The “Home” Revolution: Ecofeminism in “California, In-doors and Out”

To the modern mind, Eliza Burhans Farnham epitomizes an ideal ecofeminist in much the way that Judith Plant would outline in her essay on ecofeminism. Farnham espouses the interchangeability of roles for men and women, and that one should not dominate the other.

Farnham believes that for a real shift to occur – to from exploitation to harmony – there must be a shift in morality. She states that “The revolution in progress here at this hour will shortly have inaugurated a new and more hopeful state… the present is a war, not between parties or persons, but between principles of good and evil” (vi). Farnham deeply believes that a revolution in society must grow from the ground up, from deep inner principles out to purposeful action. She believes that a woman-centered society is at the core of this shift, which I will touch on a little later.

What interesting is that Judith Plant declares that ecofeminism “has very much to do with a shift in morality, in the attitudes and behaviors of human beings” (81). This means that the woman being the center of the family is more than a woman just taking a role as the leader of the household, but it is the fact that neither man nor woman dominates the other. It is a matter of a shift in morality, that is the revolution that Farnham is speaking about.

One may ask how to go from the abstract (“revolution in morality!”) to the concrete (“how does this work, right now?”). Both Farnham and Plant establish that the “home” is the nexus where the most change shall occur, and the home is the domain of the woman. Farnham states that “The home, holiest and purest nursery of what is good in the heart, springs up everywhere before woman” (285). Judith Plant echoes this principle: “The real work is at home” (82). Home is where core of a family resides – the principles of love and care and gentleness – and both Farnham and Plant imply that because a woman’s “natural” place is in the home, she has the most power to shift the direction of society.

What I find fascinating, though, is that Farnham glorifies the woman who can do everything a man can do – and a man traditionally does his work outside of the home. Farnham states that “it must not be forgotten that life in California is altogether anomalous, and that it is no more extraordinary for a woman to plough, dig, and hoe with her own hands, if she have the will and strength to do so, than for men to do all their household labor for months, never seeing the face of a woman during that time” (28).  Note that Farnham lists all of the backbreaking work that men traditionally do and juxtaposes this with the household labor of a woman coupled with loneliness – she does not say that one is easier than the other. I believe the emphasis here on Farnham’s ecofeminism is not so much the physical structure of the home, but the principle of “home” – that a family must be rooted in one place long enough to work the land and take care of the family unit.

Plant confirms that “the ecofeminist’s task is one of developing the ability to take the place of the other when considering the consequences of possible actions, and ensuring that we do not forget that we are all part of one another” (80). I find it fascinating that Farnham lives the deeper principle of ecofeminism by adhering to the principle that the man and the woman neither dominate one or the other. Feminism is not about the woman being higher than the man, it is about equality, in whatever role that might be. So yes, the woman is at the heart of the home, and she is still supported and protected by the man. And if the man and woman play musical chairs and switch roles, that is fine, as long as the principle of “home” remains the revolution of morality.

Farhham, Eliza W. California In-Doors and Out; On, How We Farm, Mine, and Live Generally in the Golden States. Ch./ Art: Excerpts p. 28-31, 91-94. Pub. Dix, Edwards & Co 1856

Plant, Judith. Home! A Bioregional Reader.Ch./Art: REvaluing Home: Feminism and Bioregionalism; Searching for Common Ground:
Evofeminism and Bioregionalism p. 21-23, 79-82. pub. New Society Publishers 1990

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by brightgirl04 on October 27, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I also find it interesting that Farnham glorifies women who can do all the man’s work outside of the home and does not place greater value of one person’s task over the other yet still insists home is where the change will occur. Farnham travels to San Francisco yet still finds housekeeping and farm duties to provide more freedom, exploring her plot of land than traveling all of California. I agree with the principle that man and woman should not dominate over the other. I don’t agree the that you must have roots and a family unit to have good morals.

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