Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Reclaiming the domestic arts

Recently, I was talking to someone about learning to spin wool. This person already knew that I make cheese, cook, sew and embroider, knit, weave baskets, and garden. She exclaimed, "You're so domestic!" And oddly enough, I was flattered.

One thing you should remember is that until recently I considered myself an avid feminist (this topic is another post altogether), and as such, I had a prejudice against "domestic arts." I would swear up and down that I could never be happy doing such work, and I could never understand how some women are content to stay at home with their children and forgo the working world. But I also took issue with the domain of business, commerce, retail, etc. I do not like the idea of being enslaved to a corporation or a job that I am bound to do until I get too old or too tired to work simply because I need the insurance or the retirement money. I have always entertained the idea that it is possible to live (and comfortably, at that) outside the dominant consumer culture with few exceptions.

That's where the domestic arts come in. Over a peroid of several years, I have taken a liking to doing things that machines can easily do and at less cost than I can do them. For instance, knitting. Knitting is time-consuming, good yarn is expensive, and it's much easier just to go out, try on clothes, and buy a sweater that fits you perfectly rather than having to size yourself and try to get the measurements correct. But then, anyone who loves knitting will know that there are few things more comforting than holding a big pile of spun wool in your lap on a cold day. The textures and the colors of artisanally made yarn can be stunningly beautiful. The finished product is a point of pride that is useful and attractive. Thus, economy does not always win out over homemade goods.

But, when you reach the point that you become self-sufficient through these arts, economy is winning out. The woman who teaches me spinning has her own sheep, goats, rabbits, alpacas, and llamas. She uses these animals for wool, meat, milk and cheese, and companionship. She has a lovely garden which is not only enough to feed her family through summer and winter, but she has enough to sell at a local market as well, thus bringing in income. She gives classes in spinning, weaving, and knitting. She stays home, but contrary to what people may think of women who stay at home, she works like hell. In short, she is my idol.

This is where I'm starting to diverge with many feminist friends of mine. I just want to opt out. I don't want to break the glass ceiling (in spite of the fact that I feel it needs breaking). I just want to not need to break the glass ceiling. I want to be my own boss, my own sustainer, and all without the US economy. I do not want to have to sell my house simply because the nation's financial stability to go down the drain. I do not want to be a victim of shoddy economic policy. I just want to opt out. And I can. And so can you.

I understand that this way of life is not for everyone. Some people really hate gardening, knitting, spinning, what have you. But then, there are small things that we can all do to make ourselves immune or semi-immune to this terrible economy. It all starts with your hands.


MeadowLark said...

Saw you at Sharon's and glad I stopped by. I'm certainly not a feminist, but I was a Marine so I have a tendency not to be very girly-girl. Yet I'm determined to learn to knit or embroider or something chick-like. :) Luckily I can cook and taught myself to can this summer so there's at least a bit of proof that I'm domestic ;)

meg said...

Be careful--knitting and embroidering can be addictive.