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The Moral Superiority of Chicks with Chicks

Posted on March 17 2010 6:45 am
Jenn escaped blue state academia for redder pastures in the South. Follow her on Twitter and read more of her work at
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If carnivores eat meat, what exactly do femivores eat?

Fortunately, it’s not what you think.  Forget any mental images of Don Juan meets Leatherface and let me translate from New York Timesese to English. Femivores are highly educated, feminist stay-at-home moms who embrace outdoorsy domesticity like growing organic vegetables and raising chickens.

Basically, they’re chicks with chicks.

But a rural housewife who builds her own chicken coop and cans vegetables from her garden wouldn’t capture the attention of the New York Times, and she certainly wouldn’t qualify as a femivore.  According to writer Peggy Orenstein, the femivore’s natural habitat is Berkeley.  And she isn’t a housewife out of necessity, but by choice.

One of the reasons femivores keep chickens is to distinguish themselves from other housewives.  They legitimize their desire to be homemakers by politicizing the act. Every freshly hatched egg is a political and environmental statement.

Femivorism is grounded in the very principles of self-sufficiency, autonomy and personal fulfillment that drove women into the work force in the first place. 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. Rather than embodying the limits of one movement, femivores expand those of another: feeding their families clean, flavorful food; reducing their carbon footprints; producing sustainably instead of consuming rampantly. What could be more vital, more gratifying, more morally defensible?

For these women, it isn’t enough to make choices that suit your family and reflect your values; you have to agonize over the eco-feminist implications (and have the backyard chicken coop to prove it.) This movement, if it can even be called that, isn’t about true self-sufficiency. It’s about “progressive” women going just a little bit regressive to create the illusion of self-reliance.

Let’s play homesteading housewife! By the way, did you hear that freak Sarah Palin shoots her own dinner and buys diapers at Wal-Mart?

It’s a game of “better than you” in which dabblers and hobbyists want to be patted on the back for making faux sacrifices in the name of environmentalism, locavorism, and anti-consumerism. Self-righteous lifestyle choices earn points based on how fraught with political significance they are.

This is not at all a condemnation of the homesteading lifestyle.  In fact, it’s the bane of my husband’s existence that our HOA doesn’t permit chickens.

There’s just something about a shawl-clad Ivy Leaguer stepping out of her centrally air conditioned Berkeley home to feed her chickens that rubs me the wrong way. If she was doing it because fresh eggs taste good, fine. If she was doing it to be frugal or healthy, no problem. But seeking a return to “modern preindustrialism” as some sort of declaration of feminist bona fides? Pass the barf bag.

If it’s the height of rural chic to till garden soil stocked with pedigreed earthworms humanely raised by ostracized Nepalese lepers, wouldn’t it be equally rewarding to give up indoor plumbing? Why not unplug from the electrical grid to reduce to reduce reliance on patriarchal capitalist systems?

I guess that kind of self-reliance isn’t so romantic, huh?


Follow Jenn Q. Public on Twitter and read more of her work at

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