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K-State Today

July 27, 2017



Padilla Carroll publishes two works on US back-to-the-land movements and women's domestic labor

By Valerie Padilla Carroll

Valerie Padilla Carroll, assistant professor in the gender, women, and sexuality studies department, has published two works on U.S. back-to-the-land movements and women's domestic labor.

"Fables of Empowerment: Myrtle Mae Borsodi and Back-to-the-land Housewifery in the Early Twentieth Century" is published in the June 2017 issue of the Journal of American Culture.

In this article, Padilla Carroll explores how early back-to-the-land proponent Myrtle Mae Borsodi attempted to write women into the back-to-the-land political project by merging patriarchal gender expectations with feminist empowerment rhetoric in more than 30 articles in magazines, newspapers and trade publications during the 1920s and 1930s. Using herself as an exemplar, Borsodi wove a fable of empowerment where housewifery, organized by scientific management and the mechanization of the home, was the only truly fulfilling career for women. This fable of a career housewife maintains that women's labor is necessary for self-sufficiency but as an ideological narrative it also rests on racialized, and relatedly, class disempowerment where white middle-class privilege is unnamed under the guise of domesticity reclamation.

Padilla Carroll's second publication, "Writing Women into Back-to-the-Land: Feminism, Appropriation, and Identity in the 1970s Magazine Country Women" appears in the book, "Women and Nature? Beyond Dualism in Gender, Body, and Environment" (Douglas A. Vakoch and Sam Mickey, eds.; Routledge, 2017).

In this chapter, Padilla Carroll looks at the ways that racism and a hierarchical human/nature binary remained unchallenged in the feminist back-to-the-land publication "Country Women," a reader-contributed newsletter that explored feminist issues alongside do-it-yourself articles for the modern back-to-the-land farmer. The feminists of "Country Women" exposed the ways that the back-to-the-land movement relied on and exploited women's labor. Yet, even as they contested the heteropatriarchal underpinnings of the back-to-the-land movement, their reflexive dependence on a human/nature hierarchical binary and racial/ethnic appropriation meant these women used nature as the raw material and ethnic cultures as tools for self-empowerment rather than the dismantlement of oppressive systems and the construction of egalitarian ones.