I’m sitting down to begin this blog post on Mother’s Day morning. I’ll admit, I’m a bit cynical about Mother’s Day. Not that I’m against the idea of celebrating/honoring our mothers–for many of us, mothers (and fathers) do an incredible amount to nurture us, shape us, help us to make our way in the world. That certainly deserves celebrating, and I am more than happy to celebrate my own mother, mother-in-law and the many other maternal figures in my life.
It’s more the Hallmark hype that gets to me: the build up to a single day of cooking our mothers a meal and giving them some flowers and a card, when for the rest of the year our culture does a pretty good job of putting mothers in boxes and taking them for granted. And then there’s the part of this holiday that is hard on women who are not mothers: who want to be mothers but can’t, who choose to not be mothers while feeling like everyone expects them to be, who are nurturers and caregivers and yet don’t fall into the category that gets you flowers and a card on the second Sunday of May.
Okay, but actually, I didn’t sit down this morning to write an anti-Mother’s Day rant. In fact, I was thinking about the church where I used to pastor and how much I appreciate their approach to Mother’s Day. They make a point of celebrating all the women and girls in the congregation. Young and old, single and married, each of the women in this church are celebrated because they are women and because women play such an important role in our families, communities, world.
That’s what I wanted to write about on this Mother’s Day morning: celebrating women. In part because I’ve been noticing how central women are in this burgeoning homesteading/simple living ‘movement.’ I recently joined the Homestead Blogger’s Network , a great resource for anyone interested in homesteading, and a helpful network and online community for folks like myself that might also want to blog about it. I think there are over 300 bloggers that are part of the network, and a striking number of them are women. Not that there aren’t any men blogging about homesteading–there are! But, at least within the Homestead Blogger’s Network, women’s voices are clearly in the majority.
It feels important to notice this female leaning. One could get cynical about this, too, I suppose. One could dismiss these women’s voices and their stories about gardening, preparing food, raising animals, making medicinal tinctures, and other homesteading tasks as just another way that women are confined to the domestic sphere. But I think this would be a pretty shallow dismissal. Because it doesn’t take long in reading these women’s stories/reflections/knowledge/how-tos to hear the strength and the intellect and the wisdom in their words. A strength and intellect and wisdom that, I believe, is needed far beyond individual homes and homesteads, out in our larger societies and world.
Much of homesteading is domestic. The word itself, after all, is rooted in ‘home’, and the work of homesteading centers around cultivating a homeplace that can provide for an individual’s/family’s/community’s needs. The domesticity of homesteading is at once the reason that I am drawn to it, and the reason that I sometimes feel conflicted about claiming this life and this lifestyle. I love to cook. I get great satisfaction out of gardening and weeding and cleaning and tending to home. But I certainly don’t want to be boxed into or defined by those roles, and I don’t want them to be imposed on or expected of me more than they are of Tim.
It’s a pretty classic feminist inner-conflict, I think. And one that different ‘waves’ of feminism have approached differently: some rejecting the work and the roles that women have long been defined by or confined to, and others embracing ‘women’s work’ as a potential way to be empowered. In my mind, both of these responses are important. When, for generations, women have been expected by patriarchal societies to cook all the meals and do all the dishes and raise all the kids and stay ‘in their place,’ there needs to be at some point a reaction against and rejection of those roles in order to open up new options; new ways of being a woman in this world. At the same time, there is great worth and wisdom and goodness in the tasks and roles that have long been designated as “women’s work”, and there also should be a point where that worth and wisdom and goodness are celebrated and claimed.
Many of the women I read on homesteading blogs are working to strike this balance, whether or not they name it as such or even want to get near the word ‘feminist.’ There is this deep respect for ‘women’s work’; for the gardening and cooking and sewing and healing and nurturing that have long fallen into/been placed in the feminine sphere. And there is also this strong sense that homesteading women will not let this work confine them or define them. They are strong. They are smart. They have power and gifts to offer within the everyday and yet somehow extraordinary tasks they accomplish on their homesteads.
I hope that the voices of homesteading women only become more magnified within our current context. In a climate that is changing and on an earth with rapidly-depleting resources, homesteading women have much to teach about living simply on and interdependently with the land. In contexts so often fractured by political and ideological and religious differences, I believe there’s power in the kind of storytelling many homestead-women-bloggers are doing: storytelling and experience-sharing that usually doesn’t have an agenda, but that nonetheless calls us back to the very basic and yet no-less-beautiful connections we all yearn to have to food, place, family, community.
On this day that too-often commercializes and idealizes the nurturing that mothers do, I find myself grateful for and in awe of the many women–especially homesteading women–who, through their stories and teaching and embodied wisdom, are nurturing in so many of us a re-connection to the land and the relationships that feed us and give us life.