The Edenic Allure of Ballerinafarm
"It’s no wonder that many LDS women have taken to Momfluencing and Homefluencing (and now Farmfluencing) like fish who finally found water."
Last week, you followed me down one of my favorite influencer rabbit holes. This week, by sheer coincidence, we’re going down another. I’ve been wanting to do a Q&A with Meg Conley, whose conversation with me about What Got Left Out of LuLaRich turned into one of the most popular pieces I’ve ever published in Culture Study. Then I watched Hannah Neeleman, better known by her family’s Instagram handle, Ballerinafarm, document her experience competing as Mrs. Utah (while several months pregnant) in the Mrs. USA pageant. I messaged Meg immediately.
I’d been following Ballerinafarm for well over a year — people email me all the time with suggestions to follow, and this account is at the top of that list — but the narrative emphasis on pregnant ballerina quasi pig farmer beauty queen was too ideologically tangled for me to unravel on my own, in part because it’s even more complicated than that word salad suggests.
Neeleman is a Juilliard-trained dancer, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the mother of six (soon to be seven) children. She lives with her husband, Daniel, on a ranch outside of Park City, Utah. Another important detail: Daniel’s father is David Neeleman — founder and former CEO of JetBlue, as well as four other airlines. The Neelemans currently sell Ballerinafarm beef and pork, along with a cornucopia of Ballerinafarm-branded merch. But the real product is the lifestyle: pastoral, filled with beautiful moppy-haired children and their graceful, angel-faced mother. There is a lot going on here! And I am grateful that Meg agreed to unpack some of it with me, using a set of analytical tools and frameworks you don’t often see in influencer commentary.
I’ll also repeat what I said last time Meg was here: if you find all of this as intersting as I do — I hope you’ll consider subscribing to Meg’s newsletter, Homeculture. If you’re a regular reader of Culture Study, you’ve probably clicked on a link to one of Meg’s pieces: on kitchen design, or the beanie baby boom, on the story of a refinished table and miscarriage in the home. She is a singular thinker. How lucky we are to have her.
AHP: Your work occupies a particular ideological crossroads: the performance of motherhood, the maintenance of white supremacy (oftentimes alongside that performance) and the imperatives of public performance of womanhood and family as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That is a long sentence but Ballerina Farm is a complicated text. I’ve described some of what I see when I look at this account — some of it very surface level. But what do you see?
MC: I want to start this by saying…I’ve got no beef with Hannah of Ballerina Farm! And yes, that’s a glorious pun, and I am very excited to be using it here. But it’s also super true. We’re all moving really imperfectly through imperfect circumstances. Usually, we get to do that privately. And it feels like becoming a public figure through Influencing has existed forever, but it hasn’t. Not only is it still relatively new, it’s mostly being done by people who have no idea how to move in public.
Whether you know what you’re doing or not, becoming a public figure opens us up to public adoration and also public critique. And I think both of those things can be incredibly harmful if they’re not mediated by something. I really always try to mediate my critiques with compassion and humility. Sometimes I don’t have enough of either. But as we go through this text together, I hope both are in abundant display.
Before I knew anything about how or why Hannah lived on a farm, before I knew about her family connections, or even her Mormonism, I saw a video of her dancing with her kids around her. And it moved me. It is relatively rare to see online depictions of a mom moving for herself while in the presence of her kids. Like, this wasn’t a middle of the kitchen dance party with the kids. This was her moving in a way she’d been trained to move while her kids witnessed her and moved around her movements.
So much of the way motherhood is represented on social media is a performance. But the people performing and the people viewing pretend it’s not a performance. Here was something completely different. She was openly performing - for us, for her children, for herself. And that was beautiful! At first glance, this performance is happening in what appears to be pretty standard circumstances. The viewer has no idea she’s connected to hundreds of millions of dollars. She’s wearing a kind of a mom uniform; she’s not in a Pinterest-ready environment. It felt like she was trying to convey what I often try to convey — personal rigor and transcendence can exist in the midst of motherhood.
When I realized Hannah is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, her dancing in the middle of fields and in the midst of her kids became even more fascinating to me. Because being a Latter-day Saint woman is kind of this rich study in embodied tension.
Mormons believe Eve was wise and right to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. It was a choice she made to help herself and humanity progress beyond the garden. Humanity couldn’t return to God without leaving the garden first, and Adam followed her inspired direction. That’s a pretty radical heritage to be given as a little girl in Sunday school.
I remember feeling so invigorated by that concept of Eve. But then I hit 12 years old — the age LDS boys get ordained to the priesthood. In the LDS church, the priesthood is two things. First, it is the power through which God created heaven and earth, you and me. That priesthood exists with or without a church. Second, the priesthood is the power to act and direct with God’s authority, with God’s power. It is this second priesthood that 12 year old boys receive. There are lots of callings and positions in the church that require the priesthood — including all major decision making positions at regional and international levels. I did not get the priesthood when I turned 12. Instead, I started getting modesty and marriage lessons at church. And it can feel so confusing because like…what about Eve?
If Eve had been an LDS woman in the garden, she wouldn’t have been allowed to make her choice. Because she’d have had no authority to make it. Mormon women have no official authority in the LDS church — only men can be ordained into the priesthood. And yet, LDS women are still expected to live up to Eve’s heritage. They are tasked with helping humanity progress toward heaven. Instead of walking out of a garden, they are supposed to walk into their homes and use their influence to direct their family to heaven. LDS women are also encouraged to be public from our homes — to preach and teach and, well, generally influence.
A lot of LDS women try to use persuasion in addition to influence. Persuasion is different from influence because it’s a dialogue. I am a fan of persuasion generally, but you have to have someone willing to listen to you to engage in a dialogue. As an LDS woman, it is hard to get LDS men in power to engage in a dialogue. If you believe God denied women the authority to make decisions for the church, how likely are you to let them make decisions for…anything? I think that this lack of dialogue in the places of power in their church trains LDS women in the art of influence very, very early on.
So LDS girls are given the heritage of one radical bite that took us out of a walled, static space. But then we’re basically told: “Well, really women do belong in a walled space — preferably a single-family home filled with kids. Don’t pick any forbidden fruit. Do bake some fruit pies. But you know, Eve pushed herself out into the world. So you should push yourself too — seek knowledge and accomplishment. But! Remember your knowledge and accomplishment should always be in service to your motherhood or potential motherhood. Stay in that home while also living up to Eve. Help save a world in which you are both spiritually and secularly disenfranchised.”
LDS women have been trying to be the bridge for their own tension for generations. It looks different for all of them. But a Juilliard trained ballerina dancing in her home for the entire world is definitely one manifestation. Tension can strain, but it can also expand. Sometimes it does both at the same time. With this understanding of how early LDS girls need to begin to rely on their ability to influence, it’s no wonder that many LDS women have taken to Momfluencing and Homefluencing (and now Farmfluencing) like fish who finally found water.
And — to be totally self-aware here — no wonder I’ve taken to writing. Aren’t I trying to save the world with every single little essay written from my home? I hope my writing practices persuasion more than influence. But ultimately, the roots of my writing grow into the same soil as the roots of Hannah’s dancing.
All of this tension causes a lot of pain and questioning for many LDS girls as they enter their teen years. The church addresses that pain by reinforcing the soft power of influence.The thing about influence is, ultimately, it’s the influenced who decide who is influential. I could write a lot more about this, but oppression begets oppression. Racism and misogyny always go hand in hand. There are a lot of amazing LDS people working to address the racist past of their church. But generally, the culture of the church is a lot like America. While women are consistently disempowered, white LDS women are granted influence in a way other LDS women are not. And it is not a coincidence that the Mormon Influencing community is pretty damn white.
AHP: I’d love to talk about the design aesthetics: the AGA stove, which is treated as a member of the family, and the house they pulled down to the shiplap studs, Hannah’s whole look, and the bolo ties. These kids wear cowboy hats on the gram like they’re running for political office in the state of Montana.
MC: If I asked a teenager to create an Animal Crossing Island with a farm aesthetic, they might create something close to what Ballerina Farm looks like. And they’d definitely dress their Animal Crossing character in a gingham dress and a cowboy hat. But like, real ranchers and farmers are more likely to be wearing hoodies, baseball caps and muck boots. I am not saying they never wear cowboy hats! My dad is from a small town in New Mexico. He grew up wearing cowboy boots and cowboy hats. But if he was doing anything physical or dirty, he wore boots with a good tread and a baseball cap.
And the exposed shiplap walls! Your newsletter has already gotten into the cultural weight of those walls. Some form of shiplap has been used for thousands of years on the sides of ships because it’s water tight. It’s used on the exterior of sheds for the same reason. Until we had better ways to insulate, people used it in their homes too. But people used to cover it up with wallpaper because it was all function, no form.
It’s fascinating, then, that when the Ballerina Farm was being remodeled, they exposed the shiplap AND THEN PUT INSULATION ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE HOUSE. I don’t think that’s a morally wrong decision, I don’t even think it’s a bad design idea. I like exposed brick, beams and panels. But it is representative of something you see a lot in their representation of Farm Life™. They take something that once served a real need and embrace it because of its aesthetic —even though it’s more costly and time consuming than modern alternatives. This is not a choice most people making their living through agriculture can make.
Their AGA stove is a perfect example of this. We think of AGA as being kind of fussy and fancy. (AHP: If you don’t know about AGA stoves, here’s Mary Berry on ‘Why I Love My AGA.” Also they cost at least $20k if not much more). But its origin story is pretty practical. Gustaf Dalén was a Swedish engineer and inventor. In 1912, he won the Nobel Prize in physics. Dalén was blinded in an accident during an experiment months before he won. He started to work from home where he was able to get the assistance he needed as he learned to live without sight.
While he was working from home, he realized how much labor it took for his wife and their housekeeper to stoke the stove all day for cooking and heating the home. Ashes needed to be emptied a couple times a day, fuel - wood or coal - needed consistent tending and replacement, incessant fiddling with flues and dampers to get the temperature right. It was terribly messy; kitchens were always covered in soot. So Dálen set about inventing a stove that would stay on all day without creating a mess or hours of work. The stove they produced is amazing! No stoking! Little fuss! Cast iron! Different compartments with different temperatures! It used heat storage from a slow-burning coal fire to cook food and warm a home. AGA was never inexpensive, but when it was invented, it was much more energy efficient than many other stoves.
Today, AGA stoves are incredibly expensive but they are no longer more efficient than any other stove. They can burn through an incredible amount of fuel. And it’s very lovely that Dálen decided to find a way to relieve housewives and housekeepers from the burden of fire keeping. Yet when men see a women performing the intense labor of care work, they often seem to think they’re seeing a problem that needs solving. The problem is “care work is labor intensive,” and their solution is often, “Here is an invention that will make it more efficient for women to do care work.” The inventions are nice, but care work is always labor intensive and rarely efficient, even with a radiant heat stove. You know what would help women more than any invention? A critical mass of men willing to do care work. Within the context of performed traditional gender roles, the continual warmth of the AGA feels smothering to me.
Maybe because Mormon culture often tells girls they should grow up to be something kind of like an AGA. Always on. Divided into compartments — one that is ready to receive whatever needs warming, one that is always prepared to produce something sustaining. A surface that is not too hot to the touch. But enough warmth to extend to all the people in the space around you, all the while burning through more fuel than you can shake a damn stick at.
AHP: I’ve spent the last few days really going deep into the (fairly spotty) internet archives of life for the family before this Instagram account — not in a creepy way, just in a “reading all of the blog posts from her Blogger account,” way, plus the interview she did with Deseret News in 2011 about winning Miss New York City with the values of frugality and modesty.
I feel like Hannah’s narrative didn’t quite gel until it gained the frisson of the farm and the contrast she plays up constantly about “city folk moved to the country.” Which is fascinating, because before, she was….in Brazil? There was definitely a potential narrative there if she wanted to shape it? But you look at the photos from her time there, and they effectively lived in a cocoon of their home, her husband’s sister’s family, their ward (an 8-minute walk away), and little else. You could look at these photos and never guess they were in Brazil. My hypothesis is that their whiteness and their class was too white there, too remarkable — they couldn’t just be a little family learning their way. Is there something about the Utah ranch that allows them to feign normalcy while also distinguishing themselves?
I’ve never seen depictions of their life before Ballerina Farm, but based on your description, it’s refreshing that Hannah and her family didn’t extract an influencing narrative from their time in another country. Once they came back to Utah, it might have felt like it was okay to take up some narrative space. There are a lot of mid-wealthy and incredibly wealthy people making Utah their home. They’ve got indoor basketball courts and movie rooms in enormous houses.
With that said, choosing to live on a productive ranch is wildly different than what many other people with access to wealth choose. Even the wealthy people that do live on ranches tend to avoid most of the work. So their lifestyle does distinguish them! From those wealthy people! They’re not feigning normalcy in the direction of middle-income people. They’re feigning normalcy in the direction of very upper-income people.
Buying a 328 acre ranch for millions of dollars to start a direct to consumer beef business is not normal. For many reasons, the first of which is that the kind of direct to consumer beef business you can run on 328 acres is not going to cover the many costs of living on the land. I don’t know how Ballerina Farm finishes their cows, I don’t know what their exact costs are, I have no idea how much of their ranch can be grazed. But I do know there’s no cow/calf calculator that spits out a number that makes Ballerina Farm work as a profitable business. Even with an efficient breed like Angus, they’d need much cheaper land. Their Berkshire pigs will help a bit, but not enough. They take about 200 days to get from birth to market. And the pigs’ food costs money before they can become food that costs money.
Do you mind if we geek out about land prices and cattle costs really quick? Because I don’t know enough about their business, I can’t tell exactly how much they could make off cattle and pigs in a year where everything went exactly right. But on average, you can have 100-150 cattle on a ranch their size. If you were selling one hundred cows a year? After you deduct the cost of feed, pasture maintenance, breeding, vet costs, machine hire, processing and everything else, you might make anywhere between $35k and $60k a year. With $60k being at the very bonkers high end.
Let’s assume I am wrong by $100,000. It costs more money to finish your own cows, but you do make a little more money selling beef directly to consumers. But it still doesn’t work! Well, it doesn’t work unless they’re moving A LOT of Ballerina merch. (Also! Selling directly is a luxury many, many producers can’t afford; I really recommend this Daily episode about the state of our beef industry. It will make you cry.)
According to multiple real estate sites, the Ballerinafarm ranch was listed for $2.75 million dollars before they purchased it. I have no idea what the purchase price was, but let’s say within spitting distance. That means they paid around $8,000 an acre in 2018. If they got a low interest, no down payment USDA loan, their payment would be over $10k a month. In 2020, the USDA reported that Utah’s average farmland real estate value was $2540 per acre — but pasture lands were $1240 per acre.
Which means that in 2018, they paid quite a premium for their 328 acres. Which makes sense, because it is in a gorgeous part of Utah filled with second, third and fourth homes. They’re just 15 minutes outside of Park City. They weren’t really paying for the pasture, they were paying for location. And whoever buys the farm next will be too.
In 2021, Hannah posted that the ranch was for sale because they’d suddenly outgrown it. (AHP note: Unclear what’s happening with the sale; doesn’t seem like the ranch has changed hands yet.) They needed more land. The list price? $6.5 million dollars, or $19.8k an acre. The acreage didn’t become more productive; it just became more desirable.
Honestly, I am not fussed that people with access to money bought a really gorgeous ranch and decided to raise cattle and pigs to live an expensively simple life. That’s what wealthy British people have been doing since enclosure. It’s not new. I wish they’d just be honest about it! Like just say, “We come from a family with immense resources. We’re so lucky. We wanted to raise animals with all that good luck. Isn’t that kind of cooler than building a mansion with a movie room?”
But the evasiveness on this point is not ultimately destroying me. They’ve got a brand story and they’re sticking to it. And maybe they did take out a low interest USDA loan for the $2.75 million dollars instead of getting family help for it. They may even be working the land studiously! But they are not living off of it. I wish they’d stop pretending they were. Because so many people who do live off the land are in such a desperate state.
When Ballerina Farm pretends their reality *is* reality, those people are erased. This critique applies to lots of white people buying homes: just be honest. Stop erasing all the people who do everything they can and still can’t buy a home. Last year, I wrote about how buying a home when we were 24. That purchase has already had GENERATIONAL consequences for our family. That first home made it so we could buy our current home. We’ve been able to pay for interventions for our daughter’s beautiful neurodiverse brain with our current home’s equity. And we were able to get that first home because we had no student debt, no medical debt, and good credit. We worked hard to get it, but everyone works hard. Luck and privileged circumstance got us from “works hard” to “works hard and owns a home.”
More and more people are doing some version of pretending, and they don’t need a dad worth millions to do it. They see something like the Ballerina Farm and think, Oh! They’re right! That IS better than what I’ve got here. It’s simpler. It’s purer. And then they take their tech money and their remote job and set up a homestead in Montana, Wyoming, Utah. They buy land from real ag producers who cannot hold on any longer. But that sort of purchase — along with their lack of a need for the land to actually make their living — inflates the price of land all around them. So more producers sell, but at the same time, fewer producers who actually live off the land can buy or rent it for things like grazing, because the cost of land keeps going up.
AHP: Let’s look at the website. There’s not a lot there — Hannah uses IG captions to narrativize, not the website — but the rhetoric is telling.
First, there’s their “story”:
One day, while visiting a cattle ranch in in central Brazil, we ran into something that shocked us. As the experienced rancher talked about his impressive cattle operation, Daniel couldn’t stop looking at the man’s pigs. They weren’t locked up in stalls. Rather, they were out to pasture munching on grass side by side with the cows. They also enjoyed perusing fallen fruit from a smattering of mango, guava, cashew, and star fruit trees that dotted the farm.
So after 4 years in Brazil, we came back to the states, bought land and Ballerina Farm was born.
I mean first and foremost there’s some missing information here: “bought land” how!?! They’re writing about pigs here but they’re actually writing about their kids, right?
And then there’s the description of “The Farmers.”
Ballerina Farm is nestled in the fertile mountain valley of Kamas, Utah. Blessed with cool summers and snowy winters, livestock and humans alike enjoy this high altitude oasis. Hannah is a former Miss New York City and graduate of the Juilliard School in dance. Daniel has a BA in history and a masters in business. The children are wild, hardworking and the best of friends.
Is this the prologue to How Green Was My Valley? Is this a travel brochure for the Great Northern Line from the 19th century? Is this a storybook for teaching kids their letters? A fertile mountain valley! Nestled! Blessed! Oasis! THIS IS NOT THE CITY, AND WHEN YOU’RE NOT IN THE CITY, KIDS ARE WILD AND WORK HARD AND BECOME BEST FRIENDS! It’s also significant that the only school name dropped here is Juilliard, which is legible to most American audiences as “the best” — but no mention of BYU, where Daniel received his BA. What is going on here.
The first thing I thought when I saw their website was…these people are not very worried about selling their meat. It is so difficult to use! So they either think people should, and will, work to use the site. Or they aren’t that worried about losing an order or two because people get fed up with their UX.
Neither makes sense for a small direct-to-consumer ranch. Compare their site to this other woman-owned direct-market beef business in Missouri Ruralist. What you see is meat, with just one or two pieces of merchandise. Her prices are also much lower. She also dry ages her beef. She raises a different brand of cattle, but the difference in breeds doesn’t really explain the huge difference in price. Another interesting tidbit: it is much, much easier to order merchandise from Ballerina Farm than it is to order meat. There is a lot of merchandise.
Now, Juilliard is definitely an important part of the Ballerina Farm origin story, for two reasons. The first is obvious: she’s a ballerina who does ballet on her farm. The second is less obvious, but equally important. By making Juilliard part of the Ballerina Farm story, the life she’s living now is framed as the one she chose over the life she could have had as a professional ballerina. SHE TOOK A BITE OF THE FORBIDDEN (BIG) APPLE BUT THEN DECIDED TO GO BACK INTO THE GARDEN. Can you hear me yelling, “ARE YOU SEEING THIS?!”
As to the fertile nestling: even the loveliest working ranches are not picture book landscapes. There’s a lot of rust, a lot of shit, a lot of mending, a lot of dust, a lot of smells, a lot of death, a lot of life, a lot of mud. That doesn’t mean they’re not beautiful. It’s just that…a ranch isn’t a Margaret Wise Brown book.
AHP: Kathryn Jezer-Morton argues that Instagram is “pure PR for the nuclear family,” and Ballerina Farm’s form of nuclear family PR induces, like, moonshine levels of intoxication. Just a handful of myths on display here: you really can go back to the land, you can have six children (seventh on the way) and still perfectly comply with body and beauty ideals, you don’t need makeup to be beautiful or a gym to discipline your body because you can just braid your hair and dance with your children and/or husband, you can make money off farming, the list goes on.
We know that Instagram hides far more than it tells, and so many of these accounts are “stories” with carefully molded plots in the same fashion of any Hollywood film, but I find this particular mix of myth-making particularly pernicious. I think it’s the fumbling part of it? Like, oh I’m bad at beauty queening because I’m a farmer (even though she’s been doing them her entire adult life) and I’m a bad farmer because I’m a beauty queen, but we’re happy and that’s what matters?
But Hannah’s not bad at either of those things, not really. She’s very good at brand management, but women aren’t really allowed to be good at things, so all of the skill has to be elided, and other parts of the story inflated. There’s a point in this very aesthetically soothing video (made by a guy who makes Nike commercials) where she says that on the farm, they work “12 hour days, 365 days a year.” And you know what, she does work all the time, and she does do a whole lot of labor. But it’s not at being a farmer. It’s at Being Ballerina Farm.
MC: A few days ago, Hannah posted a reel on Instagram. It’s her pregnant and in pageants throughout the year. The caption says, “It’s been a wild ride in this pageant filled year. First Mrs. Utah and then Mrs. America. Trading boots for high heels is less of an adjustment than you might think. Calling all women who might like to sign up in their own states. Mrs. Utah sign ups end today.”
And I just felt like, Why are you doing this? Why are you pretending that the boots came first? You’ve been in pageants since you were a teenager. Which, totally fine, she wanted to pay for school. In America, there are few good ways to figure that out. Some people turn to pageantry, sometimes literally, to get it done. Great.
But, again, just be forthright. She is a trained dancer with every physical attribute currently prized by much of our culture. Why would any of us think she’d have a hard time moving from her illuminated ranch to a well-lit stage? But more importantly, why is she pretending that the two worlds she moves between are anything like the two worlds we’d move between? Like, what are you selling me right now with that call to action? And why are you selling it?
I like big families! I am a huge fan of huge families! I could only mentally handle having three children. But I hope there’s a world in the multiverse where I got to have five or six. What a treat! Kids are so scrumptious. I want that on the record before I say this next part. It can be very expensive to have a lot of babies. The Ballerina Farm children are presented as the reason they chose a farm life. And now they’re wild and the best of friends, which, again, great. But how many families that truly depend on the price of beef have to choose to have fewer kids because of the financial strain of farm life? Again, so much of this could be addressed with just some honesty about how different their circumstances are from the lives of people actually living off the land.
In interviews, Hannah uses the word “natural” a lot. The earth is natural, raising animals is natural, farms are natural, pigs are natural. I think, maybe, one thing she is trying to say is that the home being a place of production is natural. And that’s true: the home has always been a unit of production as well as consumption. But that’s true whether or not the home is a farm, and whether or no the farm makes a profit.
Let’s talk about the Trad Wife of it all. Do you have to say you’re a Trad Wife to endorse the goals of trad wife-ism? I mean, Ballerina Farm, at least in its IG form, doesn’t even really talk about religious beliefs, let alone political ones. And yet, of course, the personal is political, particularly when don’t contextualize otherwise. Put differently, silence, within this sort of context, can be very loud.
I just keep thinking about how a writer for Talking Points USA (the organization headed by Charlie Kirk and funded by deep conservative pockets that goes around college campuses and makes up fake controversies) who highlighted Ballerina Farm as one her favorite Instagram follows:
The post is tagged AGRICULTURE and CULTURE WAR. Do I think Ballerina Farm and Charlie Kirk are pals? I honestly don’t know; I’m always surprised by who Charlie Kirk has convinced to show up at these things, and rich moral conservatives are wild. But this author said it very plainly: the page is giving her inspiration every day as how to live out her ideals as a conservative. And it’s worth mentioning who is and is not in that vision.
I’m so wary of the trad-wife designation at this point because I can’t really tell what it means to any given person at any given moment. Some people call any woman who centers her work in the home a trad wife. Sometimes just writing about work in the home is enough to earn the title.
I just had a piece published in Harper’s Bazaar about care work and capitalism. I argue that capitalism extracts value from care work. I think it’s the opposite argument of what a trad wife would make. But I did have a woman email me to accuse me of promoting the trad wife life. I guess because my piece was anti-capitalist but also pro care work? I wanted to ask her why we must concede care work and the home to traditional narratives, but deleted her email instead.
Still, there was an instagram post on the Ballerina Farm account awhile ago that kind of sums up what I think you’re getting at here. Hannah and Daniel did some challenge that involved making art from things they found in a field. She made a kind of very intricate wheel of grass, flowers, stones, weeds. It was pretty. He made a nest, just a pile of grass with three stones that looked like eggs. The caption is totally benign. But there’s a comment from a follower under it that’s not. It says, “Ugh this is so beautiful ‘it is a man’s purpose to make a home. It is a woman’s to make the home beautiful.’”
I have no idea who they’re quoting, but that’s really just another way of saying “It is a man’s purpose to have authority. It is a woman’s purpose to influence.” So how much of that interpretation of an art project is on Hannah? I don’t really have an answer. I do think that if we always see depictions of homemaking and beauty as reinforcing a traditional narrative, then some of that interpretation is on us.
I wonder if that Talking Points USA writer understands exactly how old this culture war actually is. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is a Pulitzer Prize winning historian. You know that “Well-behaved women rarely make history” quote you see everywhere? That’s from her. Of course, in context, she was arguing that women shouldn’t only make it into history when they create scandal. Women should just make it into history, full stop.
Thatcher Ulrich wrote an amazing book called The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of An American Myth. The premise of the book is that pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary white women in America were deeply involved in the economic system. They performed social reproduction alongside home based economic production, and were well aware of what their economic participation meant in relation to the transatlantic slave trade and the genocide of Indigenous Peoples. But then the Industrial Revolution took most economic production out of the home. People — especially pastors and politicians — panicked. They needed white women to stay home to raise white Christian babies. They did not want women to think they had the authority to direct production.
So they created a myth: “The Age of Homespun.” They told stories about revolutionary women dedicated exclusively to hearth and home. They took women’s work that was once considered productive, like needlework, and tucked it into social reproduction. They used a narrative to remove white women and their homes from the economy. When they did this, they also tried to narratively sever white women and their homes from accountability for the harm done in the name of economy.
Doesn’t that kind of sound like an excellent Instagram trad wife critique? I guess there’s nothing new under the sun. And can I tell you something else about Dr. Ulrich? She’s a Mormon woman too.
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