Via Corrente, another Colorado blogger Michelle Nijhuis writes perceptively about the differences (encore!) in women’s and men’s labor when an idealistic heterosexualist couple decide to live their low impact dream inside a solar-powered yurt or straw-bale home:
Here’s what happens: A couple arrives in our valley, young, strong, in love, and full of plans to build an ultra-energy-efficient house out of straw bales, rammed earth, adobe bricks, or, heck, used bottlecaps. They set to work with equal enthusiasm, buying land and setting up temporary quarters in a yurt or a tipi. The weather’s good, the views are great, and the new house is humming along.
But at some point, the weather turns, or the project slows. Or a baby arrives, and everything gets more complicated. For whatever reason, their brio fades, NOMWITTH (“Not one more winter in the tipi, honey.”) sets in, and what was once a joint project becomes a battlefield, XX vs. XY. In mild cases, help is hired, the house gets a roof, and all ends well. In more serious cases, one person — inevitably XX — splits town for a fully-furnished condo with central heating, leaving XY alone with the low-carbon dream.
So why is it always XX who bails out on “the dream?” Is it that the solar panels can’t power up their hair dryers and curling irons and they miss watching E! and HGTV? Hardly. Nijhuis explains that it’s all about the work–the repetitive, indoor, and ephemeral labor that women do, versus the outdoor, public, permanent contributions their male partners make:
Many scholars — notably Ruth Schwartz Cowan, in her classic book More Work for Mother — have pointed out that the early-20th-century revolution in household technology, despite its many promises, didn’t actually save middle-class women any time. Washing machines meant that people hired fewer servants, had larger wardrobes, and washed their clothes more frequently. Vacuum cleaners led to higher standards of carpet cleanliness. Yet these inventions did change the nature of household work, rescuing women of all classes from at least some of its sweaty, undervalued drudgery.
Too often, modern homesteading asks women to return to the toil so many of their grandmothers left behind. No matter how progressive the homesteading couple, the unfamiliarity and the physical demands of DIY living make it easy to fall into traditional gender roles — to retreat to the stereotypically masculine and feminine skills most of us still learn first and best. The result is that in many modern homesteads, despite highly evolved intentions, men build the houses, and women, like their pioneer-era counterparts, cook over the wood stove. Or scrub the floors. Or care for the babies.
This old-fashioned division of labor means that women are often the first to encounter the worst realities of homesteading. While their partners are outside, impressing the neighborhood with their construction skills, women are inside, confronting the cultural invisibility of domestic work and the social isolation of rural life. Both are working hard, but one gets more public props than the other. Put another way, it doesn’t take too many solo rounds of hand-washing dirty diapers to kill the romance of modern homesteading, and bring on critical NOMWITTH.
That’s why cowgirls Just Say No to housework. Stall-mucking is as indoor as it gets for me out here on the high plains–messy for sure, but at least horses don’t wear diapers! We steer clear of the kitchen these hot evenings and grill everything that we don’t eat as-is. You can get your dishes clean with just a compost pile and a garden hose (or if you’re not even that picky, a dog). And friends: be sure to teach your daughters some basic construction skills so that they don’t end up in a yurt washing and hanging out poopy diapers when she could be fashioning a cistern for rainwater or installing solar panels on the roof.
I’ve always found that living well is the best revenge!