Let's Get a Serious

Earlier today I posted about how I became a feminist work-at-home mama. I got a little wordy there, so I split this week’s Let’s Get Serious in two. This second half is actually a response to a reader question, and focuses on the popularity of emulating traditional women’s roles in an indie sub-movement. As with Part 1, this post deviates from the usual and is not a collaboration between Jake and I.

Melinda from Life Sans Serif asked the following question on the Why Are Bloggers Afraid of Modern Medicine post:

What an interesting topic! [...] The whole issue reminds me of another trend I’ve noticed. The majority of the crafty lifestyle blogs I read are written by women, some mothers and some not, who seem to want to live in the past; a time where women dress up, bake cookies, shop for trinkets, and knit scarves all day. I’m not criticizing this lifestyle one bit (in fact, I really enjoy reading blogs like this) but it seems almost like a backlash to the feminist movement. It wasn’t that long ago when that was what women were *expected* to do. And now it’s the fun new indie lifestyle? I’m confused.

I know I’m a bit off topic for this post, and I’m definitely no expert on feminism, but I wonder about this a lot and I really want to hear some other perspectives on this. Am I crazy for thinking this is weird? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts, Megan!

Firstly, I love this question. It’s getting me to write about something I’d never think to write about. Thanks Melinda! You almost make me want to start an “Ask a Nerd” column (but I think we’ll all agree that there are plenty of features around here to be getting on with).

The indie sub-group trend of women emulating lifestyles that would make June Cleaver proud is something that is highly visible to me, both because I am a reader of many crafty bloggers that follow this lifestyle, and because I live in an area of Kansas City that is like two square miles of Portland. Our out of town friends like to joke that we live in “hipsterville”. While I don’t love the term hipster (mostly because it’s used to perpetuate stereotypes about alternative lifestyles and diminishes the credibility of the sub-group’s voice because they’re turned into a joke), I’m livin’ with these types of ladies up-close and personal. Thus my answer is purely observational. I haven’t done any real research (though now my curiosity is piqued enough that I’m going to) and I haven’t interviewed anyone. I do fit some of these qualities myself (pretty much in every aspect but appearance), so I can also speak from a personal point of view to a point.

I’m going to talk about the indie sub-group trend from the point of view of the trend setters rather the trend followers. Many of the women that fit Melinda’s decision don’t really have a deep reason for emulating past eras. Part of this trend is pure fashion, which really does revive past eras and styles every few years. So many in this sub-group, the majority even, may have just seen a beautiful ’50s silhouette dress in a shop window, fell in love with a blogger or musician and decided to emulatie her lifestyle, or spent a little too much time on Pinterest. That’s completely valid. I especially have to repeat this to myself when I find something trending that I think is completely ludicrous. Sometimes people with bad taste have too much influence, and sometimes things that are awful start to have the monkey house effect–you’re around them so much that you don’t realize the stink anymore. I sometimes find myself unconsciously judging blind movement followers, but then I remind myself that I didn’t wear safety pins though my ears in high school because I really thought there should be Anarchy in the U.K. I think we’ve all done this to some extent; it’s a normal part of finding yourself.

If I had to venture a guess as to how the trend to relive the past started, however, I’d guess that its roots is the same as that of any other alternative movement: it’s a statement against today’s society. If looked at from this perspective, the sub-group doesn’t go against feminism, it actually reinforces feminist values.

Wearing vintage clothing, which is usually very very modest, can be seen as a statement against the over-sexualization of women and today’s revealing clothing styles. There is a long-going feminist debate on whether women are exploited by being viewed as sex objects or are using their own bodies as a source of empowerment through sexualization; the focus on modest clothing can be seen as a stance arguing the former.

The “trinkets” that are generally collected by this sub-group are focused on being either vintage or handmade (not that you won’t get the odd blogger raving about Crate and Barrel). Buying these things can be seen as taking a stance against modern production of low-quality, mass produced goods. Buying vintage and second-hand is also environmentally responsible in a throw-away society that considers a telephone to be obsolete in a year when my great-grandpa’s rotary phone still works just fine (this is where the sub-group’s emphasis on thrifting came in). Up-cycling is also a popular trend for this reason. Crafts and DIYs relate to this as well; they are a way to do things yourself in the midst of a very consumeristic society. Cooking things from scratch can be seen as a statement against the rising popularity of processed and unhealthy pre-prepared foods.

Looking at the trend of reliving the past in the light of a commentary of society is one way to perceive this topic, but this trend should also be seen as celebrating women rather than moving away from feminism. I think a lot of people think of feminism as a move toward only the things that are seen as masculine–I know I used to see things that way. When I was younger, I NEVER wanted to do things that I considered to be “girly”. But part of oppressing women is disvaluing the work they have traditionally done. Baking, child rearing, and crafting shouldn’t be avoided because it’s “women’s work”. These things should be valued as useful knowledge and life skills. True gender equality will come not when it is societally acceptable for a woman to do things traditionally done by men, but when men can also be proud to do things traditionally done by women. Because what happens otherwise is the woman doing both (see that second shift thing I talked about in Part 1).

It’s been a long journey for me to accept those things that are considered feminine. The turning point for me was living with my grandmother while she was dying of breast cancer. When I was a teenager, I refused to learn to cook because I considered it anti-feminist. But my grandmother wanted to teach me to cook, because it was her knowledge. It was her craft, and she was passing it down to me. My grandmother and my mother also passed knowledge of many crafts to me, which for them was a way of being thrifty and practical. My grandmother changed the way I viewed traditionally female tasks. I learned that I was not valuing traditionally female things as much as traditionally male things, which is just as bad as thinking that women are weaker than men. I’ve come to enjoy cooking and have found that it is a way to remember Grammy. That’s why I have a picture of the river where her ashes are spread in my kitchen: I feel connected to her there. I feel that many other women probably enjoy these tasks because of the nostalgia they bring. Maybe their mother taught them to knit, or a dress reminds them of how beautiful their grandmother looked when she was young.

I guess the answer, like so many things viewed from a sociological perspective, is complicated. Women may be drawn toward a past era as a backlash against today’s society, as a way of valuing women of the past, as a way of remembering their family members, or as a way to catch a fleeting trend. I’m sure there are so many more reasons that this trend is occurring. Can you think of any more?

Are you a woman who enjoys traditionally female tasks? Do the men in your life enjoy them as well? Why or why not?

Let’s Get Serious is a blog series where we share our opinions and put ourselves out there. We get that not everyone thinks the same way; the same things don’t work for everyone. These are our opinions. They don’t have to be your opinions. We’d like to hear about what you think, but please don’t be mean to us. Let’s respect each other and talk about it!

Some other related LGS posts:

Find more Let’s Get Serious posts here.