of my own ineptitude/which I'm not going to get into right now, suffice it to say that I am a Compleat Klutz when it comes to -most- of this Traditional Womanly Arts shit.

And no, I am no good at the traditional "masculine" arts either (changing oil, fixing plumbing). I am the first to admit that I am a bougie genX slacker who thinks finally learning to tie her shoes at some advanced age (six? seven? twenty-two?) is "working with her hands."

Essentially, I'm fairly certain that when the Revolution comes, the people who've been canning and preserving and making sweaters out of sheep all this time will be doing great, and i'll be scavenging the subways and fallout-laden streets and eating roaches and grubs out of my fellow useless urbanites' hair, assuming we all just don't kill each other first in a blind panic.

"But I'm good company."

*Margaret Atwood nails this irony pretty astutely in "The Handmaid's Tale," at the end of the scene where Janine, one of the Handmaids, is giving birth in the company of her sisters and the Wives and the Marthas and the Aunts (no men allowed):

The womens' voices rise around me, a soft chant that is still too loud for me, after the days and days of silence. In the corner of the room there's a bloodstained sheet, bundled and tossed there, from where the waters broke...

The room smells too, the air is close, they should open a window. The smell is of our own flesh, an organic smell, sweat and a tinge of iron, from the blood on the sheet, and another smell, more animal, that's coming, it must be, from Janine: a smell of dens, of inhabited caves, the smell of the plaid blanket on the bed when the cat gave birth on it, once, before she was spayed. Smell of matrix.

"Breathe, breathe," we chant, as we have been taught. "Hold, hold. Expel, expel, expel." ...Janine, her eyes closed, tries to slow her breathing. Aunt Elizabeth feels for the contractions...

...She's grunting now, with the effort. "Push, push, push," we whisper....We're with her, we're the same as her, we're drunk. Aunt Elizabeth kneels, with an outspread towel to catch the baby, ...Oh praise.

We hold our breath as Aunt Elizabeth inspects it: a girl, poor thing, but at least there's nothing wrong with it...We are one smile, tears run down our cheeks, we are so happy.

...The Commander's Wife looks down at the baby as if it's a bouquet of flowers: something she won, a tribute.

The Wives are here to bear witness to the naming. It's the Wives who do the naming, around here.

"Angela," says the Commander's Wife.

"Angela, Angela," the Wives repeat, twittering. "What a sweet name! Oh, she's perfect! Oh, she's wonderful!..."

By now I'm wrung out, exhausted. My breasts are painful, they're leaking a little. Fake milk, it happens this way with some of us. We sit on our benches, facing one another...we might be bundles of red cloth. We ache. Each of us holds in her lap a phantom, a ghost baby. What confronts us, now the excitement's over, is our own failure. Mother, I think. Wherever you may be. Can you hear me? You wanted a women's culture. Well, now there is one. It isn't what you meant, but it exists. Be thankful for small mercies.

x-posted at feministe


Rootietoot said...

Ok, so you're a city girl. That doesn't mean that you would be lost when The End came. You would just have to be willing.

Alright, this won't surprise you but it will sound odd. My Family has plans. My parents live in the middle of 2000 acres in the middle of Nowhere. When society collapses, we have in place a course of action to get the family all together, with friends and whoever, onto the property. We all have a set of skills ranging from herbal medicine to animal husbandry, engineering, chemistry, horticulture, everything you need to function. Except that we're a bunch of Chiefs, personality wise, and will desperately need people willing to take direction and do work. That's where you come in. Would you, in exchange for food, shelter, medical care and protection, be willing to pull weeds and dig holes? If so, then you possess a commodity and skill set very much in need.

So don't panic at your lack of skills. I would be lost in the city, clueless and taken advantage of by every shady character there. Your set of skills right now are far more necessary than mine.

belledame222 said...

cool, okay, so now i just have to -get- there.

louisa said...

this is an interesting post, and I feel you on having a soft spot for prehistoric matrilineal societies (I'm reading Chalice and the Blade right now, and I'm finding it fascinating). I'm wary, though, of making women seem to be "all-nuturing" and "life-giving" when not everyone who id's as a woman has that ability and not every woman wants to doing the bebe-makings. :/

ArrogantWorm said...

Many cultural feminists support their arguments by examining the behavior of women in both the distant past and the present.

I'd be worried that since it was the distant past that we don't have a clear enough view of how the differing societies worked, it's bee a long, long time since I've delved in that kind of research. I'm also unaware of any societies today that are matriarch-y inclined, do you have any recommendations for research? Also, if Matriarchal society was 'first', what do people suppose the ideas the men who created 'Patriarchy' was based on? It worries me, the idea that any group would be thought to run things better by the sex they were born instead of equal representation and equal distribution of goods. Inheritance through the matriarchal line doesn't suggest to me equal distribution of goods, or that equal...respect to both sexes, I suppose, was there because religion was based around women's fertility. God in the Christian bible as it was taught to me was all 'hehehe', and that doesn't seem to be good, either, with all the focus and celebration on one sex while ignoring the other. Also interested in the rest of the checks and balances in the distribution of power.


And seeing as I can't afford a multitude of texts, any specific ones you'd suggest for reading up on such societies?

-The Handmaid's Tale was also an interesting book, but the library doesn't have anything of hers to check out, and Salvo hasn't got anything but that book, it's a bit disappointing.

Amber said...

we maybe eschewed these things because we were concerned about what it all Means, or it wasn't available in our neck of the woods, or it simply never occured to us before; when we let that go some of us realized, hey, I kind of like this, it's not what I thought it would be, and actually there are various benefits to this (mentally and physically engaging, develops various skills, social, relaxing, possibly good ol' fashioned small-business venture capitalism in some cases).

Yeah. Funny how that's right and good when it's knitting or gardening in question. Pole dancing, however, is SERIOUS CAUSE FOR SHAME I MEAN CONCERN.

:| Eh, what do I know. Let me go EXAMINE some more...

arrogantworm said...

Essentially, I'm fairly certain that when the Revolution comes, the people who've been canning and preserving and making sweaters out of sheep all this time will be doing great, and i'll be scavenging the subways and fallout-laden streets and eating roaches and grubs out of my fellow useless urbanites' hair, assuming we all just don't kill each other first in a blind panic.

Aha! I disagree. I don't think they'll be doing great, at all, even the ones who don't kill each other in the first blind panic. The idea of a Revolution brings to my mind that to have it change so radically in such a short period of time there would've had to be a large catastrophy first. With catastrophy comes blind panic, mob rule, looting, various horrible atrocities and probable large amounts of mini-kingdoms, homicides and suicides (end o' the times, you know) , and lots of death by stupidity and accident. Also whatever machines were running that need to be manned lest various explosions and crashes occur, cuz I doubt everyone will have the forsight to shut things off should a disaster of such a proportion strike, I think it would all lower the will to live significantly of whomever managed to get out alive.

I think most people need people,and most people need people to need them. Even most of the people who've been canning and knitting need other people, and I doubt they'll be a lot of people (compared to the previous numbers) if such a fallout were to occur. Not to mention the mental stress the loss of a nation/country/large region might bring. Nope, doubt people will be doing well at all.

But then, I'm a bit of a pessimist.

Pandapan said...

The Revolution can't come soon enough. Count me among those that don't fit into either gender box.

People like that fundamentalist Christian lady really frustrate me. She feels threatened by women who aren't just like her, so she thinks she can convince everyone else to change by ranting at us in a polite and feminine manner. Ooh! I'm scared.

And the whole martyr complex gets old quickly. Please, lady. No one is persecuting you for being a "Godly Woman". Asking for recognition of gender diversity is NOT an attack on "Family Values". If anyone's being persecuted, it's the transgender community. GLB people have made progress, but trans people are still behind. And no, pretending that androgynes don't exist isn't going to work anymore. We're not unicorns. We're people.

...what were we talking about again? Right.

The "Womanly Arts" should by no means be restricted to vagina-owners. Male, female, or otherwise, we're all human each one of us has our own differences and something to contribute. Yes, even those fundie Christo-fascists. They just have to get their heads out of their asses first.

Rootietoot said...

"Male, female, or otherwise, we're all human each one of us has our own differences and something to contribute."


antiprincess said...

honey, come stay with us. don't eat roaches. they're bad for you.

of course, we'll be at rootie's...

Rootietoot said...

"Pole dancing, however, is SERIOUS CAUSE FOR SHAME I MEAN CONCERN"

It would be so worth it to have you where I'm at, just to see how my father reacts. By all means, bring your pole dancing skills, the compound's just an hour south of Atlanta

I, for one, MethoPresbythist that I am, think pole dancin's cool. It's the New Belly Dancing, by women for women just for fun.

arrogantworm said...

On a slightly different rumination, I've always wanted my own compound. -.-

Elizabeth said...

I'm wondering if the part where I can *bake bread* counts if I can only bake it in a bread machine?

I'm really going to suck at this Revolution thing. Are you sure crocheting is required?

FWIW, I've eschewed most "womanly arts" because I don't have any aptitude for them. If I *could* sew a button on, it would come in handy, revolution or no. (I don't really even think of those things as male/female anymore.)

Thanks for writing, you always make me think.


Ravenmn said...

I've got all the skills and a few hand-made items to prove it. In our family, it was about using and re-using resources wisely. When I was growin up, we didn't buy clothes at the store because they wouldn't last long and were too expensive. That may not be so true anymore. It's been years since I've worn anything handmade, but then, I'm in a skilled trade and I can afford better-made clothes.

Like Rootietoot, our family had a place to return to for many years. During the 73-74 energy crisis, it looked like we'd all move back to my grandparents farm one day.

Today the farm has been sold out of the family and my world has seemed a little less safe ever since.

As for when the zombies arrive, I think my handicraft skills will be less valuable than my skills in organizing people from different backgrounds. You've created a community here, BD, so you've got that one covered, in my not so humble opinion.

Meg said...

I'm another who learned the so-called "womanly arts" as a way of saving money. I learned to make marmalade from my mother because it was one way to deal with a surplus of limes, grapefruit or whatever other citrus we had on hand at that moment. I crochet, but the only things I can make with any reliability are granny squares, so I bung them together to make rugs (I'm working away on my fifth now, but it's not going to be completed Any Time Soon, because the only time I do crochet is when I'm watching television, and I don't watch much TV). My knitting is horrible, I can sew, but don't get in the mood to do so all that often (and Mum was so awful at these things that her domestic science teacher remembered her some 20 years later and found it to be the cap to a Very Bad Day).

I don't see any of these things as being particularly gender-specific. I mean, I know more about car maintenance than my partner (I owned a series of old bombs, he bought his first car new - and what I know goes as far as "check the oil and water, and know how to change a tyre") and that'll probably remain stable throughout our lives too. I tend to see them more as practicalities. I've had to learn these things in order to manage to survive on a reasonably low-ish income, and it's a habit I got into. I'd probably still make my own marmalade even if I wound up a millionaire, because it's also fun.

belledame222 said...

heh, thanks for the vote of confidence raven.

Alon Levy said...

Belledame, when the revolution comes, you'll be on a train to a rural reeducation camp. Cities are one of the many things most revolutionaries as well as many hierarchs hate. Cities are organic. Cities are unplanned. Cities are diverse. Cities are based on inscrutable, informal social networks outside Big Brother's reach. The most radical of all revolutionaries, Pol Pot, had people dragged from Phnom Penh and either shot or thrown into rural communes.