Green, feminism and class

This is something which has been running through my mind for quite a while now. I worry a lot about how quite often being green is being portrayed as something which is the responsibility of women. We are the ones who should be staying home, baking, making our own washing powders, washing nappies etc.

It is something I especially struggle with as an ardent feminist, high powered career women who has left that, in the process of changing career and is returning to being the hippy she was when she was younger. And now I enjoy baking and making things by knitting and sewing, amongst other techniques. If we do have children then I would really want to stay at home and not put them into a nursery (especially as they are really, really expensive here and as a teacher it wouldn’t be financially worth my time). I would want to use re-usable nappies and cook their food from scratch, as well as everything else which goes along with these choices.

I worry about how this is betraying my feminist roots. I know my partner would take a very active role in the childcare, but at the end of the day he would be working full time, leaving the house at 7.30am and getting home at 8pm. So, the vast majority of it would be down to me. And by taking the green option it requires additional time.

The other issue which worries me is that we would have this option as we are middle class. What would happen if he wasn’t earning as much? How would we be able to live the ethical, green life to the same extent which we do and I plan to do if we have children?

This issue was covered in today’s BBC Woman’s Hour. A debate between Julie Bindel and the Green party’s Natalie Bennett discuss these issues.Its the first item, just a couple of minutes into it. I hope those outside the UK can access it. (Oh, and the concept of having a ‘Woman’s Hour’? Don’t get me started!)

For me, feminism is about choice for women, we should be able to make our own choices about our lives. The inherently patriarchal society which we live in takes a lot of these choices away from us and often we don’t even know it.  I can chose to change career, live relativley greenly (trying to improve every day) and I chose to make my own things as much as possible. Sometimes as political act in itself and sometimes to save costs and minimise my impact on the earth. But by dint of being middle class (ie – well educated, access to the internet etc) and supported by my partner ( in so many ways) I am able to have these choices.

What do you think?

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9 thoughts on “Green, feminism and class

  1. EcoYogini says:

    I think it’s interesting you brought this up. I just listened to an interview with the French Feminist Elisabeth Badinter who has recently addressed the green movement and patriarchy in her latest book.

    I think that if you take a quick ‘look’ around you’ll notice that the majority of the green movement is spearheaded by women.

    Is that because women actually care more about the environment? probably not. Is it because during the recession women’s jobs are even less valued… paid less, promoted less or hired less? And perhaps they have had to “choose” to stay home because their partner makes more money (due to the pay gap).
    As they happen to already be home, they SHOULD care about their health and their children’s health. So they should take responsibility for the domestic domain….. and it’s their choice right?

    Anyhoo, I do believe that we have choices and that we make them…. but I also firmly believe that we are socialized extremely young… and I do see more pressure currently in Canada for women to stay at home, to care for their children, to be mothers and to be domestic. I do believe it’s backlash, and that it’s piggybacking on the green movement.

    If you understand French, I highly recommend listening to her talk
    http://www.teva.fr/video/elizabeth-badinter-presente-le-conflit-la-femme-et-la-mere-publie-aux-editions-flammarion/iLyROoafItyo/
    (very short 🙂 )

  2. Ms B. Thrift says:

    I love this post as it hits home to me very poignantly. It is something I have thought about before whilst absentmindedly baking cakes rofl I wonder if I am a true feminist or not. Your last paragraph sums up my feelings entirely, it is about choice. I have friends who frown upon me for leaving a career path behind (for now) because I wanted to raise my son myself in a green and hands on approach. I made my choices based entirely on what was best for me, my family and my son. I would hate to be out all day and not see him except for weekends or a few stolen moments dropping him off at childcare, my choice, my decision. My partner and I are equals in our housework, late night comfortings of my son, we each get time to ourselves and time where we help the other one out, i am lucky, but it works well for us. I think the worst thing any woman can do is criticise another woman for their own choices, i know there are some who are belittled in to accepting a more subservient role or socialised in to what a “woman’s role” should be, but if that person is happy and truly making their own decisions having thought them out then why argue with them, to have my friends “pity” me for not having a career makes me smile, i don’t need their pity I am making my own choices and I am happy, I don’t need a career to make me feel fulfilled I get that from within. More importantly I hope that by spending time raising my children I can show them positive role models, show them that Mum & Dad are equals and individuals, and that they can see the choices they have for themselves rather than being pushed in to an ideal people strive to achieve but never really feel happy with. not to mention witnessing and appreciating Green methods of living 1st hand too. I suppose a positive act of the Green issues on feminism is the anti-commercial aspect of it, shunning the fashion/cosmetic/shopping craziness in favour of more frugal and thrifty ways to get new clothes or mend what we already have for example, green and rebellious 🙂

  3. Thank you both for your comments – really interesting one.

    Egoyogini – it was the French lady’s book who prompted this interview on Woman’s Hour in the first place. I can understand a little French, but certainly not enough to listen to a conversation like this.

    I will be ordering her book.

    Ms B. Thrift – its all so difficult isn’t it? I think being able to make our own choice is a key part of feminism, however the 1950s idealisation is something which worries me.

    When I was working in marketing I used my job as a way to escape from myself and to hide away from me, I also identified by my job and the things my salary could buy me.

    That is changing now, I get a lot more pleasure out of making things myself and having time to myself. I am hoping that when I am a fully qualified teacher I will not get so bound up in that being my identity again!

    Jen

  4. EcoYogini says:

    Jen,
    very interesting! I wondered about that. 🙂

    It sounds like you are very aware of what is going on around you- what I didn’t add to my comment (which I should have! I must have been tired) was that I agree with you…. sorry i didn’t say that in my comment :S

    I struggle with exactly the same stuff- which I think is a good sign that we struggle. it means we are aware of the underlying issues that guide our ‘choices’ 🙂

  5. Calamity Jane says:

    hmmm, as you know from my blog, i have a lot of opinions on this subject. i won’t hide the fact that i’m mad at feminism for making me feel like being a homemaker is a shame, and a waste of my potential. i personally want to be at home, doing the things i do.
    but, i realize that i’m very lucky in that regard. i never had a career path i felt driven toward. i didn’t have to give anything up (well, that’s far from true, but i mean, i didn’t have to give up a career). also, i have a very involved partner. he doesn’t wash the nappies, but he does do a lot of things that, talking to other mamas, i realize most dads don’t.
    i guess, i am annoyed that he doesn’t make green home type things a priority, esp since his chosen path/career is in conservation. it seems hypocritical. but i do believe that women are generally more drawn to closer things, and men, generally, more to farther things. ie: i take care of the close green stuff like washing nappies, and Hubby takes care of the far green things like suing the forest service over clear-cuts.
    sometimes it annoys me. but in a way, that’s what partnership is– i take care of what i can do, he takes care of what he can do. and in that sense we are able to enrich each other and the world.
    so… i don’t know. i certainly don’t think women should feel they have to be the green homemaker. but then, i don’t want women to feel like they shouldn’t be the green homemaker either.
    i believe it was patriarchy in the first place that devalued the work that (traditionally women) do at home. if you take the patriarchy glasses off, and see “home” work as extremely important, even revolutionary, you could see it as that we strong and amazing women choose to change the world by devoting our lives to the home front, and our loving and supportive (hopefully) partners do the boring day to day background work of bringing home some bacon.
    does our society support this idea, no. but, as revolutionaries, do we need a majority appeal?

    • Exactly, exactly Calamity Jane.

      This comes onto the next point of ‘women’s work’ generally being horribly undervalued and disrespected by society. Looking after children is a really vital role in society and yet women get no respect or money for doing so.

      We can then segue quite easily into the wage gap and I am not just talking about the difference in pay between a man and a woman doing the same job.

      What about working in residential/nursing homes for the elderly? Rubbish pay – £6 an hour, barely above minimum wage. And what do bin men get? £35K a year. Different set of employment contracts as well.

      They are both a fundemental part of society – looking after old people and looking after our waste and yet there is a massive discrepancy in pay.

      Jen

  6. […] Yesterday I read an article from Jen’s Dark Purple Moon, Green, Feminism and Class, asking why so much of the work of greening our lives is put on women, and how is a feminist […]

  7. I love this sort of discussion, and I love what you’ve said. I feel like I’m in the same boat – reevaluating and returning to values and priorities and goals I had when I was younger (and wondering how I drifted so far away from them). I wonder how much this is a natural progression – apparently midlife crisis is a normal and non-gendered thing, and we have more than one, and it’s a healthy thing (or can be).

    This isn’t a fully-formed thought, but: as a society (or subset of a society) we seem comfortable talking about interdependence, but this appreciation of interdependence seems to be on a sort of village-to-global scale. I think that if we think of it in terms of a family unit (of whatever size) we’ll see that it’s completely natural and necessary for there to be some specialisation. I mean, once we take as given that no one individual of us can be completely independent (we can, obviously, to a certain extent, but for most people this is unpleasant or unsustainable, and it’s certainly inefficient) – then we can stop thinking of dividing everything equally, 50/50, between members of a male/female couple as being the only fair way of doing things. As long as there’s no power imbalance in the relationship, as long as one partner isn’t property, then there shouldn’t be any problem with even the most stereotyped division of labour, if that’s what works for the people in the relationship. Nevertheless, we remain shy of a two person, male/female interdependence…

    Maybe it isn’t feminism per se that’s the problem, but how the vast majority of Other People perceive it and judge others? Obviously we all have our own guilt about this or else we wouldn’t be talking about it, but I wonder how much of what I feel is feminist guilt and how much is consumerist guilt. A lot of what gets discussed, and a lot of what I’ve felt, is along the lines of ‘I feel I’m not contributing/I feel I’m being judged for not contributing equally/doing my share’ – and the concept of contributing is exclusively financial in nature. In a society where we’re judged based not even on what we earn, but what we spend… That’s what someone who’s not earning is failing to contribute to – because there really can’t be any argument about whether a homemaker is contributing to the basic functioning and quality of life of his/her family…

    I think maybe that women/homemakers get saddled with the responsibility for greeniness because it does take time and isn’t the quickest/easiest option – and I know that when I’m working fulltime at something, I’m usually stressed and rushed and only have energy for brainless and easy and quick things – ready meals, eating out, reading/watching stuff that’s fairly escapist, buying stuff… But when I’m not working fulltime, I have the energy and time and psychological space to make the effort to be greener, live lower on the consumerist food chain, etc. I think that it’s a natural (and non-gendered) thing that some family members will have the time and mind-space to do some things and others won’t.

    I guess there’s a part of me that wants to see the issue as a plutarchy (?) thing instead of a partriarchy thing. What better way to keep people on a treadmill of earn, borrow, and spend (so that their money can make money off someone else’s work) than by making them pay someone else for things they can’t do/make themselves because they’re out working? Feminism asked for equality for women as humans, but everyone is suffering from the culture of the Golden Arrow of Consumption.

    Sorry for the long pointless babble… =)

  8. […] at 4:38 pm (Theorising) (education, inequality, politics, prison, sociology, young offenders) Wow, this certainly provoked a response from all of you. Thank you for all of the comments on this subject […]

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