diy, homemaking, and third-wave feminism

I’m getting more into DIY lately. I’m currently gathering the materials for a decorative project that involves a wallful of repainted thrift-store plates (JANE features the ceramic paint stencil plate craft a while ago, and the brocade home catalogue had a really cool use of it). I really want a sewing machine so I can make curtains for the dining room (and learn to sew my own goth wardrobe). I just finished planting a miniature herb garden in little starter pots, because I use a lot of fresh herbs in my everyday cooking (which is improving, if I do say so myself) And I cook on a daily basis – most days, all of my meals are from scratch to some degree or other.

However, I find it hard to reconcile all these things with my existing third-wave feminist beliefs. Is getting into DIY just sinking into traditional gender roles that I should be rising above? Isn’t this kind of homemaking just reinforcing the old repressive, Victorian-era ideals that women should be creating a home for their husbands, a “haven in a harsh world”? And would I be OK with it if, say, Paul spontaneously decided he wanted to stencil borders in the kitchen, or pick out new dishes? (Well, actually, I would be – I’m secure enough in my boyfriend’s masculinity that, if he wanted to express his aesthetic sense in the home, that would be fine.)

And then I thought about it some more, and I thought about the other extreme: the idea that women should buy the homemaking items that they aren’t creating because they’re outside the home. Is it possible to take that liberty too far? I’m thinking specifically of the episode of Sex & The City where Miranda tells her housekeeper that if she wants a pie, she will buy a pie. The impetus is, of course, that Miranda is a lawyer, and that she prefers to use her time and energy on her career and her life outside her home. The question is: what is the effect of the idea of buying the pie? Is the idea of using resources earned outside the home really representative of freedom for women, or is it just a way for more stuff to get sold? Doesn’t that idea, that women can now buy all the things they’re not making for themselves, just push the consumer ideal?

Here’s the question: in liberating ourselves, as a gender, from being trapped in the home, have we given the corporations the opportunity to sell the home back to us? And where is the balance between accepting that idea of a place in the home, and using that place in the home to exercise alternatives to consumer society?

So here I am, and I’m only hoping to be one of those annoying Whole Women, who are able to come home from their fantastic jobs, and cook a meal from scratch, using herbs from their windowsill gardens and potholders they knitted while watching documentaries on TV. And part of that is simply that I want to live a more sustainable life, and incoporate more of my beliefs into how I manage my own home life. Which means that, even if I was a full time homemaker, it would be OK, because my actions in the private sphere, within my own apartment, are consciously designed to impact the public sphere beyond my doorstep. Whereas, by contrast, the pre-1960s domestic female role was supposed to stop at the front door, with no effect on the rest of the world.

I can live with that. And yet, these traditional actions and attributes are coming up more and more in my life. Again, I’m reluctant to use them as part of the definition of “grownup” – but they are symptoms of my own passage into full-blown adulthood. I’ve started taking the first tentative steps in wedding planning, and my wedding, while it will incorporate many, many elements of mine and Paul’s own beliefs and interests and loves, will also have a heavy traditionalism associated with it. I’m going to be (G’d willing) taking on one of the most female roles possible, and having children in a few years. And accepting all these things as important, and as things I want very much, when I’d always been a third-waver with a firm belief in women’s lives beyond family, marriage and children, is a bit difficult. Again, I’m choosing these things, and I have the luxury of discovering that this is what I want, and of having a boyfriend (soon to be fiance, soon to be husband) who firmly believes that he is as much an equal partner in the home as I am. It’s just the change, from external to internal focus, that makes me wary of the parallels with the old gender roles.

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