Prepping for Doomsday, Feminist Edition.
S1: This is the waves. This is the waves. This is the way. This is the way. This is the way. This is the waves.
S2: Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
S3: Welcome to the Waves Slate’s podcast about gender feminism and keeping enough food and bandages around for everyone. Every episode you get a new pair of women to talk about the thing we can’t get off our minds. Today you’ve got me, Rebecca Onion, a staff writer for Slate.
S4: And Me Lili Loofbourow, also a staff writer for Slate.
S3: Today we’re going to talk about prepping, which I loosely defined in my mind as the practice of thinking ahead to possible catastrophe, whether that be in the nation, in the world, or in your household, and trying to have the right stuff around to face it, whether that be physical objects or education, mindset, what have you. Now, the occasion for this episode is a wonderful piece that Lily wrote for Slate on a schism on a prepper Reddit board. Now the stereotypical prepper is probably still maybe an armed to the teeth white man whose private property you would not want to stumble upon by mistake. But in 2022, the idea of being prepared is not confined to that demographic. I got into thinking about prepping through my science fiction fandom. I read a lot of science fiction as relaxation, and for a while I really liked the post-apocalyptic subgenre. My child was born on Trump’s Inauguration Day in early 2017, and right around that time, I lost any taste I had for post-apocalyptic fiction, which suddenly felt way too real. I still keep a lot of food and emergency supplies around, and it’s very present in my mind now. For all these reasons, I was so interested to read Lili’s new piece on Slate, which is about a major split between people who use Reddit’s R Preppers Board. But Lili first, before we talk about that, I want to know why you’re interested in this topic to begin with. Now, why were you looking at our preppers and how does the topic relate to your life?
S4: I reported a story back in 2019 about I guess I’m going to call them provisional evacuees during fire season here in California. So this is people who were forced to evacuate and were living for a few days in shelters until they were hopefully given the all clear to return to their homes. And in the course of like that particular fire season, my partner had suggested to me that we could go back to right. So I was like, okay. So I did.
S3: Well. And just to clarify, will you live in the in the Bay Area, right?
S4: I do. I live in the Bay Area. Oakland has burned and will probably burn again. I don’t know. I had kind of an abstract idea of where to go backwards, I guess. So I was really proud of how practical I had been. I had like this multitool, you know, water purifying tablet. The point is, all of it fit in a small backpack. So I was feeling really smug and like I got this. And so I showed him and he said, That’s all you want to save from our life if everything burns down. I was like, Oh, like I just realized like, oh, I really misunderstood the assignment. It was the first time I really realized that there are multiple definitions of prepping. I didn’t start following prepper discussions forums because of that. Exactly. I just tend to like. I like seeing how people talk and think. But anyway, the prepper forum specifically, which is our prepper, really follows the broad outlines of the kind of dude that you were describing. Right. So there are a lot of posts about guns and hoarding and how to hide what you have from your neighbors. It’s not all like that. They’re not all like lone wolf fantasies about surviving in some kind of Mad Max universe. Like, I mean, there are very reasonable discussions about things like tanning and gardening, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is a heavy, masculine tilt. I’m trying to be fair because it’s just not all like that. But there is a there is a heavy veins. So what happened recently in that forum is that it kind of went through two explosions. So one is that the Russian invasion of Ukraine brought on like a bunch of questions about nuclear apocalypse. The second was a kind of developing schism between male and female prepper specifically. That conversation has been really fascinating to observe and is really radically redefining what prepping means.
S3: Today we’re going to get into the question of what prepping even is and whether it’s gendered now in the way it may have seemed to be in years past. Hey Waves listeners, if you’re loving the show and want to hear more, subscribe to our feed. New episodes come out every Thursday morning. And while you’re there, check out our other episodes, too. Like last week’s about the show Bridgerton and their romance genre. Lilly, let’s talk about what you saw on the Reddit board. What was the major point of divergence between these two groups?
S4: Okay. So it started back in February with a post on the Preppers subreddit that was written by a female user, and she was complaining in a jokey sort of way about how like aggressively gendered all of the survivalist equipment and gear tends to be. So it was just kind of a lighthearted post. But what was interesting was that in the comments, the comments kind of started to build this interesting momentum as women started comparing notes with each other about how that felt. And some women started talking about other gendered aspects of their experience in prepping that they found kind of exclusionary. So some mentioned that they had had posts about things that were specific to female survival, like birth control, like Plan B taken down from the Prepper subreddit. And this caused a certain amount of shock, as you know, because it’s kind of hard to tell when a post disappears. It’s the sort of thing that has to be actively discussed. So that discussion started to snowball. So other female users said that they’d remembered seeing that one user’s post and how much engagement it had gotten. Actually, before somehow it vanished. Outrage started to build. Moderators jumped in and they said that they certainly didn’t approve it, abolishing any discussion of women’s issues. They could find no record of this happening. And so what you can see in that thread is just like moderators getting increasingly skeptical, male users saying, well, does anybody have proof? And female users who remembered it happening.
S3: Oh, interesting dynamic, right? Yeah. You know, yeah.
S4: We have seen that before. And in the middle of all of that, a female user announced that she had just started a new forum. She said, I have just started two X Preppers, and it will be a forum dedicated to discussing, prepping from a female perspective. And this is the beginning of what I’m kind of jokingly calling the schism. I don’t know how accurate that is. I mean, I think there’s actually a fair amount of goodwill between the two communities. But this this really did turn into a slight secessionist movement from Preppers for Women into this two X Prepper subreddit.
S3: Which, by the way, also explicitly said they’re not terfs. They do think that they’re not they’re not trans exclusionary despite the name, according to them. Yes. It should be said.
S4: According to them, they are not yeah. They are not trans exclusionary, nor are they keeping men out there at this very moment involved in a very intense kind of like internal fight over what level of participation men should be allowed to have. The point is, the concerns that the women raised turned out to be warranted. Peirce eventually did emerge that posts about birth control and other related matters had been reported and removed in the Prepper subreddit, and that moderators at Preppers had refused to reinstate them when female users had appealed. So there’s just like a screenshot that that one woman posted of her appeal and a moderator says the report button is there for a reason. And if so many members reported your post that it got removed, then I would have to say that the community has spoken. The moderators at our Preppers, the original subreddit have acknowledged this and they’re kind of working on trying to fix it. But more interesting to me has been watching how the two X Preppers subreddit has been growing and developing. So at this point it has about 8500 users and from the get go it was clear that the conversations there were going to differ pretty substantially from how the original separate it was talking about prepping. So for example, one of the earliest posts is called Forgot Fund, the most important female prep.
S3: This is like the money that my grandma used to take with her on a date to like. Yeah, it’s like the the good night fund she used to call it. Yeah. Take a couple of dollars for the taxi if she didn’t want to stay.
S4: But yeah. So the advice is basically that women need to maintain the financial wherewithal to get out of bad situations and, you know, domestic violence or relationships that have gone bad. And so there are posted are emphasizing the need for financial literacy. You know, they say like one person says, it is not safe to not have access or know the password to your accounts or how to access all of the money that you both have. If you are married, if your husband is investing in Bitcoin, you need to know how much.
S3: I love that money.
S4: You know, like that stuff just doesn’t fit the traditional understanding of prepping, right? Like it’s not presuming an apocalyptic event or an actual disaster, right?
S3: Just like the very idea of. So when you say mainline preppers or like traditional preppers. Original, original flavor. Preppers would talk about shit hits the fan that we should say they’re talking about like delineating event that comes down in between like the regular world and the rest of the world. So like they like stuff like, like a nuclear strike or a major like financial crash that makes the financial world no longer function or like an electromagnetic pulse attack that, like, kills all the electronics in the world. Like those kinds of dramatic events. But this is something, like, more personal. Like something that’s happening in a person’s life.
S4: Exactly. Like it’s not about system collapse. It’s about situational collapse. So there are plenty of posts that fit that definition, like ranging from tips on how to live without refrigeration, to like doing laundry, without a washing machine, to how to acquire plan B and birth control, how to tend to miscarriages and take care of UTIs. Which I hadn’t thought about this, but of course if you don’t have antibiotics, they can become life threatening if they’re left untreated.
S3: Yeah, you’re like out in the fields trying to gather a plant. You remember from watching Outlander, like five years before that could possibly work. That’s what I always imagine. Oh, my God. Now, of course, I have purchased a medicinal plants at southeastern Ohio book, so more likely, I’d be, like, frantically searching through it in February where there’s, like, that thing is not growing anywhere. Yes. And you’re making like a double.
S4: Decoction of, like.
S3: Herbs. Yes. Right. Like hoping against hope that maybe something will work. I’m curious about the birth control and plan B thing. Is there any understanding of why the original mainline male prepper community was like not wanting that post? Was it because it was too female? I mean, is there any explanation, I guess, is it because their community has some sort of like feeling like, oh, after the shit hits the fan, everyone’s going to need to reproduce. And so we shouldn’t be thinking about birth control. Or is that. Am I overreading that?
S4: So the reports are private, so it’s hard to know. And speculation, which is not entirely charitable in the two X Preppers Group, is that for one thing, the men see women’s concerns as niche and so they don’t belong on the subreddit. That’s that’s one. Another is that the so good. It ostensibly is supposed to not include politics. Yeah. And so even talking about birth control for this group can count as political because it’s a women’s issue and it concerns reproductive health. If that is the case, then it’s absurd because they’re talking about political stuff all the time. I mean, they’re talking about Ukraine nonstop.
S3: Yeah. Like just in the very conversation about whether or not a nuclear strike is going to happen. You’re talking about politics.
S4: Exactly. But then, you know, I mean, honestly, there is a strong contingent that are just like anti-abortion, you know. So I’m sure that that that was probably factoring into.
S3: That just fascinates me because it just imagining let me put it this way, I personally, since I’ve had a child and gone through labor and all of that, the idea of having a child when there’s not doctors available is like absolutely horrifying and it seems like intrinsic to prepping as a woman would be part of.
S4: And survival, of course.
S3: Yeah, exactly.
S4: I think, too, that there is also a bias against pleasure. So a major a major theme that differentiates the two X Preppers Group from the original one is that the farmer group, the women’s group is really interested in things that preserve quality of life. So that includes the ability to have sex without getting pregnant. It includes entertainment for children like books, movies, TV. It includes, for example, bringing mementos along that are not essential and that the male group would recommend leaving behind because it’s adding dead weight, you know? So there’s an entire sort of discourse about how would you cook food that you would actually want to eat in a post-apocalyptic scenario rather than just like cans of spam and cold beans, right? Like the women’s group is much more interested in both. And I think creating a broad sense of community, for one thing, and also and creating a livable existence even under duress. So so a quote that really stuck out to me was a person who said, like, like I will never, ever shoot my neighbor for stealing a cabbage. I’ll invite them over for cabbage soup and show them how to dig or mulch or weed next month’s cabbage. And I’ll do that today before it gets to the stage that my neighbors need to steal my cabbage.
S3: Oh. Oh, I love that person. Is so, I guess optimistic. Maybe that. Like what? Yeah. I don’t know. I’m actually really glad you brought this cabbage person up, because, well, first of all, that’s like one of the best quotes in your piece. It’s like, so perfect. Second of all, I really want to talk in the next segment about the two kinds of preppers, visions of human nature and maybe also like. Fundamental like affective emotional inclination towards pessimism or optimism. This cabbage person is very optimistic. We’re going to take a break here. But if you want to hear me and Lily talk about another topic we’re doing a Waves Plus segment is this feminist after the end of this main show. And today we’re talking about whether the empire of Martha Stewart is feminist. So I want to sort of talk about the idea of prepping as like a fantasy or role play or like a live action role play, a LARP. And this is something that people will like accuse traditional kind of like conservative white male preppers of a little bit like, oh, they’re just like role playing some kind of future world where they’re dominant. In your piece, you quote one poster saying, For many men, prepping is a fantasy of stepping up to occupy a role that has been all but erased from the modern world. And for women, on the other hand, prepping is a fantasy of not being badly inconvenienced by disasters. As we continue in the roles that we’re already occupying. And so I wonder about that if you could kind of like flesh it out a little bit more. I feel like in the sort of post-apocalyptic fiction that I’ve read, not only sort of like the more literary post-apocalyptic fiction, but also I had a short period of time where I got really into reading fiction that’s explicitly marketed towards preppers as like a way to kind of read your way through understanding what it is you’re supposed to do. And I wrote about it in Slate in 2016. In that kind of fiction especially, there is a definite fantasy that your worldview is going to be confirmed by what happens after this shit hits the fan. And that the virtues that you may have that may not be appreciated by the world are going to be appreciated. Like the willingness to be violent and the like sort of like obsessive being counting of like having everything around that you need in sort of like my darkest times, thinking about preppers. I definitely have come to come to feel like whether it be this kind of person. Like obsessively figuring out what kind of knife everyone in their survival group needs to have and like talking with them about it late at night and, like, making plans for how they’re going to buy those knives and what kinds of guns they’re going to have and all that stuff. Or whether it be me thinking through like how much water I would need and like buying like the, you know, the five year storage containers and figuring out where I put it. I feel like that mindset is like, I don’t want to say negative. It’s like definitely pessimistic. And my husband would say, You’re thinking about it so much, it makes you, like, so anxious. Like, you should stop thinking about it this much. But the two preppers sound like a little bit like through thinking through these less definitive events that are a little bit more likely to happen in the course of a person’s life. They’re sort of trying to exercise an optimistic kind of foresight or like a community minded foresight, which seems like a totally different thing. What do you think about all that?
S4: I love that piece that you wrote because it articulate something that is really hard to put your finger on, which is that the profound pragmatism that I think a lot of the preppers think they are engaging in is, in fact, a fantasy. You know, which is such a weird conundrum, right? Like we we like to think that. We like to think that those are different things and they’re not. And I think that for, you know, the standard prepper, too largely believes himself to be apolitical. But there is such a lurking politics to the way that you imagine what will happen in a moment of collapse. So I think that the fantasy component really is like what that quote that you read is that there will be a return to dominance hierarchies. These fantasies seem very pessimistic, but actually they’re not. They’re there in some way about like, okay, how will I rise up and assume power once the natural order of things is resumed without the ugly and artificial constraints of civilization which have diluted the way that things really ought to work, which is that men will defend and well, women, you know, you know.
S3: Maybe that maybe they’ll be maybe they’ll be in charge of the inventory.
S4: What you said is exactly right, which is I think that the women presume that civilization is not entirely artificial and that there isn’t an ugly like nature right in tooth and claw order that is going to immediately come out, you know, at a moment of systemic collapse. There will still be the need for child care. There will still be the need for community, like if you actually want to maximize your chances of survival. The pragmatic, the truly pragmatic thinking is not I’m going to get really good at shooting and I’m going to hide my stash and be antisocial and lone wolf. It’s I’m going to find other people who I can build and rebuild with together. Like that’s how your odds of survival actually go up.
S3: Right. But you need a very specific number, 100 to 150, according to one prepper fiction book I read.
S3: It’s a whole tribal fantasy. It’s not what? Who experts are talking about. I think they’re more talking about how to help in your neighborhood, like with the people that you are around, which is like a more humanistic approach. This particular preposition that I’m talking about that was advocating for the building of a of a like a neo tribe is like about finding the best people from the best.
S3: Yeah. Right. Like, you know, making sure that everyone who’s in the tribe has a function and, like, a skill and ability in some way. Yeah. Which is different to it seems like. Sounds like the two ex-partners are talking more about a mutual aid.
S4: Situation they are in. And I think that the two ex preppers group are very insistent on making comparisons to, again, things that happen in everyday life. So there is a post about one person was pointing out that a lot of this shit hitting the fan situations that the male preppers are kind of describing as apocalyptic are what growing up in poverty is like for a lot of people. Now that post got heavily debated. So it’s not that everyone it’s not that everyone agrees with that. But but what’s interesting is watching these theories float up about like what what shit hitting the fan actually means and how many people are actually living it right now and how it doesn’t necessarily require systemic collapse. There are also, you know, on the far right, I think, kind of extremist end of calling, basically living, prepping like one poster was suggesting that basically almost everything that women do is prepping. So like buying, you know, shoes for your kids that are two sizes too big, that’s prepping, cutting coupons. It’s prepping. Even going to brunch with your friends is prepping because that’s like, you know, increasing social bonds, which you will need. Yeah. And so wow. So it’s interesting to watch like the definition of this be stretched to its limit and to also watch people argue back and say, okay, no, I don’t think that actually counts. And I don’t think that shopping is intrinsically a prepping activity. Like my friend who buys a bunch of fast fashion is not like well prepared for bad circumstances, you know? But but these are not conversations that could have happened in the prepper group.
S3: Yeah. And there’s something to be said for that. I mean, as I said before on this podcast, because I like cooking so much, I have basically like cooked myself out of having any help with cooking in my my house. So I’m in charge of like all the inventory and all the cooking because I really like it and we’ve adjusted. But the point is that muscles in my brain that I use when I’m like planning ahead for food or also indeed like planning ahead for my child’s clothes, which is like a whole like little mini job or, you know, preparing for, you know, going on a trip with a child especially is like a like you’re wrangling objects and trying to think ahead. And so, like, I can kind of see that argument a little bit. I would argue that I think women are very good at inventory. I think I’m probably going to be saying things that are too gender essentialist for four words. But I do think that there’s something about like the mom knows where things are in the house because she’s like paid attention to it a little bit, which is maybe not great, but I don’t know, do they do people want to talk about whether or not it’s gender essentialist to talk that way?
S4: They do, yeah. And the definitely the pushback against the couponing was like and I mean, there are women who are really bad at that, too. My grandma was horrible. My mom had zero ability to take inventory, you know, like there were. But I’m actually interested I want to ask you, because having gone down the rabbit hole that you have when it comes to survivalist fiction, like what is the fantasy there? Of having enough for having done enough. And what is yours?
S3: Oh, my God. Oh, you mean, like, what have I actually done? Or what do I wish I would do?
S4: Or both? Yeah.
S3: Okay. So in the kinds of fiction that I was reading, which I have not read any of for a long time, because as I said, it started to give me nightmares once I had a child. But the fantasy is that usually the stories start with the story of the build up, like the person has devoted a significant part of their life to being ready for a tough event, and they are usually like, have a pretty good job, or they have found a job that pays enough that they can devote a large percentage of their income to this, which is kind of an interesting aspect of prepping in general, like you do. Like if you’re really going to do what the sort of mainline people want you to do, you will be paying like thousands of dollars and maybe moving to a different place.
S4: Is this like creating a bunker type thing? Or. No.
S3: It could be a bunker, but I think it’s more like like moving to a rural place. So there’s one prepper writer who’s really popular who calls it moving to a wide place on the road like a town with 800 people. It’s like ideal. And so he would advocate that you get a remote job and move there and start to use your money to buy stuff. And then the fantasy is that the event occurs and everyone else around you who’s not you like and your people that you have like brought into your like planning group basically folds. And what I found really interesting about these books is that and this sort of like vision of the world is that there is only two kinds of people. There’s either the people who did the right thing or the people who are just like completely senseless with like no idea of what to do. Like, nobody else has, like, any food or any way to get water or like even well, except the food or water that’s available because they think the government is going to come help them. Like there’s no like in-between person who like maybe wanted to prepare but didn’t have the money and like or like had a chaotic life and like couldn’t plan it out and so is deserving but doesn’t have stuff. Everyone either, like, has stuff and deserves to have it or doesn’t have stuff and doesn’t deserve it. There’s no like in between. Really. Yeah.
S4: I mean, that’s socialism, so. Yeah.
S3: Yeah. Right, exactly. Well, like one of the books in one of the books that I read, there’s literally people who are like cannibals with like the Communist Manifesto, like, and they’re in their bags. They were killed by the main group for being like horrible cannibal pedophiles or whatever. It’s not apolitical in any way. Like, basically, like your mindset of being a person who is, like, continually suspicious of everyday reality and believes that like, as you said, like that this reality is like a cloak layered upon like some seething underworld of like blood and pain. And the cloak is ripped off and you’re revealed to like, have been totally right all along. And that in its own way is like it’s like its own recompense, I think for for these fantasies. I don’t think that I believe that about the world. I don’t know. Do you believe that about the world? I sometimes wonder, like I feel like if you were to completely sign on. So like, basically my level of prepping right now is just like I have a bunch of food around the house and I have just have a lot of extra of like everything that we use a lot. I do not have a backup power system. I wish I did. Like, it would be great to have a backup power system. I do not have, like, armaments or like a security plan, which is like something that they would say, like you haven’t prepped unless you have a security plan because it can all get taken away by whatever neighbor you have who does have one. So in a way, it’s like I’m in this in-between space where in order to completely sign on to like that old, like old school, like mainline vision of prepping, you have to believe that the world is, like, horrible, and you have to believe it hard enough that you’re willing to devote all of your, like, income to it, which is like not sustainable on a number of levels for me. So I don’t know, like I think I’m doing pretty well if you consider pretty well to be like getting to know your neighbors and having a bunch of extra food around. But I’m not doing pretty well if you consider that like the world is going to fall into like a a bloody hellhole like in the next around the next bend.
S4: The conversations I have observed on text preppers have made me think that maybe I am a little bit more legible as a pepper than I would have said I am. I would say that my my my efforts at preparing are intermittent and chaotic. So, for example, I bought like a giant water storage system or barrel not a system, but like just a big barrel to store water and just never got around to filling it. So now like, it’s basically functioning as a parting shot in the back yard. Okay. All right. I think it’s just like this.
S4: But again, like, you’re right. I do have extra food. I do have the water purifying droplets that I packed into my fire evacuation kit for no good reason. You know, a water filtration system. Like, I have some things that I have picked up here and there because, like, oh, the Wirecutter said this was a good thing. And I’m like, well, that sounds responsible to own, you know? I don’t know. I have matches that you can like without I don’t know, they’re waterproof or something. I have prepped in the figure fund mode more than I have in the like. Let’s get some guns and think about how you defend your territory mode. But I have found it really interesting and gratifying to see how different communities think about that and to watch. Actually, as within this community, there have been further spin offs. So now there is there is a group that’s only for women that does exclude men. There is a group for queer preppers who are talking about, you know, their own specific needs, which, of course, they can’t talk about that in the Regular Preppers Forum. You know, how do you talk about hormones? How do you talk about, you know, the specific questions that you would actually need to hammer out if you wanted to be able to, like, exist in a situation where modern medicine is not available to you. So I’m excited to watch that the category expand and I imagine it will constrict back down. And I think you’re right about the cabbage soup lady being, you know, maybe a little optimistic about how things might go.
S3: The cabbage soup lady needs to exist. Yeah, that’s a good that’s a good lady to have out there. Now before we head out, we want to give a couple of recommendations. All right, Lily, do you want to go first? What are you enjoying right now? What’s making life easier for you?
S4: Okay, well, I am adjusting crab right now, and I’m not enjoying much of anything, but here is what I am enjoying and what I highly recommend, because my pet peeve has been that women’s sweatpants have become horrible, like they have lost the delicious, inner, fleshy, soft lining. That was the whole reason I loved wearing them.
S3: Oh, they’re joggers now.
S4: I know there are joggers with that horrible knobbly, rough, like interior. It’s just like we can’t even have pockets. And now even our sweat pants are being denuded of the things that made them cozy and delicious. Also, they’re insanely expensive for no reason. It’s like they got called, they got renamed joggers, and now they cost, I don’t know, upwards of 30, 40, $50 when they used to cost more than that.
S3: Are you really that way? More than that.
S4: I know. But anyway, so the hack and my recommendation is go to the men’s section at Target and they have the most delicious sweat pants for men that are still like $8 or $12. They have the delicious fleecy lining. They have great pockets. They’re everything you would actually want sweat pants to be if you want to use sweatpants for what they are for, which is not fashion, it’s being cozy and comfortable at home. Okay, that’s me. How about you?
S3: I love it. All of mine are joggers now, and they’re very. They’re just like, interlock. There’s, like, no fuzziness at all. All right, so I’m going to recommend a romance, a historical romance show, which is not bridgerton. I love that called. I know, although I do recommend that, too. I’m recommending the show called Sanditon, which is a PBS show that is based on an unfinished novel by Jane Austen. So basically, it’s the story of a family where the one brother in the family is trying to build a beach resort on the coast of England. And I think it’s like 1840s or something like everything Jane Austen. So they had to build it out, the story out a lot for the for the show because it ends like right when the love interest shows up or her novel manuscript ends then. So all of the specifics all the specifics of, you know, what happens in the love story but it has Ross-Williams is a lead actress is really good and has all of the like classic Austin tropes, you know, the like crotchety older man who she’s a governess for and plus also some random rides and hot air balloons, which as a fan of visual icons of the early 19th century. I like a big a big a big fan of that. So I do recommend Sanditon.
S4: And it’s on right now like it’s.
S3: The second season is is coming out now like I think it’s on the third episode of the second season. If you want to kind of like look at the in the ocean off the coast of England for a while in either that or Poldark, you can you can compare the accent to either one of those in your sweat pants.
S4: That sounds very that sounds like it would relax you and make you less angry about the sweat pants situation.
S2: That’s good stuff.
S3: Well, that’s our show this week. The Waves is produced by Jane Arraf. And Shannon Policy is our editorial director.
S4: And we’d love to hear from you. Email us at the Waves at slate.com. The waves will be back next week. Different hosts, different topic, same time and place.
S3: Thank you so much for being a Slate Plus member. Since you’re a member, you get this weekly segment. Is this feminist? Every week we debate whether something is feminist. This week we’re talking about the empire of Martha Stewart. So Martha Stewart is back in the news again, which is like unbelievable, the longevity of her like media presence and general presence, because this week she posted a series of incredible Instagram posts about the death of her cat who was killed by her four dogs. And it was just very blunt and very funny. I’m from the ship. There is a picture of her, four of her, I guess, groundskeepers digging a grave for the cat that she put on Instagram.
S4: A very large grave.
S3: A very large grave, a big grave for a cat. And in the course of sort of thinking about this cat grave, it just it struck me to to think, okay, so like I first started in media in 2008, when I started, was when Martha Stewart was getting in trouble for her, her trading, her like insider trading. And everyone was like, Martha Stewart is going to be over. But at that point, she had already been in media for like a long time, like and seems like maybe decades, I think is early nineties that she sort of started coming onto the scene. And so as a female figure who has basically built an empire around lifestyle and around her name, which has such longevity over so many years, you know, she has made a lot of money from that image of like a domestic scene that’s very well curated. So we sort of thought it would be fun to talk about this in relationship to the prepping topic because there is a strong like a vibe to her of a person who has always got a plan, but in a way that is a little bit more 19th century. A housekeeper for an English lord. And like a little bit less like a prepper at a bunker. But are those, do you think, sort of similar, I wonder. But she just has this. She has like a a sort of unerring ability to pull like an appropriate bit of decor or like a project out of her. But for like every occasion and like in the world, I sort of feel like that’s her appeal a little bit is like the just the comprehensiveness of her vision. Now, is that feminist, though?
S4: It’s a good question. And I want to throw actually the new Julia Child show into the mix here, because one of the things that happens on that show is that she gets confronted by a Betty Friedan who accuses her of like condemning women to stand in front of their hot stoves for hours on end. And is this, you know, really something that contributes to women having the lives they want and the careers they choose? And it doesn’t seem like that necessarily happened in real life, but it seems like kind of a parallel discussion. Right? Like, are these like these these ostensibly, I think, very, very powerful women who have built these empires for themselves on a premise that is essentially domestic and that does maybe appeal to some some instincts that could be described as revanchist or reactionary or something about like, you know, the women’s role being to create a beautiful home and a beautiful dinner and a beautiful dish is that feminist. So, yeah, I don’t know. Now, what do you think?
S3: It’s so hard because I mean, it gets back to something we were talking about in the in the main episode about the question of pleasure and like whether having a life that is marked by like the evidence of someone trying hard in like every corner of it is. Like, that’s kind of great. Or like it’s kind of like a gift that you’re, that you’re giving to either yourself or to the world. Now, why is it women that seem to always be charged with being the ones who are like, you know, finding the cupcake toppers for their kid’s birthday parties and like sort of providing that little, like, detail? I’m not sure. But to me, that is like this is a debate that goes back to Cody’s lady’s book, which is like as a student of, you know, 19th century American culture, whatever. You get sort of hammered over your head was like this phenomenon where, you know, women editors were extremely powerful in the 19th century in dictating how women should operate their households and also did the same thing where they presented a very specific vision and a very kind of. Very concerned with correctness and appropriateness. Now, I would say that’s not feminist, to be honest, but what do you mean by feminist at that point? Like, truly, because these people are sort of like like say the society says women have the domestic sphere and then you’re professionalizing that domestic sphere. It’s sort of the kind of thing where your impulses have to go somewhere. I guess one way to look at it.
S4: It’s so interesting that you put it that way because yeah, I was thinking about the things that I associate with Martha Stewart, who I confess I didn’t ever really read her magazine, but, you know, my mom loved it. And like and one of the things that I think that my mom, who is very good at at at creating occasions, right, at like at turning at making a thing special in a way that I confess that I am not. My partner and I have never managed once in 14 years to celebrate her anniversary because we always forget like it’s just it’s tragic. Like we always were like, we’re going to do it this time. And like, and I don’t think that my way is superior, you know, I don’t actually think it’s great to, like, never bother to, like, make an event. What is it, really? And we both want to like, you know, on an occasion worth celebrating. And Martha takes that ability to such a granular degree, like where, like any household object, any household need, no matter how embarrassing or even inappropriate. Toilet paper covers. I mean, you know, let’s get some wine barrels and paint them. And Daria is just like she has an idea to turn every single mundane object or artifact in a domestic space into something that is like aesthetic sized. And I don’t know, you think about Oscar Wilde and then thinking about other like, kind of like, aesthetes and like what? And like. Well, I don’t I don’t think that’s exactly anti-feminist. Right. It’s a specific channeling of an artistic impulse into the every day. I don’t know. William Morris wallpaper. Right. Is is is kind of like running along the same line.
S3: Now, here’s another question. Aside from the feminism question, do you like Martha Stewart’s aesthetic? Oh, there’s too much pastel on it for me, in my opinion.
S4: So I have this like this family history of like there are these great aunts, they live together, these three sisters, and one of them taught Home EC at school. And so she threw all these amazing dinner parties and lunch parties where she would create little sculptures out of the inside of bread, which kind of turns into a clay. And she would create one for every single person at the table, and she would write a periodic song like a lyric for every one of the guests. And so, like, you know, and one of the sisters was an opera singer, so she would operatically sing these like, ludicrous satires. And, you know, I’m just like, you know what? That sounds kind of great. Like, it seems like so much work and like, you can imagine doing it. But I feel like Martha Stewart’s stuff falls a little bit into that category for me, where it just it tries really hard to make things fun that I don’t intrinsically necessarily find fun. I don’t really like Instagram either, and I feel like she did Instagram before Instagram existed, right? Like this kind of like ability to just turn every single thing into like a beautifully framed, exquisite picture that you can, like, visually relish and then move on from. I didn’t really like the shabby chic thing, like, it just wasn’t really for me, but I don’t know. And I question my own dismissal, I guess.
S3: Of saying and then yeah, saying I’m on a knife’s edge about it in a way, because I feel like in some ways I again before I had a child, I sort of thought differently about this stuff and that was like a lot like I would throw myself into entertaining a little bit more and like I would, well, I don’t know. We used to have a New Year’s gathering with like a bunch of friends that, you know, we used to all live in New York together, and then we would get together at New Year’s. And I used to, like, overcook for it. Like, I just would cook so much because my thing was I said I enjoyed it. And like there were some years that I did enjoy it and it wasn’t like fussy the way the Martha Stewart stuff is. Although there were some years where I did like plays, cards and stuff like that, but mostly it just was like the idea of abundance, just like having like, just like pulling a magic trick on people, like, kind of like just being like, oh my God, I made all of that. And I always wondered whether because there’s, there’s that thing with a gift or like, like when a person is like that in your family or like in your friend group, you’re like thankful. But you also feel like something is being expected of you a little bit. Like you have to appreciate it otherwise, you know, like if you go to someone’s house where there’s like a beautiful toilet paper cover that’s like made out of. Made out of a barrel, you kind of have. You appreciate it or, you know, the person might feel bad. And I do have to say that, like when you go to that much effort and people don’t say anything about it, you feel weird, like. Which is sort of why? Well, one reason why I sort of, like, pull back from it. Another was that I started to be, like, absolutely frantic about it and, like, way too overworked and doing doing way too much. And. And then when I had a kid, I was like, I can’t be doing like this can’t be this can’t be like hours and hours of my time. Like, in a way, to me, it’s like, embodies a a paradox of femininity in a way, because you’re doing something that is like a little extra and you want people to notice. But like also the dynamic where people have to praise you for stuff is very cringeworthy as well. And so I can see why people just don’t do it.
S4: I can, too. Yeah. And when we think about what Martha Stewart herself did, I mean, I do think that, like, in the same way that cooking by women is not particularly valorized, but male chefs get to, like, professionalize it and make a ton of money off. It kind of feels like she did that with a thing with a feminine domain remaining a woman at the head of it, which is like actually kind of tricky to do. So from that point of view, you know, I’m like, well, you took a feminine space and really ultra professionalized it like you were saying and made a lot of money doing it.
S3: And made a lot of money and still is a person whose Instagram posts can drive a blog post on Slate.com that then in turn gets visitors. So people care about it still. People are still curious about her.
S4: Yeah, it’s a very particular form of feminine power. Yeah, I think I agree with you that I’m not. I’m on the fence as to whether it’s feminist or not. So maybe we have failed in this segment.
S3: You know, we’ve done the segment, but hopefully, hopefully, we’ve had interesting things to say about Martha Stewart in the last year.
S4: Is there something you’re doesn’t know whether it’s feminist or not? If so, we would love to hear from you. Email us at the waves at Slate.com.