Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Life in a Feminist Ecovillage

Kurt in his "Feminist Chicks Dig Me" hat. Note: the button was given to him by women interns here at Dancing Rabbit, and he only put it on after checking with all the DR women...

I was very inspired by two blog posts this week – one at Arduous Blog and the other at Growing Green Mama. They both enabled me to reflect upon the meandering path that has brought me here to Dancing Rabbit, a self-proclaimed Feminist Ecovillage.

Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge that I come from a place of privilege. I grew up in a middle class family in California, with two parents, in a comfortable suburban house. My father always had a job, I attended college, have had my choice of jobs and careers. I am healthy, I can read, I am white. I have also chosen to live in a way that requires a lot less monetary input. The abundance of choices that I have reflect this.

My parents were early feminists, although they would never have called themselves that. I could only get my driver’s license after I could drive a stick shift and change a tire. I was expected to go to college. There were no questions about women being smart and capable. My father worked construction for a heavy equipment union and his proudest achievements were getting women (usually single moms with kids to support) into the training program (we’re talking running cranes, dredges and backhoes here) and into secure jobs that paid well and had great benefits. My mom was an RN who brooked no pussy-footing or “dumb blonde” acts, and took us along when campaigning for Shirley Chisholm’s presidential candidacy.

Contrast this with my college: I attended Brigham Young University. Not exactly a hotbed of feminism. (Yes, dear readers, this is one of my deepest darkest secrets. I don’t list my college on anything I don’t have to – my Linkedin profile looks like I stopped my education after the 12th grade. So don’t tell anyone, ok? My dad was Mormon from Utah, my mom was Episcopalian from Boston - she said she was bringing “culture to the colonies.” They decided to raise us Mormon. When I reached the age where I wanted to know if I really believed in this religion, or not, I chose BYU. Within four weeks I knew it was “or not.”). After fleeing Provo, Utah, one Book of Mormon class short of a degree in International Relations, I refused to do most anything “domestic.” I was sick at heart that the church seemed to value women primarily for their baby-producing and housekeeping skills and ran as far and fast as I could from that stereotype. The silver lining is that this provided the opportunity for me to decide what was right and wrong for me, what I truly valued, and what it was I believed in.

I became very independent, learned how to do lots of things myself, and had a great time. While I made a lot of cookies (yum!) my fridge continually looked like a science project gone bad: I’d buy food, put it in the fridge and then throw it out when it rotted. My only excuse was that it was the 80’s, and while I spent my summers hiking in the Sierra, my eco-consciousness had yet to really develop. I was neither a cook, nor a house-keeper, or domestic in any way. I did not really expect to get married.

Fast forward: I started leading backpacking trips for the Sierra Club. In 1993 Kurt came on one of my trips. He came on my trip the next summer, too, and the rest, as they say, is history. He moved to Berkeley, we got married (when I was 40), and began our path together.

I sold my Honda Accord and we did everything by bike, including laundry and grocery shopping (BOB trailers are the best!). We led Sierra Club trips together, Kurt was active in the Berkeley bike activist group (BFBC), I worked at Clif Bar. When we decided to move to dancing Rabbit, we were going to build our off-grid strawbale house together. I got my own tool belt and we both took the building seminars at Real Goods. The week we arrived at DR I participated in a women’s building workshop where two women contractors led 16 of us through the construction of the strawbale building, which was later named Bella Ciao. I learned to swing a hammer like I meant it, to use power tools fearlessly (but respectfully), to measure twice and cut once.
And I hated it. Absolutely hated it. It was hot, it was excruciatingly boring, all measurements had to be accurate. Arrrggghhh!

What was a feminist to do? I was flummoxed and horrified. How was I to contribute to the building of our home and our new life?

At this same time, Kurt and I were both in the Dancing Rabbit food co-op, where everyone had a cook shift once a week (pretty wonderful to show up every other evening at 6:30 and have a hot meal waiting for you!). It was a matter of pride to present a fabulous repast, and was even a teensy bit competitive. I learned to cook with whole foods, and to relax and take my time. I found cookbooks that I loved, and even learned to bake bread. I found I enjoyed it a lot, and that it felt very creative. While in the back of my head that Mormon stereotype of the bread-baking, casserole toting, child-bearing good wife lingered, but I cringed and pushed it out of my head. Surely there was a way to be joyful in cooking without becoming a household drudge?

Additionally, I had grown up without a clothes dryer – all year ‘round my mom would hang the laundry out in the backyard. I loved the smell and feel of crispy sheets fresh from the line, and brought this odd enthusiasm to DR.

Kurt and I sat down and talked (and talked and talked). We were, and continue to be, a partnership. We finally decided that I would cook and do laundry, and he would build the house. At first (for the first, oh, four years or so) I was embarrassed. How could I possibly explain that I had moved to a feminist Ecovillage to become a 50’s housewife?

Gradually I became comfortable with my choices, and realized that reconciling all of this was an incredible gift that women in previous generations did not have. I really love cooking and baking. I am the unofficial birthday cake baker here in the village and have a great time with it. The kids come over and bake cookies with me; they learn math and cooking and hygiene (“wash your hands!”) and we sing silly camp songs. I make my own jam from blackberries and violets harvested from Dancing Rabbit’s land, and tomato sauce from my own tomatoes. I love to hang out the wash. Weird but true. And I am still a feminist, and an environmentalist.

To me, feminism is about doing what is true to one’s heart. There are many women builders here at DR, and I celebrate them. There are feminist moms here, too - thoughtful, conscientious women doing an incredibly important job. We really try to look at the roles we get pigeonholed into, and try not to make assumptions. Feminist men do laundry and take care of their babies, and so do feminist women. Let's stop judging one another, and ourselves, for fitting or not fitting into roles provided by others. Working together, we can find a way to provide for our needs and build a world we love, where we all are fulfilled. At least that is my dream.

PS Just wanted to show you what I found in my oven a few minutes ago. It is a baked potato from, oh, four or five days ago. It somehow got pushed to the back of the oven, and has endured the baking of two batches of cookies, a (home made) chicken pot pie, and a batch of muffins. So much for the "I am a great cook and a feminist, too!" rhetoric. Perhaps I should stick with "I am a forgetful but enthusiastic cook, and a feminist, too." Sigh.


  1. Absolutely LOVE this picture of your Kurt.

    This inpired post is inspiratioal - what a fascinating upbringing and history you have...what a remarkable woman you are ...and what continued clarity you bring to your journey

    ask me about the time i left the car running while i gave a 3 hr workshop or how many batches of brown rice i have killed or the apple pie i broiled instead of baked ...

    kindred estrogen darlin


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