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In sickness and in health

Something I hear a lot, and that I'm particularly sensitive to - on eco-blogs and in my regular life - is that things were better the way they were before.  Before what?  Before women could vote?  Before penicillin?  While I agree that the self-reliance and simpler values of the past were pretty neat and perhaps worth emulating, there were a lot of things about the past that frankly sucked.  For example, when my neighbor gets all nostalgic about how rad NYC used to be in the good old days, I think to myself, "yeah, easy for you to say, burly dude, but I couldn't have lived with the same kind of freedom that I have for the last 10 years."

Of course it all depends on whose perspective you're looking through, and even with the feel-good vibe of the personal environmental movement, there is occasionally hostility towards people incapable of making the changes so celebrated on our blogs.  OK, maybe they're lazy or distracted and you don't want to carry the lazy on your back.   But maybe they're sick, maybe they're disabled, maybe they're poor.   And when you're sick, disabled, or desperately poor, you probably can't ride your bike or grow/buy/prepare local food.  Or maybe just I can't.  I was given plenty of time to think about this over the weekend, in bed for a couple of days.  I was too dizzy and weak to ride my bike when the work week started, and too hot and tired to make anything for myself after not having eaten for a couple of days.  And I was super glad that the modern conveniences of the bodega, the subway, and Haagen-Dazs were readily available.  

I started the weekend by going upstate to a party; when I asked the hostess if she wanted me to separate the watermelon rinds for composting, she wistfully noted that her parents had given up on taking care of the compost heap in their old age. (Being old - another reason not to be an environmental super-hero.)  We celebrated a bride, a good reason to spend during the July Pseudo-Freegan challenge.  But the whole wedding thing is so mysterious to me - this is one instance where I generally let the marketing get the better of me.  Unsure about "traditions" and people's expectations, I usually spend a ton of money (though generally on experiences rather than stuff) and hope that I haven't come off terribly gauche or otherwise insensitive.  Ick.

Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 10:11PM by Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf in | Comments3 Comments

Reader Comments (3)

I meant to comment on this post before, and was running out the door, but I am TOTALLY with you on this. Forty years ago, women weren't allowed credit cards in their own names! I'm an unmarried woman who lives alone, makes a decent living, and has almost every opportunity available to me. This wouldn't have been possible even 20-30 years ago! Many aspects of personal environmentalism: cooking, canning food, etc, seem to fall squarely on the woman's shoulders. I have an issue with this. Why should we be the ones held responsible? I don't have time, nor frankly, the inclination to can 20 jars of tomato sauce!

July 28, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterarduous

Yeah. In some ways, I get upset about the personal environmental movement because it's so...personal. It feels nice to be "doing something," but the bottom line is that our garbage and toxins and canned tomatoes are NOTHING compared to what corporations and governments are responsible for. By now we've all heard the figure that twelve times the amount of garbage were made in the name of the one little piece of whatever (also garbage) that you've just purchased. So who's pointing the finger at the twelve-times garbage makers? Not enough of us - we're too busy canning tomatoes and composting and walking to work! I feel it's a little bit like the litter campaigns that Heather Rogers talks about: package makers deliberately made litter the fault of the slovenly American "public," so they could keep producing the crap.

Not that the (primarily) women and moms in the blogosphere shouldn't continue what they're doing, or feel like somehow it doesn't count. But if you're (the image- and culture-makers in our society - mostly corporations that sell stuff) going to make the environmental movement about little domestic things, women are going to be the ones doing it.

Re: canning - I think there's a reason specialization was invented. So that people who like canning can can. And so people who like making soap and are good at it continue to do so. And I will continue to buy it from them - preferably at the farmer's market, with as little packaging as possible, but perhaps also at Whole Foods because I'm running low on time. Because I have no interest in doing these things and I will probably suck at them. I'd rather be writing or dancing or making art.

PS. I loved your post on cleaning house, arduous, could you guess?

July 28, 2008 | Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf

Arduous, credit cards have only existed for about 50 years (see "The History of Money"). While retail stores would not establish a card to a wife only -- that was because at the time, the women were not considered financially responsible.

Stores didn't want to be in the position of issuing credit to someone with no income and risk the husband saying, "Hey, I didn't approve that purchase, I'm not paying for it."

Think "I Love Lucy" -- remember all the problems she had with balancing her accounts and overspending at stores?

Personally, I wouldn't give a credit card to someone without an income unless he or she had a co-signer or joint account holder who had an income and who agreed to pay for purchases on that account.

Megan, I had to laugh at your comment "that's why specialization was invented." Do you really think it was "invented"? What I see is that the rise of industrialization and mass production took away the need or the opportunity for people to continue certain tasks of household maintenance, freeing them up for jobs so they could buy the stuff they previously made for themselves.

Specialization has always existed. Now, we just get to selectively decide what we buy vs. what we do on our own. Not everyone is good at canning -- think "Little Women" when Meg, the oldest sister, got married and cried over her jelly not setting and being a "bad wife" because she was bad at that stuff.

I'd say that the more salient recent trends of the last century or two are (conspicuous) consumerism and preference marketing. Being able to buy instead of make is something that has filtered down to even the lowest socioeconomic levels in the US. Now people just want to buy everything they need, and increasingly slimy psychological twists in marketing have folks confused about "needs" v. "wants" -- and nobody knows how to budget, balance a checkbook or really keep track of what they are spending. Nobody has a reason or incentive to not just go out and buy that widget or cell phone or wii or new colander if they can put it on credit.

August 25, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjennconspiracy

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