A team of economics and business professors have found a link between farming methods and gender inequality. Societies that historically relied on ploughs for farming now have lower rates of gender equality; societies that historically relied on traditional farming methods like hoe and stick digging now have a more consistent rate of women’s participation in the public sphere. Plough farming requires a good deal of upper-body strength that women often don’t have, eliminates the need for weeding (a task often performed by women), and isn’t suitable for ersatz on-site childcare, relegating women to domesticity.
The study examined societies that rely on “plough-positive crops”—including wheat, barley, and rye—with societies that make better use of “plough-negative crops,” such as millet, sorghum, and root and tree crops. The authors determined that “societies that traditionally practiced plough agriculture…developed a specialization of production along gender lines. Men tended to work outside of the home in the fields, while women specialized in activities within the home. This division of labor then generated norms about the appropriate role of women in society.”
These findings are wildly appealing to me—it satisfies my itch to proclaim “Look, this stuff is ancient!” without resorting to evolutionary psychology (which is frequently fascinating, and often misogynist bullshit). It offers an insight into human geography; it reflects the ways in which cultural developments wear the mask of progress can divide along gender lines just as it creates and divides class.
It also offers an insight into feminist possibilities of our contemporary food choices. Much of the gender rhetoric surrounding food has been ecofeminist dialogue clustered around veganism and the sexual politics of meat: Worthy stuff, mind you, but since I do happen to believe that humans are higher beings, I don’t have problems eating meat; in fact, I do so with relish (and onions). We’ve also given thought to supporting agricultural collectives run by women, examined the ways the art of homemaking can transform our national dinner plates, and the gender politics of food rationing in times of war.
But I ask you, fellow feminists, to go beyond the meat, beyond the private sphere, beyond the Ghanaian agricultural collectives. I ask you, fellow feminists, to ask yourselves: But what about the grain? I ask you, fellow feminists, to join me in The Hoe Diet.
When we eat our wheat-laden breads, crackers, and Ding-Dongs, we are swallowing centuries of systemic oppression thrust upon the women of the weeds by their plough-bearing husbands. When we drink our barley in the form of beer, we quench our thirst with the sweat of men who have kept down our foremothers.
What would happen if we switched our diet from crops of oppression to crops of liberation? What would happen if we replaced our rice with woman-friendly millet? What would happen if we reclaimed the tree crops that were originally ours? What would happen if we rejected the yang wheat of The Man for the yin root vegetables of The Woman? What would happen if we capped off our SlutWalks with HoePotlucks?
We are what we eat, my sisters of sorghum, and to help you join me in the path to liberation, I’ve compiled recipes with gynocentric ingredients sure to start off your Hoe Diet with gusto:
Kate Millett Pilaf
1 cup millet
6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons hen broth
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
Place millet, water, and salt in large saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain. Heat broth in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add parsley and tomatoes; cook 1 minute more. Stir in cooked millet and toss gently to combine. Serve immediately while reciting from Sexual Politics.
1 ½ cups chopped kale
⅓ cup coconut water or fruit juice
¼ self-pollinating avocado
1 cup unisex melon, chopped
¼ teaspoon stevia
4 ice cubes
1 tablespoon Vermont maple syrup
1 tablespoon menstrual blood
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Add all ingredients to blender and puree in a spiral dance.