The Biotic Woman: What the Hell is a Femivore?

I mentioned over the weekend that I was a little too miffed after reading the terribly myopic piece in the New York Times Magazine last weekend, “The Femivore’s Dilemma,” to write about it then. The internets move quickly, but I figure a few days late is better than never. Since my time here is quickly drawing to a close, I figured I’d revisit the piece because it really deserves some ecofeminist deconstruction.

First, the obvious: “femivore” is a dumb word. Why? Because it implies a diet of women. The suffix vorous is defined as “feeding on a specified food.” As I read it in this case, that would be female humans. Did anyone bother to consider that implication? I don’t find it funny word play, particularly since the article largely centered, without irony, on the idea that humans can continue slaughtering female animals and consuming them and their babies. FWIW, Feminist Philosophers also thought the term was problematic.

I don’t even care that Peggy Orenstein calls the article’s subjects “chicks with chicks,” you know? I get it, or I wouldn’t be writing for a mag/blog called Bitch. But Orenstein says some outright classist crap in roundup of the women who choose to build chicken coops, such as this gem:

Given how conscious (not to say obsessive) everyone has become about the source of their food — who these days can’t wax poetic about compost? — it also confers instant legitimacy.

I don’t know about folks reading this, but I know exactly zero people who can “wax poetic about compost.” I’m a freaking vegan, surely among people who are more conscious/obsessive about certain food attributes and environmental issues, and I don’t know anyone who has time for that! Money is time, and I’m short on both. One reason I can afford to be vegan is that I do it on the cheap: beans, legumes, surplus root veggies, rice by the five-pound bag, and olive oil by the five-liter tin. Sometimes—rarely—I grow my own herbs because at least all it takes is a packet of seeds and some dirt. Figuring out where your food comes from takes time and money, but when you remove certain questionable items from your meal plan, you do inevitably opt out of buying those eggs from battery hens, for example. I think that’s legitimate, since we’re throwing around value words.

Reclamation—especially the “feminist” kind (you can decide what that word means to you in this context)—comes around quickly. We all know this. But Orenstein’s article fails to consider just how bizarre this sort of can look from another perspective—say, an older one. Do any of y’all have grandmas who can’t quite figure out why young feminists romanticize canning or knitting? My grams, Charlotte and Bernice, are 85, and 92 next month, respectively, and frankly, they’re bewildered why hip young gals want to crochet for kicks. Bernice—the 92-year-old one—got her Master’s degree decades ago, put my grandpa through graduate school by teaching, and though she eventually stayed home with her own kids, I think she’d honestly be appalled if I chose to be a homemaker. For what it’s worth, I have several close friends who are stay-at-home spouses/parents—and I work from home, which some people seem to misunderstand and equate with being unemployed or a house spouse—so I don’t have scorn for whatever choice works for you. What does bother me is the implication that something we found oppressive seventy-five or even fifty years ago is now suddenly empowering. Context shifts, no doubt, but aren’t we sort of screwing up our own progress by going back and forth on these things?

My pal Shannon/Vegan Burnout has a next level deconstruction of this and claims Ima do one her one better. I think not.

To frame the choice between working a soulless 9-to-5 or building a backyard chicken coop and learning to can tomatoes as the only feminist options is reductive and insulting.

Well said, Shannon. Go read her thoughts too because she breaks this crap down so well. Then tell me why you think urban homesteading is awesome, stupid, or the best option we have right now.

Further reading:

I’m a femivore, and I’m having a dilemma, Rurally Screwed

Please disseminate widely about backyard birds, Eastern Shore Sanctuary Blog

by Brittany Shoot
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15 Comments Have Been Posted

Let 'em raise their damn chicks

Feminism aside, raising your own food has become more of a health issue and less of an equality issue. It won’t matter if a woman has all the freedom in the world if she’s plagued by illnesses or dead from breast cancer. More and more people in America are becoming fat and sick with diseases and disorders that our grandmothers didn't have to deal with. Americans have become soft and helpless, yes this goes for the feminists too. So if women, or men, or children, want to raise chickens and grow food and feed their families and neighbors, then who are we to condemn them? Wasn't the whole theory of feminism predicated on the notion that women deserved equality? If this were true, then why do feminists rag on women who CHOOSE to grow food or stay home? Haven't we told women for the past four decades that they were free to decide their own fates and free to do what they wanted with their bodies? Cancer cases are rising, so is depression, and a whole new crop of Generation Rx women who live on medications just to get by. The point is, staying at home has failed to make women happy, working outside the home has failed to make women happy, careers, money, and living a "Sex and the City" lifestyle has failed to make women happy. In fact, women are more depressed than ever. So if putting her hands in the dirt, exercising, getting some sunshine, and growing healthy foods make a women happy or gives her a sense of empowerment, then who are we to trash Her CHOICE? The New York Times piece did have an oddly familiar slant towards--women in the home equals contentment message, but at the same time the piece seemed to favor letting a woman have it “her way”. After all these years are we really going to continue to blame men and domestication for the enormous amount of unhappiness that seems to pervade modern women? If women haven't evolved to the point where they take a little responsibility for their own feelings, actions, and emotions then the feminist movement has not made the strides that it thinks it has. If women want to be truly free they will have to break the chains that bind them--whether these chains be from domestication, marriage, or rigid outdated feminist crap that says they are only free if they do what feminists think they should do. Come on, if a woman wants to raise a chicken, let her raise the damn chicken. How is oppression from other women or the feminist movement any different from oppression from men? Moreover, a woman who can run her own farm—whether it is urban or country, does have an advantage over women who rely on stores as their only source for obtaining food. How many of us really want Wal-Mart and similar big box stores to be in charge of what we eat?

You're missing the point of

You're missing the point of the post (perhaps deliberately, potential troll). The poster's focus is on the way the article frames these women's choices, and the incredibly obnoxious and ignorant author of the original article. This includes the poster's beginning points about the stupid name, 'femivore' -- she's right, it doesn't make any fucking sense! I've never heard the word before, and my first thought was, "wait -- people are eating women!? WHAT?!"

For the record, I agree with you -- if this is what a woman wants to do with her life, that's great. I don't get it, but I don't have to, because it's not what I'm going to do. But I resent having anyone, male or female, try to claim that "urban homesteading" is always a clearcut, "legitimate" (!?) feminist political act. It's way too complicated for that, as the poster points out, especially in terms of class and location. And frankly, the article smells a little desperate in its need to 'legitimize' and make this seem feminist. Ornstein (sp?) doth protest just a tad too much.

"The point is, staying at

"The point is, staying at home has failed to make women happy, working outside the home has failed to make women happy, careers, money, and living a "Sex and the City" lifestyle has failed to make women happy. In fact, women are more depressed than ever."

According to this person, women are all the same and obviously none of us are happy with any of the above things.

Empowered Woman

I am very thankful for your kind remarks on women who choose to stay home to raise children and grow their own food. I am 56 years old and have waited a lifetime for someone to honor the woman who chose to live a traditional life. I feel that women have not supported each other on their choice of lifesyles, therefore hav we e not received equality because of this constant division between us.

I also want to say that we don't need the United NAtions telling us how to raise our food. THey are doing this by wanting people to register their chickens and report every death to them. Their ultimate goal is to have everyone buy GMO seeds and products tainted with their chemicals.

Sp, therefore if you are empowered to stay an independent farmer or rancher please be aware of the sustainabily actions put forward by the United Nations.

Organic food raised by your own hand is better than the food from the big box stores.
the bottom line is to respect each other and team up against the New World Order and the United NAtions.


I appreciate this post. I agree, femivore is a nonsensical word, literally. In this context, it makes zero sense. While I believe anyone, male or female, should be able to pursue living a sustainable life in one's own home and on one's own turf, rural or urban, this NYT piece does take privilege (which I realize rests on a spectrum) for granted, in my opinion. And what's with the polarization - either self-sustainability at home or a career? Either domestic skills or a living wage? These alleged dichotomies are old and tired. A well rounded person, and a person who can adapt to the changes necessary to live a sustainable, healthy and fulfilling life, is not either/or, better than/less than. Fulfillment is fulfillment, and dissatisfaction is just that - dissatisfaction. It's not a "femivore" issue.

the current economy is driving both the urban and country homest

Doesn't anyone find it odd that the New York Times noted that many of these women are, "Highly educated women who left the work force to care for kith and kin." Meaning that these women are educated, they did at least achieve this measure of equality, but then they left that all behind to go back into the home. Why? The article states, "There is even an economic argument for choosing a literal nest egg over a figurative one. Conventional feminist wisdom held that two incomes were necessary to provide a family’s basic needs — not to mention to guard against job loss, catastrophic illness, divorce or the death of a spouse. Femivores suggest that knowing how to feed and clothe yourself regardless of circumstance, to turn paucity into plenty, is an equal — possibly greater — safety net. After all, who is better equipped to weather this economy, the high-earning woman who loses her job or the frugal homemaker who can count her chickens?"

It seems most logical that the current economy is driving both the urban and country homesteading craze. Women, just like men, are scared of losing everything, so they are learning "new" skills that they didn't go to college for, skills that women's lib told them they wouldn't need, and now--damn it if they don't need them--just in case it all goes to hell in a hand basket. The fact is gardening is rising all over American and has become the hottest new trend, which is why we are seeing the feminist crossover. In this current economy men and women have been forced to return home, and raising chickens, gardens, and kids seems to be better than doing nothing at all. It’s less about Femivorism (is that a word?) and more about survival. Men and women both need to eat.

Yes, yes, I get the tone of the article, little Suzy Homemaker has finally returned home, where she belongs. But is she happy? The track record says no. The majority of women are unhappy and they have not achieved the happiness and freedom that feminism promised, and to continue to blame men for this would merely be sexism in reverse. Maybe women are, “[A]ll the same and obviously none of [them] are happy” as one post sarcastically stated. Maybe women haven’t yet found what makes them happy. Maybe women are still waiting to reach their full potential. Maybe feminism makes women just as unhappy as sexism. How will women become the happy independent people they have fought so hard to become? What situation or circumstance will women need to be happy? The women in Gilman’s Herland were awful happy and satisfied raising kids and gardens homesteading (that is, until men came along). Do the femivore’s just need a utopia to call their own? When all else has failed to bring happiness and liberation what’s a girl to do? Raise chickens? Raise kids? Raise hell? Been there, done that. What’s next?

As a former women's studies

As a former women's studies major and always hardcore feminist who has recently started to wonder if being a homemaker maybe wouldn't be such a bad life, I feel the need to point out that the big feminist issue with both the original article and Brittany Shoot's response lies in this all-or-nothing, simplistic stance we (as human people) tend to take on these issues. Being a homemaker doesn't make one anti-feminist just like being a powerful politician/businessperson doesn't make one a feminist. And women who are rediscovering traditional crafts like knitting, canning, and yes, animal husbandry are neither furthering nor destroying feminism. The great thing about becoming a homemaker now is that, thanks to feminism, we get to decide what that means. Being a homemaker doesn't have to be just for women, and it doesn't have to mean being less powerful in your family and your community.

I also think that moving toward being a self-sustaining household IS a feminist act. The more you can remove yourself from an exploitative, capitalist economy by making your own clothes/bread/eggs/etc. the more you can begin to create spaces for a different kind of economy, one that perhaps has more respect for all life on this planet. And now perhaps we can start to recreate self-sustaining households based on gender equality, rather than simply moving back to "men-in-the-fields, ladies-in-the-kitchen" ideas about that kind of work.

Perhaps I'm missing the point, but I think my biggest problem here is that Shoot's point isn't exactly clear.

Laura, my issue are the

Laura, my issue are the myriad classist assumptions that come with so-called feminist reclamation of language, practices, etc. Where I'm from, things like growing your own veggies, canning, and knitting are not fun hobbies—they are necessary acts for low-income people to make ends meet.

I never said being a homemaker is anti-feminist. I said I have friends who work at home and it isn't my place to make assessments of how my friends live their lives.

I'm not going to argue about what is and isn't a feminist act because clearly, everyone defines that differently for themselves. For many younger self-identified feminists, that has become the whole point—that they can pick and choose what is and isn't feminist, according to their own needs. I tend to think that sort of cherry-picking logic is fallible at best, but what really bothers me is using words like "feminist" to make any choice seem personally empowering and therefore justifiable. I know many self-identified feminists who don't kill animals in the name of dinner, for example. Their choices are likely just as "feminist" as people who raise and kill their own chickens, depending on who you ask.

I'm not here to make a specific point. I'm here to get folks to think about how food politics, animal rights, the environment, and women's rights intersect. Or rather, I was. My stint at Bitch ended yesterday :)

I don't know what it means for people to tout their WS degrees. I was a women's studies major in undergrad too. In my case, that ended up having very little to do with where I ended up as a feminist.

im sorry to hear you are

im sorry to hear you are done at Bitch. I liked your writing! Was it something you said? haha? Where can i find more of your work? Best of luck! Courtney

Sustainability does not automatically equal feminism

I'm a little late to the conversation, but wanted to chime in on Laura's comments on feminism and sustainability.

What if I don't want to make my own clothes/bread/eggs? Those things take time, and personally, I'd rather spend my time on other things. As would many people (men and women both). You can't be a doctor saving lives, if you're spending your time on basic survival. I think you're equating specialization with capitalism, but building a just society is not an either/or proposition. I don't want to know how to can food, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I might prefer to teach children to read, or to make art or to code websites, and let the canners supply me with my pickles. It's how we set up the exchange between what I do and what you do, that can be problematic. But every society throughout history has had to establish some measure of labour specialization and means of exchange (to varying degrees of success).

I think Shoot makes a really important point here, about feminism and "back to the land" sustainability. While it's true that some women are now able to separate out things like raising chickens from ideas about women's work, and make a free choice to be a "femivore," it's also true that through most of history, clothes have been made and bread has been baked on the backs of women. And this is still true in much of the world. It's women who benefited from sewing machines, washing machines, and all the rest of it.

So yes, you can be a feminist and a homemaker, but I think we need to be very cautious about taking up the rallying cry of self-sustaining households as feminist households.

Reconciling Homemaking & Feminism

I am a Radical Homemaker, at least, I related very much with what Shannon Hayes wrote about in her book (has anyone here, Brittney especially, actually read <i>Radical Homemakers</i>?) and live a life centered around home and family. I raise chickens, for eggs and meat (because I care so much about animal welfare that I'm willing to raise my own meat or buy it only from farmers I know personally), maintain a kitchen garden, bake bread, make cheese, can, ferment, cook from scratch, etc. But radical homemaking isn't just about baking bread and raising chickens. It's about producing rather than consuming, community involvement, frugality, sustainability, too. So, I also am deeply involved in the local sustainable food movement, organizing a buying club that coordinates bulk purchases of food grown by local farmers, working on food policy issues, and teaching cooking/baking/food preservation classes from my home. I seek to buy used/freecyle whenever possible. I barter. In addition to my small business teaching, I find ways to make money from oddest assortment of odd jobs--from making bacon and butchering lambs with my husband to mixing a custom blend of chicken feed, all of which we sell to friends and buying club members--making my home "unit of production" as much as possible, rather than just another unit of consumption.

When I was 6 months pregnant with my first child and laid off from my job in the wake of 9/11, I didn't have a choice. I stayed home. I struggled then with what it meant to be an ardent feminist, the kind of person who had spent her Saturdays keeping clinics open and became a vegetarian after reading <i>The Sexual Politics of Meat</i>, and a homemaker. I had trouble reconciling being "dependent" on my husband's income and my notion of what it meant to be a feminist. In time, though, I came to feel this sense of liberation in being at home. I was finally, for the first time in my life, my own boss--the profits of my labor returned to me and my family. I came to realize that I am not dependent upon my husband, rather, we are interdependent partners. After a lifetime of depression, I was finally happy. After years of questioning my life, I felt I was finally living in alignment with my values.

For me, ecology and caring for the earth has always gone hand-in-hand with my notion of feminism. What I do now with my life I do for myself and my family, but I decided to not return to the work I used to do for pay because I knew I couldn't do it sustainably. The commute, the long hours that made us dependent on the industrial food system, the outsourcing of childcare, education, and so much else that can be done, and usually done better, at home--if someone(s) is home--all added up to an unsustainable lifestyle that I was no longer willing to live.

I thought the NYT article was lousy and had the same reaction as others here to the term "femivore" (what editor let that one get coined on the pages of the nation's newspaper of record??) and Orenstein's superficial review of the book. She didn't even give voice to her four friends who have chosen to stay home--not one of them is directly quoted. And just because you're a woman who used to work outside the home and now stays home and raises chickens doesn't mean you fit Hayes' description of a Radical Homemaker. For a much better review of the book, interview of the author, and look into the lives of some Radical Homemakers, see Leslie Cole's recent piece in The Oregonian:

Either/or? No, thank you.

Thank you for the link to Vegan Burnout, who really nails it in her post on the subject. Reducing our choices to worker/nurturer, with the good/bad split that it implies, is as reductive today as it was generations ago.

missing the point

Both Shoot and Orenstien need to read Radical Homemakers. The book is not called Radical Housewives for a reason- the idea is that both partners (regardless of gender) have equal, albeit different at times, responsibilities in their homes and with their families.
I have yet to read a review, or rant, that discusses mens role in the home or as Radical HomeMAKERS. Women will never move forward, nor can we even call ourselves feminists if we do not:
A) Respect a woman's life choices.
B) Raise empowered men/ have equal expectations for men as we do women in what is considered a self-reliant person.

Hayes point is that with gender equality and less reliance on corporations we have the tools to create a sustainable, healthier community.

Just a visitor here, my 2cents.

Good blog post. I was very

Good blog post. I was very frustrated by the lack of veganism too!

Thank you for explaining

Thank you for explaining about fermivore.

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