(8th of March is here, so) DIY as a feminist issue

Here, have some dirty dishes proper of a KonMari consultant.

To begin with, let’s establish that I have a lot of questions about all the stuff below but no solid answers, really, OK? This is a rant post, if you came for some good advice, keep looking and let me know if you find anything good.

This post is an International Women’s Day hiccup, and something powerful enough to get me out of my ‘I really should be blogging, I have all these ideas, but somehow it’s not happening’ unplanned hiatus… So I’ve decided to explore it, bear with me!

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Let me set the stage for you: formally I am currently a 32-year-old self-employed PhD holder looking for a day job that would pay my social security tax. Additionally, I’ve got myself into this entrepreneurship program for women with an aim to launch a beautiful wardrobe tracking app. And then there’s the blog, the social media, the KonMari consultancy, the podcast, etc.

For last two years, inspired by the idea of women striking on the 8th of March, I organized potluck lunches for my PhD friends and then we went to the march together. Women only, of course. I loved it: it was a lot of fun and created the right mood for the day, festive and combative at the same time. I had marked March 8th with ‘strike + lunch’ in my 2020 agenda from the moment I bought it last November.

The initial setup for the 2018 lunch at my place. Yes, the best vintage Soviet tablecloth and all.

But… it was a Sunday this year. And many of the people I would have liked to had at that table are not in Barcelona. And it felt like so much work to organize, and message, and coordinate the food, and get the local bio-dynamic zero waste wine… I already wrote a post describing my wish to do it all for such occasions in June 2018: The time squeeze of sustainability attempts and blogging.

So I didn’t do anything apart from arranging to meet Luisa to go to the march.

That is, I didn’t so anything else festive and combative dedicated to the day in question, except from some instagramming, of course. My weekend started on the Friday afternoon with a promising meeting for the app development, continued on Saturday exploring the Slow Fashion n Co swap, hanging out on a swing set with Mara, then going home and spending the afternoon sewing a duvet cover. And as that cover took – of course! – much longer than I had thought, I ended up cleaning our flat on Sunday. And then running frantically to the march. March was good. It is clear that basic feminism is a bit too much in vogue, but it’s inspiring anyway. However, amidst the excellent company, the chants, the witty signs, the occasional dancing… I kept thinking about how come I had arrived to this event feeling so tired and harassed.

I would have loved to just blame the systemic sexism and the gendered burden of care work – that explanation would have fit perfectly most of the slogans of the march – but it’s not that simple…

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Is it a feminist issue that I just don’t know how to clam the fuck down and relax? Is the very pronounced difference in that ability between me and C a feminist issue? Could be… but while I was able to proudly turn off a client for Sunday telling her I won’t work on 8th of March, I wasn’t able to make my Sunday feel like that swing set moment on Saturday.

I was cleaning our flat because it was my turn to clean it. C made the lunch while I was doing it. No actual reason to feel oppressed here, the cleaning will make his weekend more bitter in two weeks. (Yeah, we are rather filthy and let the dust bunnies spawn freely…)

And I enjoyed making my new duvet cover. It turned out beautiful, and fills me with pride and joy every time I step into my bedroom! I had the skills, I had the equipment, I had the material: 100% cotton family vintage fabric I remember my mother having a pillowcase of circa 1993 + 100% cotton Japanese thread. I enjoyed doing the math for the patchworking it took to make a 225 x 225 duvet cover from a 730 x 145 piece of fabric. Sustainable zeroish waste sewing for the win!

And yet.

While it seems somewhat absurd to measure the hours dedicated to something I clearly enjoyed doing as work, it just *happens* that my hobby and those 4+ hours out of my life advanced the well-being of our household. I put in my unpaid leisure time, thus saving us a trip to El Corte Inglés and at least 60€ for a Made in Portugal cotton duvet cover… and this is the part that keeps gnawing at me!

There is a systemic gender problem with so much of the sustainability / zeroish waste / DIY ethos. Obviously, if the political fight is to take the work back from the savage capitalist market and do it better, somebody else has to do that… and ‘for free’ feels so much better than charging the actual price for it. Because an actual fair price would be a high one. And we are so alienated from actually creating things that ‘look what I did’ feels amazing. That is why these circles are so feminized, I think.

We are just taking the good old unpaid care work back, and adding some more time consuming quirks to it: zero waste shopping across the town by bicycle, getting your local small and dirty veggies in quantities you’re not allowed to choose, and then having to figure out what to do with all that fennel you hate, and fermenting, and making your bread, and batch cooking, and composting, and making your own cleaning products, and fixing the clothing… and spending Saturday afternoons sewing duvet covers.

Gosh, are we stupid or what? I am pretty sure that both of my great grandmothers I got to meet before they passed away would consider me an idiot for insisting on taking back all the shit work that kept haunting them for all their 80+ years.

The great-grandmas are not impressed with my homemade vegan yogurt.

If we could just forget the other systemic implications of the plastic-full consumerism, on the individual level it has a potential for liberation: things are abundant and cheap, and you don’t have to make your own knickers. Unless you want to… and there we go again down the rabbit hole.

Yes, I can imagine a world where we live slower, more local and more DIY lives very happily (sounds like a quarantine, anybody?) but that activity has to be distributed equally across gender and social class. It is not sustainable if it’s just privileged upper middle class women going back to the crafts of our great-grandmas and beyond. It’s elitist and retrograde escapism. Of course it is much comfortable to organize cute little embroidery circles and CSA cooperatives instead of great disruptive actions you get arrested for.

And knowing that I head back to beautifully darning my fine merino garments with 100% cotton mouliné threads, all made in EU. And my kombucha. And my vegan yogurt. Ugh…

But I’ve added ‘strike + lunch’ to my provisional agenda of 2021.

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What is your relationship with the feminized and middle-class nature of so much of craftivism and current sustainability movements? Are you standing solidly on one side of this debate without ambivalence tearing you apart? What is our way out of this fundamental contradiction?

Also, much love + an acknowledgment that the reality is too complex to be coherent ♥

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