“I am a feminist. I am an anarchist. To me, any discussion of power is essentially one about freedom, and talk of freedom is impossible without a reckoning with power.
In ‘Rethinking Anarchy,’ the Spanish social theorist Carlos Taibo reminds us that “anarchists have frequently defined themselves first on the basis of what they reject — the state, capitalism, inequality, patriarchal society, war, militarism, repression in all its forms, authority.”
So what is the power that my freedom requires?
As a woman of color, I define power initially by what it is not. To be powerful is not to be what a man can do or be. Men are not my yardstick. If men themselves are not free of the ravages of racism, capitalism and other forms of oppression, it is not enough to say I want to be equal to them. As long as patriarchy remains unchallenged, men will continue to be the default and the standard against which everything is measured.”
–Mona Eltahawy, “Enough With Crumbs – I Want the Cake.” (The New York Times)
Feminist Giant Mona Eltahawy’s
SEVEN NECESSARY SINS FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS
In the order I am most-to-least likely to commit them:
I know… I know… it’s too many now, right?? Listen, the ebook holds from the BPL just keep coming and you can only put them off for so long before they just ask you to place the hold again anyway I might as well dip in.
In the Men’s Room(s)
When I was young I believed in intellectual conversation:
I thought the patterns we wove on stale smoke
floated off to the heavens of ideas.
To be certified worthy of high masculine discourse
like a potato on a grater I would rub off contempt,
suck snubs, wade proudly through the brown stuff on the floor.
They were talking of integrity and existential ennui
while the women ran out for six-packs and had abortions
in the kitchen and fed the children and were auctioned off.
Eventually of course I learned how their eyes perceived me:
when I bore to them cupped in my hands a new poem to nibble,
when I brought my aerial maps of Satre or Marx,
they said, she is trying to attract our attention,
she is offering up her breasts and thighs.
I walked on eggs, their tremulous equal:
they saw a fish peddler hawking in the street.
Now I get coarse when the abstract nouns start flashing.
I go out to the kitchen to talk cabbages and habits.
I try hard to remember to watch what people do.
Yes, keep your eyes on the hands, let the voice go buzzing.
Economy is the bone, politics is the flesh,
watch who they beat and who they eat,
watch who they relieve themselves on, watch who they own.
The rest is decoration.
Peach Upsidonuts & Cobbler Muffins
I have controversial donuts opinions: the cruller is my one true donut, chocolate-glazed Dunkin’ will do in a pinch, and most others are just cake disguised for breakfast. So, why do I have a donut pan? Sometimes I get the hankering to try dumb shit like this. It’s got a crumble… bottom? And an upside-down peach ring top? Is this a donut or just a personal bundt cake? Is there a difference? Frankly, right-ways-up the upsidonuts resemble “muffies” (bottomless muffin tops.)
The principal batter recipe from The Busy Baker I modified a bit, seasoning the batter itself and switching it up in the cobbler topping. I saw a NYT chicken recipe with peach, basil, and ginger; that sounded like a flavor combination I’d be willing to try in any number of other forms.
Combine 1.25 c flour, 1.5 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, & 2/3 c sugar in a large bowl. I prefer the spice flavor IN my muffin: a mix of 1 tbs cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cloves and nutmeg, 1 tsp ginger. Add 2 c fresh peaches in small cubes and coat in the dry ingredients. Combine 1/2 c whole milk, 1 egg, 1/4 c veg oil and stir into the dry-dusted peaches until the flour disappears.
Line donut pan with sprinkle of butter and brown sugar, topped with peach ring before covering with batter. If using a muffin tin, line with parchment paper squares or liners.
For the crumble topping, combine 1/4 c of flour, 1/4 c of sugar, 3 tablespoons of butter, 1 tsp of dried basil and 1 tsp of of powdered ginger. Break the butter up into the flour mixture with your fingers until it looks like crumbs and sprinkle atop the liquid batter.
Bake at 350 F, 20 minutes for the muffins and roughly 30 for the upsidonuts. Since I overfilled them, the holeless middle of these bundt babies are very good for ice cream.
Corn Relish (Short Stack, Corn by Jessica Battilana)
I’m looking for new ways to make my produce last longer, condiments or pre-prepped items I can keep in the fridge and use for different meals. In her intro to this recipe, Battilana says she initially misconceived of corn relish as a “dowdy condiment,” and after a terrible jar bought apple picking last year, I would have agreed. But this sweet, crunchy, chaotic topping brought a little zest and joie de vivre to this August. Hoping to make some more to save for the cold weather!
Combine 1 c cider vinegar, 1/3 c of sugar, 1.5 tsp salt in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until dissolved. Stir in 2 c corn kernels (about 3 ears), 1 diced bell pepper (I used invisible yellow), 1/2 c diced yellow onion, 1 cucumber (Battilana uses celery, but I like cucumber better and wanted a little pickle kick), 1.5 tsp dry mustard, 1 tsp whole coriander, 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. The results can be kept in the refrigerator for several months, longer if jarred and sealed with a water bath.
A few years ago my partner and I visited one of the Italian publishers I consulted for as a scout. She made us this delicious, simple, Italian soup that is essentially Parmesan schnitzel had a baby with some matzah balls. A comforting bowl of surprisingly lemony sunshine for those rainy quarantine days.
Combine 4 eggs, 200 g of breadcrumbs, 200 g of finely grated parmesan, a pinch of nutmeg, and the zest of one lemon. Mix together into a firm ball and press through a large cheese grater, microplane, or other holed device. (It takes a lot of muscle after such an easy dough.) They should look like, “worms,” unfortunately. Boil for a few minutes in chicken stock, enjoy.
These beautiful nectarines we got from my parents’ house in Ohio were already squishy and sweet when we inherited them. In lieu of making a whole pie out of these squishers, I used the handful of nectarines to make a simple fruit compote. It’s great with pumpkin seeds on oatmeal and with crushed peanuts in a lazy-man’s vanilla sundae!
Combine 2 c chunked nectarine, 2 tbs brown sugar, 1 tablespoons of cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg in a frying pan and heat slowly until the sugar dissolves into the fruit juices and the syrup thickens the back of a spoon or spatula.
Lemony Cornmeal Pound… Cake? (Short Stack, Abrams)
*Sigh.* This was going to be a cool birthday cake for me and my babe to share. I was even going to make the frosting Mona Magenta to match the pink-and-yellow cover of SEVEN SINS, a shoutout to our fellow Leo. Because I def want the whole cake on my birthday.
Obviously, cake is not my forte. The loaf was both under-greased and undercooked: when I put my fingers underneath to turn it over, they sunk into the molten lemon goo at the center. But, fuck it! I worked hard on it, the edges were still tasty, and life is too short to try and make everything blog-perfect, especially when you could be eating cake instead.
In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 c flour, 1/2 c fine-ground cornmeal, 1/4 tsp baking soda, & 1/4 tsp sea salt. In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to cream 1/2 c (1 stick) butter @ room temp and 1.5 c granulated sugar until fluffy (about 5 min.) beat in 3 large eggs @ room temp one at a time, “beating after each addition only until the yellow disappears into the batter.” Add 2 tbs fresh lemon juice, 2 tsp finely grated lemon zest, and then stir in flour mixture with a rubber spatula just until smooth. Add 1/2 c sour cream and, again, stir until smooth.
Scrape into pre-greased pan and bake at 350 F for 60 minutes. (I took the short end at 50 and it was under done, stick your tester toothpick in THE MIDDLE.)
Meanwhile, combine 3 tbs each of lemon juice and sugar in a small pan over medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the syrup thickens the back of a spoon. Tip the cake out onto a rack (woof) and brush with lemon syrup before leaving to cool at room temperature.
You’re supposed to combine 1 c sifted confectioners sugar (I did not have enough) with 1 tbs lemon juice and let it drip down the sides: my food-colored pink frosting sucked right into the thick cake. Then rub 1 tbs lightly packed lemon zest into and 1 tbs sugar with your fingers and sprinkle over top (frankly, I don’t think it needs this, this is a very sweet lemon cake.)
“I’m angry that I can’t not generalize about men anymore, because there have been too many occasions in which heeding generalizations would have served me better than my instinct to trust that everyone is capable of acting outside the temptations that privileges afford them. But enough about men. But what isn’t about men?”
-Natasha Stagg, “Out of State” from SLEEVELESS
Balancing Feminism and Domesticity
I discovered Mona Eltahawy where you meet all the coolest, most badass women in New York: the bathroom.
Last October, hovering in a yoga-squat above the toilet, I rested my hands on my knees and began to read the events calendar on the back of the stall door at The Strand.1
Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, huh?
While I recognized her name from Twitter, it was undoubtedly the catchy title of Mona’s most recent book – like a listicle of ancient, feminist curiositas (which, I’ll vouch, it delivers on) – that brought me to the rare books room that night. The other young women in attendance wore looks of awe and determination, the air of community in the room palpable. With effervescent Leo charm, Mona makes it easy to lean into the magic of The Moment. But that Moment could be… any moment! Her mind is bright and present, her voice warm and mellifluous. In everything, she commands attention with both genius and style; that night, in voluminous magenta curls and a floor-length, powder-pink sequin gown. She has questions for the patriarchy and for the rest of us in society doing our best to compromise with it, namely: WHY THE FUCK??
Every avid reader knows the magic of reading your feelings in someone else’s words (especially when that person’s experience is different from your own); listening to Mona speak reminded me that hearing someone’s thoughts live is its own kind of connective magic. She is queer, Muslim, and “an enemy to patriarchy everywhere I go,” she said, explaining the simple directive behind her anarchism. Arrested multiple times, both of her arms were broken in police custody during the Egyptian uprising of 2011. The frustration she articulated about feminists feeling shunned from Islam has helped me cultivate a spiritual combination of Catholicism and mysticism that I find, familiar, courageous, and wholesome. It’s that literary magic of New York (like all City Magic); the physical presence of artists and thinkers that challenge the status quo. Their ideas, once spoken, hang in the atmosphere like storm clouds heralding change.
And in That Moment, self-truths I’d been habitually worrying for months suddenly snapped into clarity and confidence. A path to new forms of allyship and solace opened before me as easily as Mona’s book.
One of the most integral pieces of advice I carried away (and with me to countless temp-work assignments in the crazy year since) was the permission to occasionally keep my head down. There are times, Mona said, when you can’t live your values openly – especially as a queer person and feminist2 – and secrecy is the key to safety. Like Mona, my fire and feminism are wired directly into my loud, lady-Leo mouth; risky business when you’re administering to, cleaning up after, and making coffee for finance and tech bros to pay rent. Sometimes, in order to survive in a capitalist patriarchy, there are situations in which one must put on one’s big-girl pants, bite one’s bad-bitch tongue, and make a buck…
And that’s okay.
Even the companies that were (ostensibly) politically liberal tended to be palpably “elite,” a word that has become (for me) synonymous with those who espouse theoretical solidarity, but practice actual oppression. At one such assignment, I was invited by one of the (female) senior managers to sit in on a seminar about sketchnoting. Afterwards, one of the (male) designers (whose response to the prompt “one thing no one here knows about me” was to draw himself as a college skinhead, ignoring his colleague’s inquiries as to “which kind”) began to grumble and argue with the manager that the exercise was silly, Instagram bullshit.
“Like embroidery” he spat under his breath as he turned away from her.
“What did you say?” I asked, watching him quietly from her side.
He looked caught, guilty: “I- I said it’s crafty.”
“You said it’s like embroidery,” I corrected, patiently. “That’s incredibly sexist.”
“Now! Now… let’s calm down.” He threw up a hand as if placating a wild animal, which is (always, somehow) both offensive and exasperating3. “I take it you embroider?”
“No.” But as a writer and illustrator I do sketchnote (or my version of it).
He recovered quickly, plowing on to establish his superior knowledge on the subject: “Well, I have friends in the Embroiderers’ Guild-“
“So, it’s not sexist because you have friends who embroider?”
Of course, I still had to listen to the excuses that followed, sputtering out like verbal incontinence; but no temp gig pays me enough to do the emotional labor of gender equity consulting along with the filing. (Just sayin’.)
This stranger – this cis-het, white, misogynist in the flavor of “middle-aged Brit” – is not my responsibility, thank fuck. And, as luck or Karma or the great They in the sky would have it: a major, online news outlet just published an exposé about their cripplingly-obvious, ongoing issues with racism… On my birthday.
Nevertheless, these are the men I imagine Sam Sifton, Food Editor at the New York Times, is addressing in his newsletters. Cajoling them off the couch (and for this, at least, I thank him) with the sing-song promise of a personal fulfillment they only vaguely acknowledge or regard with constipated distaste.
In his August 3rd email, Sifton recommended philosopher/mechanic Matthew Crawford’s 2010 book “Shop Class as Soul Craft: an Inquiry into the Value of work,” which extolls the virtues of trade work (specifically auto-mechanics) and, according to Sifton, “finds in it an argument that celebrates responsibility and personal agency.” He continues: “The work that we do in the kitchen is at its best an exhibition of manual competence…and a salute to the responsibility we take on in feeding ourselves and our families. There’s no question it’s good to be able to work with your hands to make something useful like dinner. And it is meaningful, too, both for you and those you serve.”
Though I agree that “there’s no question it’s good,” there is still to society-wide question of whether or not it’s “appreciated” at a value that will translate into something the average capitalist male can contextualize. My beef is, in part, a personal problem: reading something that seems obvious to me, but must be couched in mealy-mouthed humility and cross-reference with more “masculine” labor in order the make its argument land with its target audience. Nevertheless, this pastoral lionization of domestic labor carries with it the bourgeoisie fascination of vacationing in forms of labor that (for some of us) is inescapable.
Dealing with OCD cleaning compulsions as a kid, providing principal care for younger siblings and auxiliary care for ill grandparents as a teen, subsequently feeling pressured to perform certain aspects of stereotypical femininity as a 20-something4, capitalizing on that even as I felt it chafing in order to get by; maybe these are the reasons I find the self-congratulatory air of having “found an argument” for celebrating domestic responsibility to be a preposterous luxury. Female patience precariously maintained as a matter of course, not a matter of choice, is itself a symptom of patriarchy.
In Women, Race and Class, Angela Davis has a chapter on “The Approaching Obsolescence of Housework: A Working-Class Perspective,” wherein she dissects the ways in which housework has been “an essential ingredient of women’s oppression” and the social methods by which this might be corrected.
Tracing and contrasting both white and Black women’s experiences with housework through America’s industrial history, the work is principally an indictment of capitalism that ultimately argues for the socialisation of domestic labor or a universal basic income5 (por qué no los dos?) in order to facilitate growth and community. She stresses the pre-industrial value of the female homemaker as skilled artisan – spinner, weaver, seamstress, baker, even candle and soap maker (all items that could be used both at home or sold at market if necessary) – and as community health leader. Which is why the first American industrial factories – the infamously exploitative and abusive New England textile mills – set the stage to undermine women’s authority as family figures as well as their economic value as producers. “Their exploitation was even more intense than the exploitation suffered by their male counterparts,” Davis says later in the essay. “Needless to say, sexism emerged as a source of outrageous super-profits for the capitalists.”
White-collar culture6 still has the audacity to bump people to the bottom of the ladder for specializing in certain forms of labor it deems “unskilled,” even though it could never. The soft skills encouraged in girls by Christian patriarchy (and, by extension, American patriarchy), like organization, communication, and hospitality are among the most grossly undervalued.
Where would New York City’s many millionaires and billionaires (a disproportionate number of them white men) be without their secretaries screening their calls, arranging their calendars, and reserving their lunch tables? The hardworking (predominantly women of color) who clean their offices, homes, and tend to their children? Those classmates who could never be counted on to finish a group project don’t just disappear after college, they continue being good at letting other people catch the shit they let fall by the wayside and are frequently rewarded for it with further resources and responsibilities. Begging the question, how many of those are personally completed and how many of those are delegated away?
The simple administration of their lives and care of their own bodies is outside the capabilities of these captains of industry: a leadership style that takes “do as I say, not as I do” and tacks on an unspoken possibility-presented-as-promise that, distantly, that same bourgeoisie leisuretime to actually enjoy cooking could be yours. This – if you can catch it – is the ephemeral carrot of capitalism, and the manufactured, systemic stress of meritocratic hierarchy6 is the bludgeoning stick. The American Dream.
“Professional” environments naturally lend themselves to the sins of Ambition and Power: the transgressions of women working up the ladder, carving their own path if they’re smart and following the carrot if not. But, as a lowly temp, I’ve found these words Mona has on Anger broadly describe what I have seen: “patriarchy keeps us terrified, demanding from us an endless supply of patience, passivity, and obedience, as it pathologizes and snuffs out our justifiable rage.” For a long time, the only way I could sustain my rage under the constant pressure of patriarchy was by constantly stoking it to its brightest burn.
I’ve found my limits in this way. The diminishing returns and (currently) idle nature of my anger manifest as long spells of despondency, allowing that self-flagellating voice of patriarchal perfection to fill the back of my mind like noxious gas, only to be violently punctuated when my temper ignites. I’m patient, until I’m not. And the resulting outburst not only hurts me, but the loved ones huddled around me in these difficult times. (Usually we agree and I still end up picking the fight for its own sake.) I can see how it would be tempting to turn that anger away from you and yours, towards “the other.”
Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls takes white feminism to task in a myriad of constructive and valid ways, particularly highlighting the ways in which white women pull themselves up by pushing other minorities down, intentional or no (which I also noted as a feature of toxic, white feminism in my last post). It doesn’t excuse the abuse of the sin of power by a long shot, but I would hypothesize that it is that psychologically imposed meekness enforced by industrial capitalism that paves the way for them to become volatile “foot soldiers of the patriarchy,” as Mona puts it. Punching down because they’ve been punched: not simply snuffing rage, but bottling it up and paying it forward. Capitalizing on and exploiting it on behalf of the patriarchy.
Mona talks extensively about confronting Patriarchy in the state, “street” (socially, professionally), and home, where trauma unfolds in subtle and/or familiar ways. With Americans’ (ideally) restricted by Coronavirus, the three settings of patriarchy have merged into one. There is a lot of discussion of the unequal distribution of domestic labor7 during the pandemic and how women are shouldering a disproportionate amount of it, especially childcare.8 Under this enormous pressure, it seems like an unnecessary uphill battle to use Coronavirus quarantine as the catalyst for a revolutionary overhaul of the division, expectations, and (frankly) standards of domestic labor. (No one is going to see your baseboards until 2021, Becky.) Nevertheless, I find myself thinking… if patriarchy is so blithely eager to relinquish its hold on “the home,” there may be an opportunity there.
Mona entreats her readers to “defy, disobey, and disrupt” the patriarchy: she blasts her own hole in the binary. No matter who your are what roles you serve in the state, street, and home, the Seven Sins she outlines encourage women experiencing trauma and self-doubt under patriarchy to buck its behavioral and moral conditioning, and embrace these acts and attitudes as multifaceted tools of empowerment instead of shameful deficiencies.
In re-engaging with Catholicism, I have been looking for a sin-ergy (if you will) between these feminist ideals and the many “virtues” prescribed to me as a child: grace, faith, constance. I’m trying to bring them to “the conversations we need to be having” with our white family members along with the Seven Sins; evolving my tactics, tired of running again and again at the same wall. Conversation, community, and change develop over time, knowing when to listen or even walk away, leaving people to consider and reconsider the facts on their own can be more effective in making the point than the point itself. No one likes the suspended discomfort of walking away from an important conversation (often leaving oneself hanging in the balance as the target of collective family frustration) much less following up on it, but giving things time to marinate is necessary.
I have always felt the keen connection between my feminism and my domesticity. Even though the latter was a virtue patriarchy demands, my super-strength has always been comfort (food, usually) and emotional care, in building people up. I think of Hestia, Greek goddess of the hearth and home, and the dual skills of patience and engagement required to tend an eternal flame. I imagine hers is a working kitchen. I scold my inner perfectionist like a child now that I recognize her as a footsoldier of the patriarchy (even- especially when she uses me to speak on feminism). I do one (1) chore a day, if I feel like it. I forgive myself for indulging the days of rest I refused to ask for when I needed them, but now have in plenty. And when my attempt at baking a cake for this post in Mona’s honor literally fell through, I decided that was how it was meant to be.
1 The store’s owner recently received a payout from the government to retain her staff, then fired most of them. Not to mention investing in massive amounts of Amazon stock at the beginning of Covid quarantine in March. Support her whistle-blowing employees
2 One temp gig was suspiciously truncated after I casually outlined my feminist beliefs to another assistant over lunch.
3 But not entirely uncalled for, see again: this Leo bitch will eat you alive, sir.
4 Look at this blog for fuck’s sake, do I need to tell you how many douchebags have asked to “taste” my pie unsolicited?
5 I was particularly intrigued by The Wages for Housework Movement, and an essay by Mariarosa Dalla Costa entitled ‘Women and the Subversion of the community,’ from which Davis extracts the idea that a housewife’s dometic value should be valued by capitalism by the process which births, raises, disciplines, and “[services] the worker for production,” and shakes it out into something non-gendered. “If the industrial revolution resulted in the structural separation of the home economy from the public economy,” Davis says, “then housework cannot be defined as an integral component of capitalist production. It is, rather, related to production as a precondition. The employer is not concerned in the least about the way labor-power is produced and sustained, he is only concerned about its availability and its ability to generate profit. In other words, the capitalist production process presupposes the existence of a body of exploitable workers.”
6 Read: white supremacist, patriarchal, late-stage capitalism, but let’s engage with the ideal of meritocracy for the sake of argument; for any “devil’s advocates” reading.
7 Of course all these articles (and the many more floating around) are written by women, just once I’d like a man to repeat the directions back to me, smh.
8 This is to say nothing of the women (and children in their care) enduring abusive conditions at the hand of a partner or male family member.