Practical Definitions: Conservatives and Multi-Level Marketing aka MLM

MLM is short for “Multi-Level Marketing“.  This is a form of sales in which the majority of the income is earned by signing other people up and receiving a portion of their sales (and the sales of those they sign up).  This is a variation of a pyramid scheme.  Conservatives tend to fall prey to MLM scams because the veneer of capitalism appeals to conservatives tricked into monetizing their relationships.  With liberals, the scam tendency is towards self-help, self-improvement and spiritual awakening cons, in which the veneer is monetizing friendships and relationships for “spiritual growth”.  Liberal scams cater to self-focus and individual autonomy.  Conservative scams cater, with their more pseudo-democratic pyramid structures, to the idea of community while horrifyingly undermining it in (ineffective) pursuit of money.

While both conservative men and women tend to fall prey to such schemes, the reason for this post is what I have observed among conservative housewives on and off the internet.  There are an astonishing number of schemes designed for them far beyond the kind of stereotypical makeup and cookware MLM businesses.

Three in particular that one runs into are book sales, essential oils (this one is health-risking as well, since they are not designed for internal use and yet that is part of the con), and even a bolting-on of MLM to real estate brokering.

There is nothing about books, essential oils or real estate sales or anything else that requires an MLM component and yet over and over I find “conservative”, “homeschool”, “Biblical”, etc. “work at home opportunities” seem to have MLM tacked on no matter what the supposed product or service for sale is.

If you’re discouraged from just selling the product or service without signing other people up, it’s probably MLM and you should walk away before you sink too much cash into startup costs (which MLM usually has more of than other at-home business opportunities).

The following conservative Christian SAHM, who is an excellent blogger in many respects, has written some insightful posts detailing the problems with MLM.

http://thecommonroomblog.com/2014/08/of-mlms-truth-and-beauty.html

http://thecommonroomblog.com/2013/09/essential-oils-and-mlms.html

http://thecommonroomblog.com/2013/07/mlm-some-of-my-concerns.html

Each of her posts is longer than this one and worth the read, she delves into the problems of monetizing your relationships with friends and family.  She also unpacks the flaws of MLMs as a business model, and most importantly covers the spiritual pitfalls of these terrible schemes.

This post is just an introduction and overview, a lot of conservative people truly don’t understand that business structures don’t have to look like Amway or any of the other MLMs I’ve linked to because all the stuff they see and pass around does look that way.  But no, these are a bad deal and should be avoided.

Dear Conservatives, setting things up so all housewives are drudges is anti-natalist and untraditional

Bullying women into staying home obviously doesn’t work, and yet it appears to make up the whole of the conservative argument for women staying home.  This is one of the core problems with American conservative Christian culture.  It leads to conservative Christian SAHMs putting kids into preschool as soon as the children age into it for breaks because “well, it’s not daycare now, it’s school!” It also leads to those women having fewer and fewer children.  Three is the new five and two is the new three.

Take cooking, as one example. Making stock takes time.  Sure, you don’t have to stand right over the pot, but you have to be in the general vicinity of the kitchen for 3-5 hours for relatively modest amounts of stock.  Now, this is the sort of homemade staple that we SAHMs are supposed to just have handy at all times, but it takes time to make it, and it takes even more time to make huge batches that you then freeze.  That’s a day or two or three you aren’t doing much else.  And I’ve already covered laundry.

As for childcare, we can’t all have lump babies that stay put wherever you plop them and we can’t all have children who hear an instruction to play quietly when they are older and do so for hours on end (this is actually fairly rare).  And the current status quo of spinning the childcare out to public school or preschool is not tenable, because it limits fertility and the false idol of homeschool robs a lot of communities of the stability they desperately need to have a functional school system.

There is no argument against homeschooling on a family level. Parents have the right and duty to educate our children as we see fit, and a state that interferes with this is acting unjustly. On a larger level, however, homeschooling as a movement is extremely uncharitable and antisocial.

Not everyone can homeschool.

As a society, we need schools and other collective institutions to spread the burden of childcare and primary education and to properly civilize and educate young people. But if you saddle enough individual families with the total burden of the care and education of their own children, you ensure that those families will have no surplus to support any such institutions. And this is in fact exactly what has happened. Everyone blames this on the homeschooling families themselves, because when you’re talking about homeschooling families you’re really talking about homeschooling mothers and no one ever passes up an opportunity to blame mom for everything, but individual families are just doing our best in impossible situations.

But people who can’t homeschool are left entirely at the mercy of the world all the homeschooling families have retreated from. There’s no civil society to join run by homeschooling mothers because we’re all too tired. Homeschooling mothers generally don’t even help each other out.

There are studies suggesting that being there when the kids are little is worth a lot less if the SAHM isn’t relatively rested most of the time.  And there is an argument (though not one I would advocate or consider pro-woman) for working while they are little and then, when they need the intensive parenting in teenagerhood, being available then as a SAHM.

This is why it’s insane to set things up so all women are drudges, it’s not Christian or functionally patriarchal. A lot of personality disordered people are able to hide out in “traditional womanhood” because there is an irreducible amount of domestic work and right now, that burden is going to fall on women. People can fantasize about it being different but right now, that’s how it is. Moreover, very few people can make more money than their labor is worth at home and very few couples can split the work effectively, for exactly the same reasons jobsharing doesn’t work, which is that you need a manager.

Much of femininity and marriage is socially constructed but you can socially construct it well or you can socially construct it stupidly and marriage and patriarchy are BETTER so who cares if they’re natural plus, Christian patriarchy is the only society that supports female liberation so stop sawing the branch you’re sitting on.

Lastly, women used to produce concrete results in their domestic work.  The industrial age was a rapid process of removing those concrete accomplishments from the domestic sphere and replacing them with vague repetitive tasks like driving the kids to activities (which goes all the way back in America to the 1920s!) and endless cleaning up kid messes and of course our dear friend laundry.  Those things are not terrible or wrong for mothers to do, but the conservative approach to the whole thing is to lie to women that they never had any other aspects to their domestic work and that they should delight in the abstract repetitive slog with no clear results at the end of each day.  Women then run to “crafts” in a flight to concrete accomplishment, and then are mocked for the crafts not being sufficiently useful or practical.  It’s a vicious trap.

Anyway this is all just random notes accumulated over time so if it doesn’t read like an essay, well, it’s not. I don’t know how to help women get the concrete aspects back for domestic labor when it’s simply not essential to survival anymore.  Our household has lived a pretty agrarian lifestyle and we ended up back in upscale suburbia.  And that’s pretty much the core of the problem.  The concrete accomplishments of my agrarian living helped alleviate the stresses of the worst of modern housewiving, but it couldn’t actually work long-term, which is why “be agrarian LARPers” is not a general solution to a general problem.  Even if people keep proposing it as one every 15 years or so like clockwork for the last century and a half.

Real Talk for SAHMs: SAHMs who aren’t morning people aren’t lazy, chronotypes are real

The tyranny of the morning people has got to end.  Traditionally, mostly servants got up early.  Now it’s college educated working class people (i.e. most of the relatively new married class).

SAHMs frequently act like just getting up earlier is the solution to any difficulties with prayer time, exercising, or arranging the day.  It is a recurrent theme.  I think the earliest I’ve seen or been told offline is to get up at 3am, though 4-6am is the typical range, usually 4-5am.  Which is feasible for a morning person, even through lots of kid wakeups.  Not so much for people with a different chronotype who don’t physically get tired before 10pm.

Wiki says that morning types don’t necessarily predominate, but in American culture they have taken the moral superiority reins and galloped right off with them.  There has been and continues to be a general tenor in American culture that early rising is morally better.  Someone could probably write a monograph connecting it up to the inherent consumption mentality that has ever dominated American society even before the Industrial Revolution.  They could also throw in some anti-Scandinavian polemic.  Thorstein Veblen is the spiritual grampa of overwork as a form of consumption behavior instead of bling.  He wasn’t the only one (there were some Scandinavian ladies behind it too), but his name is probably the most recognizable.  Overwork as consumption good is part of the tyranny of the morning people.

Repeatedly, morning people tend to act like it’s either getting up at 5am or sleeping until noon, and that obviously nobody should pick the latter choice.  The idea that chronotypes occur along a continuum and that even late-night types might well be able to “do mornings”, just at 9am instead of 6am, is utterly alien and threatening to a surprising number of morning people.  They place a stupendous amount of personal value on being up really really early and if other people are up later in the day and still have clean houses and functional kids and regular prayer lives, then maybe being up at 4am isn’t the one true path to holiness and merit.  It’s especially bad in the SAHM world, because the domestic sphere is so totally unvalued that it sometimes just might take a 14 hour day to actually get anything done effectively since the support is mostly in name only.

But chronotypes are real.  And valuing the domestic sphere for its own sake rather than declaring women who aren’t morning people lazy/selfish/spoiled/ungrateful would allow more private households to be functional no matter what time of day the lady of the house arose.  The Proverbs 31 wife is an ideal, not a literal woman.  Also, a lot of cultures have midday nap traditions for a reason, even if they are agrarian and the master and mistress have to pop up at 4am.

Labor shifting, not Labor saving, laundry edition

It is generally considered acceptable by conservatives and liberals alike to declare that SAHMs have it easy thanks to washing machines and tumble dryers compared to the grand old days of yore when they did “real work”.  This involves ignoring the explosion in ready to wear clothing that permits even lower-income households to own hundreds of pieces of clothing.  It also involves ignoring the reality that the older methods of laundering clothes were not always backbreakingly hard.  And lastly, it involves ignoring the fact that even for women in the lower tiers of the middle class, laundering their own clothing was often optional because of washerwomen who specialized in doing laundry for many families.

A side-pressing washing machine is more primitive technology than a top loading washing machine, but the former is easier on back and arms, given similar amounts of clothing washed.  Hand wringers could be more physical labor, but again, fewer clothes were owned in the first place, so there wasn’t as much total work involved on a family-level basis.

Having a washing machine perform the labor of agitating the dirt off the clothes (this is the part that cleans clothes, more so than the soap, although soap sure helps out) does save labor, but there isn’t a labor savings when you have to take heavy wet clothes out and transfer them to the dryer vs. hanging them up on a line.  In fact, the modern norm for SAHMs of washing, drying and folding multiple loads of laundry daily is not labor saving at all, no matter what people persist in claiming.  It is astonishing that it’s presented as a leisure activity and sign of how little SAHMs have to do all day compared to “the olden days”.

The feminist criticism that “mission creep” erases any potentially saved labor for housewives from a given technological advancement has some truth to it, as one can observe that creep with core household tasks like laundry.  The same conservatives who want all the women to come home pretty much never promote specialization in domestic tasks that again, even lower-income housewives used to take for granted.  And it’s a wealth problem.  Everyone has these machines that are supposedly so advanced and “labor saving”, so the idea can’t even form in the mind as an option.  People instead obsess about getting cheap machines rather than finding someone to do their laundry for them.  And there are always cheap machines around, so nobody can consider specializing as a source of income.

Part of the secret history of the domestic sphere is that “labor saving” devices are positioned as granting leisure to housewives, but do not, or do not save labor for very long.  It is perhaps the case that for a 1950s housewife a top loading washing machine saved some labor, as she didn’t have the full cheap clothing revolution that the 1970s housewife benefitted from.  But that didn’t last even a full generation before the metrics of acceptability changed, resulting in shifting rather than saving labor.

This isn’t to say that the modern SAHM has exactly the same level of physical labor on her hands as her domestic ancestresses.  It is to say that the idea that she has basically no labor is false.  Despite all the wealth and technological advancement, she still faces a great deal of physical labor to be considered an adequate or suitable SAHM.

Double Consciousness for SAHMs

Double consciousness, it’s not just a black thing!  It is a classic housewife problem, coming from servant classes but marrying well enough to afford servants yourself and not knowing what to do with them.  Chalk it up to another way to feel bad and a failure as a woman.

I think it doesn’t get enough real discussion among conservatives, because they are very wedded to the classless America myth.  But one of the conflicts with the idea of a “traditional America” is that America was peopled by folks who rejected proper authority and their proper place in existing hierarchies.  It was peopled by servant classes and third sons of gentry, people who would have been very low on their relative totem poles in the home countries.  Combined with the low population density and the love of technology, there’s always been a big conflict in “traditional America” over whether to have servants at all.  This was an added layer to slavery debates, incidentally.

Among the white ethnic groups who came over with strong traditions of sharing the labor out instead of having servants, Americans forgot or ignored that those ethnic groups relied on massive shaming and social pressure to spread the work around.

And so by the time we get to the modern era, the white-ethnic traditions that provided voluntary, unpaid support for housewives are nearly extinct and other forms of support are unavailable due to a mix of factors, including tolerance of disordered and sociopathic personalities in housewife-heavy subcultures.

This is incidentally why so many white American people are quick to claim they and their ancestors didn’t own slaves or benefit from slavery.  It’s a way to forget that lots and lots and lots of white people really really really wanted to have the wealth and subject labor that slaves represented.  There wouldn’t have been an entire industry peopled by those servantless whites around kidnapping free black people and claiming they were slaves with “missing papers” if slave labor was such a horrible financial drain to have and keep going *for the people who had slaves*. Having serfs is particularly nice if you don’t have to worry about your children dropping that far down the ladder because the serfs are an entirely different race.

Likewise, a small but influential number of women dismiss the idea of servants or household help as important, needful or useful because they are disordered and the wacky individualist strain in American culture provides cover for their madness, at the expense of having to deal with the fact that you just might not be “middle class” in origins or background and narrowly missed being the maid or nanny or housekeeper yourself.  It also is why there is such a belief, most particularly among conservatives, that the private household administered by a housewife is utterly essential but that household help is utterly improper as a social expectation for housewives.  Without that deranged, Randian individualism, conservatives could not gaslight women into believing that they must carry the full burden of maintaining a household with nothing more than a prayer book, a vacuum cleaner and a dishwasher.

There’s also the dismissal of the idea that life in domestic service could be a career with advancement and wealth-building opportunities.  This was even the case to a surprising extent (as in, it happened at all) in American chattel slavery.  If simply being a servant is the worst possible thing that could happen to someone, then having servants cannot be a moral or worthwhile thing.  This is an ongoing theme in American culture, that class and status conflict playing out decade after decade. But yeah.  Black Americans aren’t the only ones who’ve had to struggle with double consciousness as an artifact of their place in society.

Real Talk for SAHMs: Are conservative SAHMs trapped in a sick system?

From an interesting (but childless) permanent student who goes by Issendai here.  Let’s count the ways.

The Rules of a Sick System

Rule 1: Keep them too busy to think. 

We know all about Superwife syndrome and the endless performance pressure on conservative SAHMs to be busybusybusy.  Leisure time is not even in the vocabulary.

Rule 2: Keep them tired. Exhaustion is the perfect defense against any good thinking that might slip through. 

This is a huge one.  I got 10 hours of sleep…in the last four days.  This isn’t even unusual for conservative SAHMs, even for ones with kids who are primary school-aged or older (mine are not)!  All Rule 2 takes is for the other adults to do nothing.  And they don’t. There’s no systemic efforts, women are entirely reliant on hoping their own individual husband and individual church and individual extended family will do something.  And sometimes they do, but it’s reduced to “just luck” or “a different lifestyle choice”.

Rule 3: Keep them emotionally involved. 

This one sounds like it shouldn’t be on the list (after all, why wouldn’t you love your husband and your children and “be emotionally involved” with them?).  But what is being gotten at here is the illusion of status being used to maintain the emotional attachment.  There’s also, for conservative SAHMs, the extreme loyalty in the form of (weirdly cribbed from attachment parenting) being
“indispensable”.   Even postpartum after a fistula following delivery.  Even with pneumonia.  Even with the chronic fatigue and lowered performance and general taking the exhaustion out on the children.  The conservative SAHM is routinely told that she doesn’t need any other women around.  It helps if she’s the one telling it to herself over and over again, that a sitter to watch the kids once or twice a week so she could have some quiet uninterrupted time would be “letting another woman rear her children, that wouldn’t be Godly”, that her husband wanting to play video games until 1am and insisting she join in “is just part of being a good submissive wife, if I say no (and maybe get more than four hours’ sleep a day), I’m being DISLOYAL.”  And this works because conservative SAHMs believe they receive real, significant social status for being wives and mothers who stay home within the conservative world, even though this is not really the case in practice.

Rule 4: Reward intermittently. Intermittent gratification is the most addictive kind there is. 

Printables.  Pinterest.  Happy talk about how you’re making memories, not just messes.  There’s dozens of little thoughtstoppers and rituals that conservative SAHMs go through that provide a little burst of accomplishment-feeling.  There’s also the way in which the happy talk serves to make you feel grateful for five minutes alone, ever.  Intermittent rewards work a treat because the bar is so, so low for what is rewarding due to the overall poor conditions conservative SAHMs live under.

How Sick Systems Enforce The Four Rules

Now, Issendai describes how these rules are enforced in a sick system.  I edited out the work-related examples, because we’re talking about SAHMs and whether the system they are in is a sick one.

Keep the crises rolling. Regular crises perform two functions: They keep people too busy to think, and they provide intermittent reinforcement. After all, sometimes you win—and when you’ve mostly lost, a taste of success is addictive. 

This one right here is why I advocate so much for housewives having household help.  Otherwise it is very easy to slip into a permanent crisis mode.  It’s not that household help is magical, it’s that it’s another layer of potential protection, accountability for husband and wife, whether it’s relatives/neighbors/friends and/or paid.

Things will be better when... Intermittent reinforcement + hope = “Someday it will always be like this.” Perpetual crises mean the person is too tired to notice that it has never been like this for long.

“When we have another baby.” “When we stop having children.” “When I get that promotion, maybe you can have someone come once a month to help with the cleaning.”  “When the kids are older and can help out.” “When we find another church/parish.”

Keep real rewards distant. The rewards in “Things will be better when…” are usually nonrewards—things will go back to being what they should be when the magical thing happens. Real rewards are far in the distance. They look like they’re on the schedule, but there’s nothing in the To Do column. For example, everything will be better when we move to our own house in the country… but there’s nothing in savings for the house, no plan to save, no house picked out, not even a region of the country settled upon.

Since we’re talking about a disordered nuclear family for the most part, this is less true for conservative SAHMs than, say, a feminist nonprofit employee dating a punk musician.  Kids do grow up, after all.  But in practice there was never time to show them how to help, so it’s just easier to keep on doing as much alone as you can.  In practice he says he agrees with church teaching and you can get the old tubes untied and have a couple more kids, but there’s never any money for it and there’s always “serving him” that comes first, before teaching the one or two kids you do have anything that might ease your burden.  And you can’t enforce bedtimes, Daddy says he should have time with *his* kids when he can, even if it means loud action movies with your 10 and 12 yo sons until 1am and not-much homeschooling (and crisis! because they are cranky and struggle to get their lessons right.)  And the original example of the house in the country is absolutely spot-on, especially when you consider the conservative love of “homesteading” and “prepping”.

Establish one small semi-occasional success. This should be a daily task with a stake attached and a variable chance of success. For example, you need to take your meds at just the right time. Too early and you’re logy the next morning and late to work, too late and you’re insomniac and keep your partner up until you go to sleep, too anything and you develop nausea that interrupts your meal schedule and sets your precariously balanced blood sugar to swinging, sparking tantrums and weeping fits. It’s your partner’s job to get you to take your meds at just the right time. Each time she finds an ideal time, it becomes a point of contention—you’re always busy at that time, or you’re not at home, or you eat too early or too late so the ideal time shifts or vanishes entirely. But every so often you take your meds at just the right time and everything works perfectly, and then your partner gets a jolt of success and the hope that you’ve reached a turning point.

This one for conservative SAHMs is often family dinner or having something ready for Husband when he gets home from work rather than medication.  Homeschooling is also used this way.  Also religious practice, sadly.  “We could get to church/Mass more often if you’d just….”  “We could have family prayer every night/morning if you just….”

Chop up their time. Or if you’re partners, be glued to them at the hip, demand their attention at short intervals throughout the day (and make it clear that they aren’t allowed to do the same with you), establish certain essential tasks that you won’t do and then demand that they do them for you, establish certain essential tasks that they aren’t allowed to do for themselves and demand that they rely on you to do it for them (and then do it slowly or badly or on your own schedule). Make sure they have barely enough time to manage both the crisis of the moment and the task of the moment; and if you can’t tire them out physically, drain them emotionally.

I kept in the partner example here because this is in fact what happens to all too many conservative SAHMs.  It’s not just the children at young ages interrupting (and if you are pregnant every year or two, this doesn’t end for a decade or even two), it’s the husband pulling these very stunts when he doesn’t have the excuse of being 18 months old.  Conservative men will sometimes step this up in response to the kids getting older.  They’ll demand more and more time spent on their “needs”.

Enmesh your success with theirs.  The classic maneuver is to blame all your bad moods on your partner: If they weren’t so _______ or if they did ______ right, you wouldn’t be so stressed/angry/foul-tempered.

“If you were more submissive/skinny/kinky/organized/cooked better/dressed nicer, etc. I could get a better job/get more hours at work/pay the bills on time/help with the kids…”

Keep everything on the edge. Make sure there’s never quite enough money, or time, or goods, or status, or anything else people might want. Insufficiency makes sick systems self-perpetuating, because if there’s never enough ______ to fix the system, and never enough time to think of a better solution, everyone has to work on all six cylinders just to keep the system from collapsing.

Yep.  And there’s always, for a conservative SAHM, a fallback that their family is special and unique and there’s nobody out there quite as Godly or Catholic or Orthodox or pick your Christianish adjective. It’s just their individual family being “countercultural against the secular folks”.  Which means any failing in the wife is purely her own fault and something she has to work on.  There’s never any system-wide problem or structural issues with the subculture she’s in.  Why, didn’t she just say her family was countercultural?  What subculture?  What community of affinity?

It doesn’t have to be like this.  There is no reason infants and toddlers, even closely spaced, need to be a source of domestic chaos, sleep deprivation and poor health.  Unless the system of bearing and raising children is so broken that millions of women have to run around alone and tired, and amnesiac about the trauma when they come up for air once the kids are school aged.  Unless the system is, in fact, sick.

If your wife can’t stay home without generating income, she needs real work, not a blog or pyramid scheme

The title says it all.  Blame pregnancy brain for this placeholder of a post.  I shall return this one day when I’m a little less gum-brained, but I wanted to post a little at least about what I mean in the title.

To be blunt, if your wife has to make money while she’s at home or else you all have big financial problems and she can’t get a job outside the home for whatever reasons, then she needs to do something real for money.

Too many housewives who have to be economically viable beyond canning and couponing get caught up in the pursuit of professionalism in their work-at-home endeavors.  So they turn to monetized blogs and pyramid schemes because you “join networks” and “build inventory” and sometimes get to wear a business suit or go to a conference.  Such things are just traps, sucking money out of families that really need every dollar and further devaluing the actual work at home they could be doing for money.

Seamstress, egg lady, taking in other children, cooking for working parents, taking in hand washing: these are just a few of the real, normal, historical things housewives have done for money that can still be done even in isolated exurbs.  Mostly they don’t have corrosive and ongoing costs that are difficult to break out of and they scale up or down to individual families and the strengths of individual women.

There are other options beyond these, but the common theme is slightly more than what is done for one’s family, just enough excess to sell for a moderate profit.  Maybe not a “real job” where you sit at a desk and have meetings about synergy all day, but real work that is useful to one’s local community and one’s real bottom line.

Cooking as a middle class SAHM task is recent

What follows below is excerpted from a now-private post discussing food in the context of (mostly) UK society between the wars and shortly after World War 2.  It doesn’t really get into the significance of rationing and it misses some key details of social structure and its changes, but there are some broad points that are correct.  I’ve bolded a specific passage about middle class cooking.

“A couple of years ago, I did a marathon read of fiction from the 1920s to the 1950s…. What drew me in were the experiences of women characters who, like the women they were modelled on, were determining their own lives – pretty much for the first time in history. They bicycled through war time London doing useful things, or sat writing fiction, or lived in squalid bed sits in houses crammed with other young women.

And, of course, they ate. There’s a lot of food in middle class entertainments, and that’s a fact.

What struck me about the pre- and post-war literature I read, was how limited the food was. Heroines drink a lot of tea, toast a lot of bread, and occasionally augment the toast with sardines. Crumpets turn up occasionally, as does afternoon tea (involving cakes) at hotels. The diet was a paelo-low-carber’s nightmare. Sunday usually involve roast meat with roasted vegetables and gravy and breakfast could involve rashers of bacon. Boiled eggs appear and butter was crucial.

Even with all the afternoon cakes and sugared teas, the average calorie per day intake of a modern girl enjoying her bed squat was less than 1200 (by my dodgy, back-of-the-envelope calculations). And on top of that she was walking (striding, usually) everywhere, when she wasn’t biking.

But two other things struck me – how incredibly narrow the diet was. The same few dishes are mentioned repeatedly. Dietary variation doesn’t seem to obsess anyone and cooking is such a low priority, that people are pleased if they have a gas ring to boil eggs on.

I also learned that if you’re starving, what your body prioritises first is fat. There’s a fantastic book called A Woman in Berlin, about a woman who is stuck in Berlin when the Russians invade. The citizens of Berlin are starving, and all she can think about is fat. It’s an obsession. Butter or grease isn’t an addition to other things, it’s the Ground Zero of food, the thing your body wants the most.

The other thing, which I learned from reading E.M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady (a very funny read), is that cooking wasn’t a middle class virtue, much less an upper class one. ‘Cooking’ meant leaving a note for Cook about what you wanted to eat the next day. When WWII broke out, households all over England went into spasms because the cooks and maids went off to join the land army or whatever, leaving their mistresses with homes to run and absolutely no idea how to do it. It’s only after the war that it becomes accepted that cooking and cleaning is part of a middle class woman’s set of duties.

We also romanticise a past where women stayed in the kitchen, turning out fabulous, organic, home prepared meals for their families, when that time never existed.

I guess my point is that when it comes to food and food mores – it’s all being made up as we go along, and then varnished over with this patina of fake history.”

This is fairly true, even in an American context.  Although in America, due to the influence of the pioneer mythos, women were simultaneously expected to do a huge amount of household work mostly alone and this resulted in a view of food-as-fuel, best encapsulated by the Midwestern “hotdish”, which is just a bunch of whatever is handy heated up and served with little attention to flavor or taste.

Americans ate a lot of quick foods from 1920-1950, and the mom-at-home-making-dinner was already more of a marketing thing than a lived reality for substantial percentages of the population even if the wife was staying home.  Conservatives who spin stories about the halcyon home cooking of yore seem to forget about the Automat, which was around in the incredibly recent year of…1902.  Mom’s home cooking has, at least in America, always been more of an idea (or advertising slogan) than a necessary component of daily life.  Traditional society is replete with the home cooking being grandma’s, or auntie’s, or the hired girl’s, or the eldest daughter(s).

More simply, middle class status for women has not always revolved around their skillet-slinging capabilities.  In fact, one can see that it is very much not middle class at all in the fiction of Damon Runyon, who was hardly writing about the domestic sphere himself.  And he was also writing in the first half of the 20th century.

Having the opportunity to specialize has been closer to the middle class SAHM reality than what passes for it now in America.  Now SAHMs are excoriated for daring to specialize, if they find the energy to think about it at all.

Of course, I suppose the punchline is that our household eats about 80% of our meals at home, prepared from local, organic, minimally processed or unprocessed ingredients.  But we sure don’t cook every day, and I sure don’t cook all the meals.  And that’s totally traditional.