Is it greener to be a homemaker than to have a job outside the home?
Here’s a specious eco-claim, from a letter to the editor published in The Nation:
In response to Katha Pollitt’s “Women on Top,” I would argue that having two parents/members of the household working full time spells disaster for the planet. The economic recession — conservation by default — has done more to decrease our carbon emissions than all the resource-consuming alternatives. As Americans, a lot of us pay to work, contributing to credit card debt, stress, bad food choices, and climate change. Ecologically speaking, someone needs to stay home, but it shouldn’t have to be the woman — this is where men still need to step up to the plate. Hanging up the laundry and forging a relationship with a local grower, then cooking that food with love and care — these are things that shouldn’t be optional in our country. We should strive for more balance in work and home life for women and men. Better for us — and better for the planet.
Felicity Fonseca, Dixon, N.M.
Is it really better for the planet if one partner in the household stays out of the workforce? That’s quite a stretch. It depends on whether you trade the greenhouse gases emitted while commuting to a job for greenhouse gases emitted while commuting to soccer games, piano lessons, and the mall.
Fonseca is arguing for a very particular (and very rare) kind of stay-at-home partner — the kind labeled a “femivore” in a recent New York Times Magazine trend piece about women who raise chickens and chard as well as children. As is typical of New York Times trend pieces, there’s no evidence of an actual trend — just the author’s observations about four of her highly educated friends in Berkeley, all of whom presumably have highly paid life partners who subsidize their lifestyles.
Anyone eco-conscientious enough to consider being a femivore (or a mascavore?) would presumably also be an eco-conscientious member of the workforce. Not everyone who brings home a second paycheck spends it on flat-screen TVs and large cars. Some spend that money on eggs from the local farmers market and donations to worthy causes and candidates.
Also, the letter writer’s implication that you have to sit out of the job market to feed good food to your family is bogus — and a surefire way to scare average Americans away from the sustainable food movement. To join in the here’s-what-my-friends-do school of journalism, I know a number of people who manage to garden and hold down a job at the same time, and even a few who have chickens too.
If you can find your bliss (and still pay your rent) by being a radical homemaker, more power to you. But a lot of households need two paychecks to make even modest ends meet — and some of us find fulfillment in our jobs too.
We don’t need more people to be stay-at-home parents — unless they want to be. We just need more people who are trying to live more sustainably, whether they labor at home or out in the workforce.
See also: The ‘femivore’: New breed of feminist, or frontier throwback? by Bonnie Azab Powell