Stiehm's analysis ignores the simple fact that those tasks have always needed to be performed. When middle-class white women from the global North are not performing them, other, less white, less middle class women are. And those women are being paid less and valued less, precisely because the middle class white women were not performing those tasks. The decision not to keep chickens, or to buy bread instead of bake it yourself, or to purchase your clothes instead of sew them, is rooted in privilege pertaining to race and class as well as gender. Many – even most – women do not have the choice to not do domestic work, and to continue talking about work which is both vital and deingrated is to continue to marginalize and silence huge numbers of women. The choice of privileged women to not “be domestic” is directly subsidized by other, less privileged women, who then take on many of those tasks themselves. Someone makes the clothes bought by a woman who is able to choose not to make her own, and that someone is probably another woman, probably of a slightly different colour, getting paid a pittance. To me, that is not a step forward for women’s enfranchisement.
Stiehm’s analysis also ignores the often very overt – as it is in my case – political stance that is only represented by a return to domesticity. For many women, including myself, the appeal that this “new domesticity” holds is in its rejection of the corporate systems that underlie all our Northern freedom from domestic chores. Many of the gains women have made in the last century, at least in the domestic sphere, were products of corporate marketing campaigns and the need to establish entry ways into new markets, what David Harvey refers to as the spatial fix. Women were freed from an enormous number of hours of labour by washing machines first, and I am in no way advocating for a return to hand-washing clothes, but then, more sinisterly, by pre-packaged, frozen, and processed food. Food companies created a market by selling specifically women on products which were unhealthy, economically, environmentally, and socially expensive, and they specifically used the language of female empowerment to do so ("Hey, ladies! You don't want to make dinner, do you? No way! Who does? Making food is an awful, awful, thankless task that no one should do. Let us take care of dinner! Why don't you have a cigarette instead? I like to call them 'liberty sticks'. Love, Philip Morris").
Finally, though the first two points are reason enough for me, there is the simple fact that all these systems of food transport, factory farming, processing, outsourcing of labour, all the systems which have granted some women freedom from the work of sustaining themselves, are based on the assumption of cheap and abundant fossil fuels. And those are just not going to be around anymore. We are absolutely going to have to start performing domestic tasks, whether we like it or not, and so we might as well begin to talk about how necessary and valuable those skills are. And if we can do that, we can also begin to talk about how necessary and valuable the (mostly) women who perform them are, as well. If anything’s a step backwards for women, it’s an absolute refusal to see worth in the work that is done by women all over the world, to insist that domesticity is “nostalgia”, that it is distasteful, or that it is something to be avoided. Steihm and those who agree with her are only succeeding in favouring their own privilege over the pursuit of true gender equality, for all women, everywhere. As marvelous Flavia at Tiger Beatdown once said, MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE BULLSHIT!