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Leaving 104+ degree heat, an endless supply of Eskimo Sno Cones, and possibly the greatest family I’ve ever had a chance to meet in my life, I had a bit of a breakdown as the plane landed here in Portland.

It’s 70 degrees out, cloudy, and somewhat apathetic, as are most days in Little Berlin. I’ll try not to sigh too hard as I readjust, or to roll my eyes until I look like an extra from the movie Scanners when I see yet another fixed gear rider in cut-off skinny jeans and a deep v-neck shirt. As a mantra I’ll just repeat to myself 38 days until OU football, 38 days until OU football….

I begin with A List Of Names That People In Oklahoma Might Call Me

  • the tattooed girl
  • A…A…(name forgotten or unable to be pronounced)
  • weird Yankee (not to be mistaken for Daddy Yankee or any other reggaeton estrella mas grande)
  • not Simon
  • that one (because of the indistinguishable gender and unfortunate ability to stand out from a crowd anywhere but Portland and New York City)
  • Lil’ Bit
  • Ashley (tried and true and wrong every time)

As we prepared to leave the Sooner State, I folded some clothes that had just come out of the dryer. I had seen Simon’s mother carry a stack of meticulously folded shirts, shorts, socks, and boxers out of the laundry room a few days earlier and, believing the anti-feminist notion that a woman can prove her worth by cooking, cleaning, and creasing, I attempted to fold one of Simon’s tee-shirts.

I don’t know if the tee-shirt as a garment was designed not to be folded, but I’m assuming so. I’m also wondering what it says about how I was raised that I’ve gone 26 years and don’t know how to fold what might be the most prevalent and most formal item of clothing in my wardrobe. I do know how to pick locks, shuck an oyster, and groom a horse, though, so I suppose I’m still good for something.

As an only child, and upstanding ‘merican, I naturally refuse to blame myself as an individual for anything, so I chalked up my short-sleeved shame to the absence of home economics classes in our schools. You know, ’cause it’s the education system’s fault. And I totally wouldn’t have written gushy fan mail to Maynard James Keenan instead of paying attention in that class, too. Right.

Home economics, also referred to as family and consumer science, actually has a pretty riot grrl slant to it. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the one who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, had a sister who, most likely, was jealous of her and lived in her shadow. Catherine Beecher spearheaded the domestic science movement along with her famous family member. The two ladies grew up in a very religious household that also, coincidentally, emphasized the importance of education for the fairer sex. Home Ec grew out of the understandable need that while men were learning the complexicated science of how to till the fields, raise the pigs, and bale the hay, women needed to learn the truly important stuff: how to cook and clean.

I know this probably comes across as me being my usual, glib asshole self, but I’m serious. Especially in light of sudden layoffs, the exponentially increasing freelance market, the era of the home office, to have a house that’s well-kept, to me, is pretty much on par with personal hygiene. When everything else seems in flux keeping your nest maintained — may you be single, married, or livin’ it up living in sin — is a valuable skill to have.

History dictated that if your male family members work out in the field day and night in order to yield the perfect crop that will, in turn, provide you with some coins and some peaches to can, isn’t it important to know how to darn their socks (to keep their feet warm and prevent them from getting sick or getting blisters, both of which would work against a productive work force) and, moreover, how to preserve said peaches? The translation is, a happy home equals a productive workforce, especially if that work is arduous, non-desirable, or, um, based out of the house, studio apartment, van, whatever.

Home economics, so often dismissed as just being a way to keep women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, can actually be considered the origin of nutrition education and other applied sciences. Nowadays, while education is — and should remain — gender neutral, there seems to be an emphasis on classes that don’t necessarily prepare students for the real world. I’m not saying that we should scrap calculus in place of classes in blogging or lessons on how to be a savvy internet shopper. I’m just saying that some basic instruction on how to keep the hearth warm, at least in my schooling, has been lacking. I think that there should be a mandatory class to educate students on the stock market, investing, and online banking, but I’m also the girl who believes that Rage Against The Machine never should have broken up. Take it from where it comes.

In the past twenty years, home economics classes have shifted focus in order to adapt to the current climate. There’s more attention given to profit and loss, less on food safety. The emphasis is on an education beyond secondary school, and home ec. has become more about future job training. I’m also impressed to know that there’s an emphasis on child care in certain school districts, though in light of our current administration’s ass-backwards view on sex education, it’s no wonder. We’re teaching kids how to put a diaper on a baby instead of how to put a condom on a dick. Then again, we’re not teaching “cleanliness is next to godliness” or praising the convenience of modern laundry equipment. Remember that the microwave was the original iPhone, ladies. And now we’re learning how to create Power Point presentations versus how to “develop skill in cookery commensurate with the time apportioned to practical work,” whatever that means. My translation of that is nuke it on “HIGH” for two minutes and thirty seconds while downloading porn.

Now, in order to keep this blog post short and to make sure I have enough time set aside for my actual job — hooray, feminism — there’s a lot that I’m not addressing, like that home economics is historically very valuable during wartime, like that Cornell established its home ec department in 1907, and that the subject’s new moniker of “family and consumer sciences” sounds so boring that just to type it requires a nap. But in light of the current economic situation, and in light of how backward the values in this country have become, wouldn’t you agree that emphasis on knowing how to make your bed, cook on a budget, and sew your own clothes would help if we’re truly returning back to recession-era politics? Wouldn’t depression-era domestic skills help to make things bearable within a budget? It’s just a thought. Besides, you can always go to grad school for home economics and get paid to teach it full time. I don’t know if that’s irony or wisdom right there.

Of course after about ten tries and three times as many expletives I managed to create cloth origami out of Simon’s top. It was a lumpy square. I set about completing the easier items in the jumbled mess — pairs of socks curled into monster maki rolls, shorts doubled over until they were the size of playing cards, even more tee-shirts triumphantly pleated into envelopes with their labels as tiny stamps. The boy came in and abruptly man-handled my work before I had a chance to wail a reproach. He opted to take each piece of clothing I had so meticulously, lovingly, and painstakingly prepared for our jaunt back and roll them into fabric burritos. “You know you can save so much space by rolling clothes up?” he asked, his earnestness and boyishness indicating that he, too, has no fucking idea how to fold his clothes. At least I don’t have to worry about being judged for my inability to do so either. In this day and age, domestic ineptitude, shared equally between both genders, is the true sign of evolution in domestic science.

Feel free to donate or write me at AinsleyDrew, at sign, gmail dot calm.

Hire us to do anything but laundry.

Word booties.

Related links of interest that I discovered:
A comprehensive history of home economics and how it’s changed as an academic field, presented by CNN.

A Home Economics course manual from the 30s. Really interesting stuff.

Cornell’s Home Ec program timeline

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8 Comments

  1. Your posts are generally fantastic, today’s borders on brilliance! I loved it.

  2. I used to catalog UW masters’ theses from the 1930s-60s, and the home ec ones were pretty compelling. You put much more thought into the whole thing than I ever did, though.

  3. As always, you are wonderful.

  4. Hey, the “Parmesan Pull-Aparts” that I learned to make in 7th grade home ec (and which used, as one ingredient, those canned biscuits from the refrigerated section) are still one of the maybe 10 things I know how to cook. That’s saying something.

  5. Do you think that having a housekeeper also prevented you from learning domestice chores?

  6. OOPS! domestic

  7. Blog is getting better & better, Li’l Bit. Next time I see you I will show you a really cool way to fold t-shirts.

  8. Two things:

    – Portland was lovingly referred to as Lil’ Beirut by Poppa Bush, although the climate is closer to Berlin.

    – Housekeeper? My!


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