Desperate (Green) Housewives
The New York Times has turned environmentally conscious mothers into their latest target of derision. Unfair, says Laura McKenna. If you're going to mock, why not make fun of the whole green movement?
February 18, 2008 - 1:45 am
According to the New York Times, wealthy suburban moms aren’t arranging book clubs or Tupperware parties anymore. Instead, they are meeting for earnest discussions about how to make their lives more green.
Move over, Tupperware. The EcoMom party has arrived, with its ever-expanding “to do” list that includes preparing waste-free school lunches; lobbying for green building codes; transforming oneself into a “locovore,” eating locally grown food; and remembering not to idle the car when picking up children from school (if one must drive). Here, the small talk is about the volatile compounds emitted by dry-erase markers at school.
This article should come with two warning labels. One should explain that reporters from the New York Times will discover trends based on the habits of two of their friends. The other warning label is that any article that includes the word “mom” or even better yet “suburban mom” will be dripping with sarcasm and eye rolling. They have written that mommy bloggers are narcissistic, that moms push around huge strollers that threaten to steamroll the single hipsters, that moms let their spoiled spawn invade their neighborhood bars and restaurants.
In this case, the author takes shots at the suburban moms who are wasting all their time worrying about organic air fresheners, while they live in huge houses with wasteful lawns and drive mammoth SUVs. They fret over toys made in China and plastic table clothes. They approach environmentalism with the same zeal and perfectionism and stridency that have plagued the La Leche crew and the co-sleeping movement. Never has re-cycling been so unattractive. Even after reading the warning labels about trend articles on moms, I’m still turned off.
But let’s be fair — why should the mockery be limited to these suburban moms who at least have the sense to feel a little guilty about their energy consumption? If you’re going to mock, why not make fun of the whole green movement?
My issue of Domino arrived a few days ago. Domino is a home decorating magazine, aimed at a young, urban demographic. This month’s issue is devoted to green living. From this magazine, I learned how I could save the earth by buying $1,950 cement garden chaises, a $65 wicker hamper, or a $1,695 tree stump fashioned into an end table. I don’t mind when the magazine does its usual promotion of products, but this green issue is simply absurd. How many trees were killed to produce this glossy package of hypocrisy?
You want to save the earth? Here’s a little hint. Don’t. Buy. Shit.
The greenest people are totally unhip and unlikely to be photographed for the Times or a glossy magazine. They’re still wearing their clothes from twenty years ago. They aren’t keeping their home spa-worthy clean. No need to worry about polluting the air with chemicals, if you aren’t dusting every five minutes. They aren’t constantly renovating their kitchens and bathrooms, all of which uses enormous amounts of energy and resources; they are still living with the Formica numbers from the 70s. They aren’t jetting off to Europe to browse the Paris markets; they go bowling in the next town over. They aren’t constantly shopping for new things and tossing out the old things.
This is some poetry in all of this. Grandma with the Hummels has a smaller carbon footprint by doing absolutely nothing than the wealthy do-gooder in the Range Rover attending the NRDC fundraiser.
If you must have a hip home and global warming is a concern, then there are other ways to go. Pick up end tables from a garage sale and paint them. Buy an old house near the center of town. Don’t get your nails done. Don’t drive to the gym. Don’t join a gym and instead, burn calories by gardening. Stop recycling your San Pellegrino bottles and drink tap water.
You could also elect politicians who are willing to make serious efforts in conservation, mass transportation, and in the regulation of industry.
Let’s encourage the eco-conscious to ignore the calls of magazine hucksters to buy stuff, including $1,950 tree stumps. Let’s stop wasting our time with the band-aid solutions and guilt from the eco-moms.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make a dent in global warming. But to do it, you need a serious, non-cosmetic, un-cool, and un-trendy change in lifestyle and habits. And frankly there’s no need to make a big fuss about it, get preachy or show off to others how environmentally correct you are. Excessive non-consumption aimed at impressing one’s friends and neighbors is just as annoying — and as conspicuous — as consumption.
Laura McKenna is a political science professor who lives in New Jersey. She blogs at 11D.