Three different shows, at least. Three different theaters. At least 100 times I have watched a woman hit a man over the head with a rolling pin. I had to pay attention, because usually I had to time a sound cue. The prop, of course, was made of foam.
It’s a predictable laugh. Not a huge laugh. But a predictable one. Somebody in the room always thinks it’s funny, when a woman raises a symbol of her domesticity against a man. It’s just so absurd. And also, somehow, profoundly indicative of something. Something that is hard to express in any form except a joke.
That’s what jokes are for.
I thought of that predictable laugh, yesterday, as I used a rolling pin to roll out egg noodles by hand. How did it happen that I made the journey from there to here? I cannot emphasize this enough. I did not intend to become the woman with the rolling pin.
I was a feminist, and I claim that I still am. But there is nothing about the way I became a homemaker that is feminist. One day I had my marriage in one hand, and my career in the other, and that day I chose my marriage. That isn’t un-feminist. But it isn’t feminist either. And what really isn’t feminist is the world that I lived in that offered me those two choices.
Of course there might have been a way to make it work. But if I list the obstacles, many of you will find them familiar. Our marriage was in crisis. We worked a lot and never saw each other. We had a toddler, and a second child on the way. We were overwhelmed. Pressured. And financially stressed. Something had to give. And what would that be?
Well…my husband had the better paycheck. If he quit his job we lost the health insurance. If I went to my job, we had to pay for childcare. Throw in a little morning sickness and my physical yearning to be with my toddler, and the deal was done.
I went to an interview for a graduate school program, around the same time, and, in reference to my pregnancy and the child already hanging out in my hotel room, an interviewer said (not unkindly), “It isn’t a peerage problem. It’s a practical problem.”
Yes. And these walls are built of practical problems.
I am not the woman who will say to you, we don’t need feminism anymore. I am not the woman who will say to you, don’t listen to Sheryl Sandberg, I’ve gotten to do everything I’ve ever wanted in my life, and I’m a woman. I am not the woman who will say to you, it’s a good thing that my husband kept his job and I lost mine because, look, now I can roll out egg noodles with a rolling pin.
So then I fell in love with homemaking. I didn’t mean to. But so often when you really fall in love with something, you didn’t mean to. Helping plants grow made me cry, I loved it so much, and cooking was like this whole new form of creative expression, that I had always missed out on, and I started to think, why shouldn’t I get to live this season, too?
I had to face it, then. I had to face down the reason why I never wanted to be the one at home, the reason that I had starved this aspect of myself. I wouldn’t have said this out loud to my friends (those few) who made the choice to stay at home, but I simply did not value homemaking in comparison to work outside the home. It seemed weak. Foolish, given the likelihood of divorce. Lower status. Lower value. Simply put, in the simplest terms: less good.
I asked myself this question. And the answer was every woman who has ever held that rolling pin. Since the Industrial Revolution, women being of less value than men, the women’s realm being of less value than the realm of men. Reality check: if I undervalue the domestic realm precisely because of its historical association with femininity, then I am myself the misogynist.
Then, like Deep Throat, I went on to follow the money. Who benefits, if I refuse to do domestic work? Who benefits, if I and my husband both refuse to do domestic work? Who gains from that decision? The answer was any business or corporation or multinational that appreciates my dependency on its products or services. I could name a few.
It’s a messy mix. It’s just the perfect tangle to keep everybody tangled. You think you’re acting out for women, by staying out of the kitchen trap, but then by accident you’re supporting the consumer-driven extractive economy, which means supporting empire. But then, if you do the opposite, and let’s just say you’re a radical homemaker, and you limit purchasing and limit carbon consumption and hang your laundry out to dry, you will be very quickly accused of backwards thinking.
You may be called anti-feminist. You may be called shrill. You may be called naïve. Or selfish. These are the very same criticisms that have been leveled at feminists, and at anybody else who pursues an alternate vision for society.
I am not the woman who will tell you we don’t need feminism. I am not the woman who will tell you not to Lean In and fight to keep your job, or not to step up and chase the promotion you deserve. But I will tell you that for the sake of everything we hold dear, somebody needs to value work in the home. And that requires two things: An understanding of feminism that is brave enough to acknowledge the power of domestic skills to change the world for the better. And an understanding of homemaking as a valuable pursuit for any gender identity.
Another theatre director advised his company once: the difference between living and surviving is choices. I did not choose homemaking, but I wish I could have. I wish for my son and daughters to understand homemaking as a valuable endeavor, in certain seasons and circumstances a source of great accomplishment and great joy, not simply the loser’s bracket. To achieve that will require some radicals, both men and women, to reach out and reclaim that rolling pin.
This is a part of a series on Radical Homemaking, which comes from the title of a book by Shannon Hayes.