The Allure of Do-It-Yourself

A Response to Jennifer Bernstein's Essay in Breakthrough Journal

Before Michael Pollan, there was Deadwood, Oregon. Located in a dense green valley in Oregon’s Coast Range, the small pioneer community became a magnet for the back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s. After a decade of chaotic uproar, young hippies were looking for a novel way to protest consumerism and conformity. Many self-styled rebels moved to the country to create alternative communities based on a commitment to “Mother Nature,” organic gardening, and a do-it-yourself ethos. Deadwood’s remote location and seemingly fertile soil made it appealing. My parents set up camp in 1976, and I grew up with a shovel in hand. We grew a rambling garden; we canned fruit, vegetables, and fish; we sat down together every evening to eat an elaborate home-cooked meal.

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The Modern Joy of Cooking

A Response to Jennifer Bernstein's Essay in Breakthrough Journal

Technology, increased leisure time, shifting social structures, and widening of economic opportunity are together changing the way we think about work. Part of this progress of modernity is that the drudgery of household chores can transform into uplifting activities. Take cooking: once the burden of housewives systemically kept out of the workforce, cooking today has become a more egalitarian, enjoyable, and creative endeavor.

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What Intersectionality Tells Us about That Gender Problem

A Response to Jennifer Bernstein's Essay in Breakthrough Journal

Jennifer Bernstein’s essay raises the important critique that environmentalism’s knee-jerk reaction to modernization echoes the tendency to naturalize an essential woman whose biology is connected to the nonhuman world. And yet, while it is true that many women throughout the world have experienced progress in terms of their roles in the workforce, home, and daily life, intersectional feminism tells us that we must be cautious in exchanging one essentialized category for another. In this response, we suggest thinking critically about the ways we categorize experiences, practices, and technologies, and we advise against overdetermining women one way or the other. 

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Debate Abstract

“At a moment in our history when increasing numbers of women have liberated themselves from many of the demands of unpaid domestic labor,” Jennifer Bernstein writes in “On Mother Earth and Earth Mothers,” published in Issue 7 of the Breakthrough Journal, “prominent environmental thinkers are advocating a return to the very domestic labor that stubbornly remains the domain of women.”

Tracing the troubled gender dynamics of modern environmentalism, Bernstein takes prominent voices like Michael Pollan and Vandana Shiva to task for their advocacy of a return to the kitchen and the farm. In the developed world, she argues, these demands only add to women's work, while in developing countries, such calls romanticize what is in fact onerous and inequitable labor. 

If environmentalism is ever to take feminism seriously, Bernstein concludes, it will need to come to terms with modernization. Three new responses to Bernstein’s provocative essay weigh the force of this claim against some of progress’s less remarked-upon features.