Feminism & the DIY Generation

This entire post is going to be filled with thoughts that barely tie together. Just FYI.

If you google “DIY generation” (like I did this morning!) about a billion and a half  articles come up that profess that Generation Y (born 1981-2000) is the take-the-bull-by-the-horns-iest generation to exist in a long while. From politics to business to music production and homemaking, Generation Y is pretty big on the idea that we’re kind of on our own. And I do really wonder what kind of impact that’s going to have on the feminist movement.

I remember when I first moved to Los Angeles in 2006, my friends and I would sit around in my living room (which was, quite frankly, filled with budget housewares with walls that I had painted myself, and decorated with photos I had taken popped into Ikea frames) and literally talk about what we called “apocalypse training.”

It was the beginning of the economic slump, and everyone in the room was wearing tattered clothes; most of us didn’t have cars and a lot of the people there traveled by bicycle or on foot. The good lot of us were striving to work in creative fields, and every single one of us had side projects– freelance writer, freelance graphic designer, musician with a recording studio in a spare closet.

Also worthwhile to note that we all were into DIY. At the time, I had planters filled with veggies on my balcony, a pantry filled with everything I needed to make my own bread/pasta/sustenance. DIY culture, before that, had meant those weird kids who fished old furniture out of dumpsters or made duct tape wallets. With an impending economic crisis, it now meant, “What will we do to survive when the world comes crashing down?”

Where would we go when the grocery stores were out of food, or when we couldn’t AFFORD to shop at grocery stores anymore? What would we do if our city slumped back into the crime waves it had seen in the early 1990s? What would we do if, well, it got *worse* than the riots of the 1990s? Our minds jumped from wondering what we would do if we couldn’t find a job with a dental plan to What will we do if Hollywood descends into some “Mad Max” kind of shit?

It didn’t seem that far-fetched. Still doesn’t. (Why do you think our generation is so obsessed with the zombie apocalypse? It kind of feels like America is filled with the walking dead, doesn’t it? For the past five or six years, the nation has been lost and aimless, struggling to make heads or tails of our new existence. At least that’s my theory.)

It was about this time that all of my energy began focusing on my home. I’d always been crafty and I’d always liked to cook, but– when 90% of your income went to rent and student loans– you begin to realize how tenuous your “outside” life can really seem. I was a person who was educated enough to know the logical steps to become self-sustaining, and privileged enough to think I could actually do it.

Contrarily, I have still been exposed to waves of feminism who fought to get outside the home. To be educated (which I have been lucky enough to be), to have a career (which I have had so far for 5-ish years), to have a companion who doesn’t expect me to be his slave (done and done). There is a definite rub for those of us in the “DIY Generation” who have seen home as a haven from the crumbling world but also feel guilty for not living in our offices 80+ hours a week.

I do wonder how second-wavers feel about us, the young women who “urban homestead.” Who always thought that our main enemy was the sexist jerk in the boxy business suit who was going to sexually harass us– not the entire financial reality of the world (which is RUN by those guys in the badly-cut suits). We were prepared to go up against tangible foes, to work in the system and to change  it.

I think a lot of our “DIY culture” might be trying to either opt out of that system all together, or to create an alternative system– which, I think, is a pretty feminist system. Thoughts on this:

I know SO many men who consider themselves feminists. And use the word. That is, of course, because my immediate friend pool is, like me, assigning to a certain level of privilege that others don’t get. I get that. But again, I can see other groups changing their views of women, especially now that women are essential to the economic health of families. (It boils down to: if you are going to starve if your female companion doesn’t share her money with you, you had better respect her.)

The least feminist men of my generation are, stereotypically, the uneducated and/or lazy white Alpha males who feel threatened by an empowered woman. Think: dudes who sit on reddit all day. I think that’s the modern-day equivalent of dudes who sit in dive bars all day, really.

The DIY culture is run (or at least, co-run) by women. It’s a creative, problem-solving culture. Does that harken back to the Dark Ages (pre-1960) when housewives were given weekly budgets in with to make their households function? I think so, a little bit. We have always been the problem-solving gender. The “do more with less” gender. And I think that *isn’t* at odds with spurning a new wave of feminism.

Now, if I could just get more girls to *call* themselves feminist, I’d be happy. That’s a challenge for another post.



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  1. great post…

    I guess the position of strong women, and their their strengths grow to overcome and broaded, will continue to evolve as circumstance determines. BUT, where women did grow to be predominant and powerful in the work place, it’s ok for them to redefine their position in the home too. In the 50’s they were nothing (typically) more than a servant with unrealistic expectations… today, it’s so different- even if they spend their days kneading bread…

  2. I have lots of jumbled, inarticulate (unarticulate?) thoughts about this. I think about it all the time. I think our economy would be better and the environment would be better if we all slowed down. Just. slowed. down. Work less. Walk to the store. Make things from scratch. If there is a family unit and one person stayed home, we’d use less stuff. Burn less fuel. Spend less money. Its more sustainable. But it requires a culture shift that isn’t there yet. Feminism is part of it too, like you say. I don’t want people to revert back to assuming its a ‘women’s role’ to stay home. Personally, all I really want to be is a homemaker. I think it really does take a lot of hard work. While in our family it would happen to be the women who would stay home, I think the key to upholding feminism is that its a choice for each family. My bro-in-law is a fabulous cook and loves house projects, gardening and playing with his son. His wife is a high-powered business woman. I think the only reason he works is because of societal pressure (also, they like fancy stuff). But otherwise, he’d be the homemaker. Is this making any sense? Wow – I just rambled a lot. I could have just said “I agree.” :)

  3. oh, i definitely agree that our country’s perspective is COMPLETELY out of whack. i try to remind myself often that i don’t live for work, i work to live. your statement that “the key to upholding feminism is that its a choice for each family” is SO true. i’m so tired of feeling like i “should” be doing something other than what i do. too many damn expectations!

  4. i really, really do appreciate the flexibility that my generation’s men (and others, too, but i’m focusing only on Gen Y because that’s what I know) seem to have. we are just starting to move in a good direction, i think!

  5. Thanks for writing this. I’ve been thinking a lot about these two ideas a lot lately. It’s easy to the returning focus on DIY as a slipping of feminism, but really, I see the current surge of DIY as being about control. It’s a way to keep budgets manageable AND create a product you’re pleased with and proud of. I think it’s different from the 1950s housewife, because they didn’t have a choice. . . it was out of their control. But the current DIYers have a choice (to live beyond their means and be miserable in corporate America) and have opted instead to focus on the home because that’s where we’re *happy*. So maybe it really is a success of feminism that we’ve made the home an empowering place?

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