Traditional Womanly Arts for Austere Times by Sue of Suburbia

Sometimes I ponder what it means to be a woman in our society of hyper-consumption.  If you watch television or read today’s women’s magazines, you are led to believe that the activities most preferred by a woman are shopping, poisoning her nails, getting her hair yanked around in a salon, zapping packaged foods in the microwave, and ingesting a concoction of prescription drugs to stay sane through it all.

I tried some of these things in the past.  Each time, I was left with an utterly unfulfilled feeling and thinking, “There has to be more to being a woman than this!”  I stopped reading women’s magazines about 11 years ago and stopped watching television about five years ago.  With both of these moves, my life has changed dramatically.  I have been able to focus on the true meaning of being a woman, not the image fed to me by advertisers.  In the process, I have acquired a set of traditional womanly arts that I will never lose.  I began acquiring these skills first while living in a condo and have expanded my skills set here on my ½ acre suburban plot.

Many of these traditional womanly arts are also necessary skills during periods of austerity, and have been used by generations of women and mothers before us.  I practice them for the feeling of fulfillment I get from them, knowing that I am taking good care of my family and my land in the most healthful way.  When TSHTF, it will be necessary for us women to go back to our roots doing what our bodies, minds and hearts were designed to do.  Our primary function is to be selfless and nurture our families in a mindful way.  Succumbing to pressures from advertisers to be selfish and to consume their products does not achieve this and holds us back on so many levels.  Why spend $20 getting our nails done when we could use that money to buy a used book and a video on knitting or sewing?  Why spend $150 on getting our hair yanked around when that money could be spent more wisely on a whole library of books on gardening?  It is time to invest in ourselves as women in a real way.  Learning these womanly arts now will prove to be priceless and will help our families stay healthy when TEOTWAWKI occurs.  It will be necessary for a woman to be a “Jill-of-all-trades” and those trades do not include pushing a shopping cart, parallel parking an SUV, or operating a television remote. 

These are by no means an exhaustive list of traditional womanly arts, but they are what I love to do the most and what I have found – as a mother and wife – to be most valuable in my household:

  • Cold-process soap-making:  This is an art that has been in my family for generations.  Both of my grandmothers and the generations before them practiced this traditional womanly art.  It skipped a generation with my own mother, but I am happy to say that I have nearly mastered this skill and will pass it on to my own two daughters.  This type of soap-making involves mixing fats and lye under strict temperature conditions to produce soap.  Soaps sold today in stores are chock-full of petrochemicals, unpronounceable ingredients and fragrance additives.    Making soap at home allows me to create cost-effective, healthful bars of soap from real fats that won’t poison my family.  It is a great way to use up some of the less-desirable cuts of lard from a slaughtered pig too.  For anyone interested in learning cold-process soapmaking, I like Anne Watson’s book Simple Soapmaking
  • Raising poultry for eggs and meat: I have been raising chickens for eggs and meat for awhile now, without needing any help from my husband, which frees him up to do other things.  Chickens and other poultry are simple for a woman to handle by herself, as they are relatively easy to herd and carry when necessary (unlike larger livestock like pigs, goats and cows).  They provide two very dense sources of protein: eggs and meat.  Slaughtering chickens is a task a woman can do alone as well.  I am deeply satisfied by raising healthy poultry for my family’s consumption.  I have pretty good carpentry skills, so I have been able to build coops to house my chickens, which has saved us a lot of money in that department as well (no need for a handyman or expensive pre-built coops).  YouTube is a great resource for any woman looking to learn more about this skill.  I particularly like all of Virginia farmer Joel Salatin’s videos.  He is a self-proclaimed Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist and his philosophy will intrigue you and get you thinking.  This video will get you started (and maybe even hooked on Joel Salatin!): 
  • Knitting: I find this activity to be much more relaxing and productive in the evening than watching television.   It is a better example to set for my daughters than watching television as well.  Whenever I pull out my knitting needles, my 4-year-old daughter sits right next to me with hers and pretends to knit something.  When she gets older and her dexterity is good, I will teach her this valuable, productive skill.  There are tons of videos on YouTube for beginning as well as experienced knitters.  I find a video to be much more helpful than a book when learning a new knitting skill. I really like the Cyberseams series on YouTube
  • Sewing:  Learning to sew clothes is time better spent than aimlessly wandering aisles in clothing stores and swiping credit cards.  When I produce clothes for myself and my family, I have created an heirloom that can be passed down to the next generation.  Who does that with store-bought clothes made in Chinese sweatshops?  As women, knowing how to sew also allows us to repair our worn clothing, giving it new life.  It gives our clothes meaning and allows us to express our womanly desire to craft with our hands.  I love the pieces of clothing that my mother sewed for me as a young girl, and I still have them at-the-ready for when my oldest daughter can fit into them.    Again, YouTube is a great resource to learn this skill.  A good place to start is the Puking Pastilles Learn to Sew 101 series.
  • Elbow-grease cleaning: I prefer to use good, honest elbow grease to clean my home rather than purchasing packaged, designer cleaning supplies that are toxic to my family and my earth.  A woman only needs a few ingredients to have a clean home: baking soda, vinegar, lemon essential oil, borax, soap (home-made of course!) and water.  An added benefit of this is that there is no longer a need to go shopping for a certain specialty product when it runs out.  I just buy all of my basic cleaning ingredients in bulk maybe once or twice a year.  The homemade product I use most in my household is a simple mixture of equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle.  I use this to clean most of the surfaces in my home.  Advertisers want you to believe that you need a separate product for each surface of your home.  You don’t.  A great resource for both basic and fancier recipes is Annie Berthold- Bond’s Better Basics for the Home.
  • Making personal care products:  This is one area in our household where we save a lot of money compared to conventional households.  I spend literally pennies and a few minutes making a whole tub of body lotion that is safe for all of us to use, even my infant daughter.  I cannot express in words how much more fulfilling it is to craft a high-quality, chemical-free batch of sunscreen in my kitchen than it is to hop into the car to buy a little tube for $12.  I do not feel cheated; instead, I feel like a goddess.  You need not spend $3 a tube for lip balm when you can make it for 3 cents.  I also make all of the deodorant, diaper rash cream, baby massage oils and hair treatments in our household.  I estimate that we have saved thousands of dollars over the years from my learning this womanly art.  Annie Bertholdt-Bond’s Better Basics for the Home is a great resource in this area, as well.
     For fancier recipes in this area, you can try Stephanie Tourle’s Organic Body Care Recipes.

  • Edible gardening:  I know so many women who love to garden, but unfortunately their efforts are wasted on non-productive plants like roses and lilacs.  All that effort put towards a highly productive edible garden would be time much better spent.  It is in our DNA as women to nourish our families, and what better way than with edible gardening?  Learning this womanly skill now will prove invaluable in a SHTF situation and provides literally endless fulfillment.  I recommend The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward Smith.
    I get nearly all of my heirloom  and/or open-pollinated seeds from Baker Creek.
    For information on time-saving and work-saving perennial vegetable gardening, I highly recommend Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier.

  • Baking/cooking from scratch:  this is a skill that is strongly associated with women.  Unfortunately, in today’s hyper-consumer culture, this skill has been reduced to hopping in the car, buying a bag or box from the freezer section, and zapping it in the microwave.  I dare say that a loaf of bread baking in the oven or a slowly simmering soup made with ingredients from the garden and the coop give the home a warm coziness that is not achieved with supermarket microwaveable junk foods.  It is yet another fulfilling activity for women and can be easily passed on to future generations.  When TEOTWAWKI comes, it will be essential to be able to make use of whatever is on hand when there are no more fully-stocked grocery store shelves.  Using simple ingredients to make nutritious, delicious meals is a key skill for any woman interested in traditional arts.  I recommend Alice Waters’The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution. I also love Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.
  • Natural/herbal healing:  learning which medicinal herbs to use to heal sicknesses in our families is a traditional womanly art that has been practiced by mothers for generations.  Unfortunately, it skipped my mother’s generation because of the onslaught of prescription drugs manufactured by big pharma in the last 50 years.  Sitting bedside, healing and nursing the sick is part of our genetic makeup as women.  Knowing the basics of herbal healing and when to quarantine is of utmost importance and should be part of our instincts.  This is an important skill to learn now, before a crisis situation occurs, as it takes much time to develop the confidence and knowledge to be able to apply it in a practical way.  I am by no means an expert in this vast field of ancient medicine and am constantly learning, but I find this area tremendously useful and fulfilling as a mother.  I recommend Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide.
  • Lastly and perhaps the most important of all womanly skills is teaching.  In order to preserve these womanly arts for future generations, it is of utmost importance for a woman to include her daughters, nieces and/or young friends in all of these activities such that they become a way-of-life from an early age.  I have no doubt that the future holds much more austerity than what we know now.  We humans are using resources too quickly and we are not replenishing them.  Our current way of life in the U.S. is not sustainable for even another 20 years.  Teaching our daughters these skills now, while they are young and while resources are still abundant, will ensure that they have the capacity to care for their families in the hard times awaiting us. 

For good reading on the philosophy of homemaking, I recommend Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by grass-fed cattle farmer Shannon Hayes.
While not specifically aimed at women, this book dives deeply into the fulfillment that traditional domesticity offers, and it aims to drive people away from the consumerist lifestyle into a more satisfying life of production.  I believe women of all walks of life can benefit greatly from this type of reading.