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Sunday, July 21, 2024
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Philippa Martyr: Reject romance, return to clothes-swaps

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This clothing swap was much more than a circular economy moment. First, it got everyone out of their homes and into a lively group of similar women. Photo: Unsplash
This clothing swap was much more than a circular economy moment. First, it got everyone out of their homes and into a lively group of similar women. Photo: Unsplash

I recently went to a ladies-only clothing swap at a friend’s house. This is a sustainable thing you can do with your clothes, if they’ve shrunk over the last six months.

Everyone brings good clean clothes they don’t want any more. They all gets hung up and put on tables, and then you just dive in.

Yes, you can stay home and sell this stuff on eBay. But often things won’t sell there at all.

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Or you can donate it to a charity shop—but these are now turning away donations because they’re swamped. In Australia only around 17 per cent of all donated clothing is sold; the rest is either pulped or ragged here, shipped overseas, or goes to landfill.

This clothing swap was much more than a circular economy moment. First, it got everyone out of their homes and into a lively group of similar women.

Second, it was a beautiful insight into how many younger Catholic families in Australia are now choosing to live.

There were about a dozen Catholic women there of all ages. I was at the older end of the scale. There were also some babies (both in and out of the womb).

Most of these women weren’t rich in a worldly sense. Most were part of single-income couples and families. And all of them were having a wonderful time.

These women pretty much all know each other, support each other, and like each other. They are choosing to welcome more children, even if it means tightening their belts (and most of them were already slimmer than me).

They love God. They have more modest standards of living than most people. They go to Mass, sometimes daily. They go to confession regularly. They pray. They make sacrifices. They go to clothing swaps.

They are all educated and articulate, and you’d struggle to call them “trad wives.” They have simply chosen, with their husbands, to become mothers, to own less stuff, and to stay at home raising their families.

They all looked radiantly happy, and it wasn’t the champagne on offer because most of them couldn’t have any (nursing or pregnant).

There was a delightful lack of gossip, and simply a sense of everyone having fun, catching up, and getting some free stuff.

I was enchanted and very grateful to have been invited, because it’s easy for me to forget that these women exist. They are spread out across different parishes, and they don’t get together in one room very often.

I also thought about them as I read the British writer Mary Harrington’s recent book Feminism Against Progress (2023). This is a solid academic read; not religious and not for the faint-hearted.

After a free-wheeling young adulthood, Harrington saw the light when she got married and had a child, becoming a happy stay-at-home mother. But the loneliness and isolation, and the struggle to find others like herself, was real.

Her anger at being short-changed by a culture that reduced women to sexual objects and wage-slaves was also real. Her solutions are lively: abolish Big Romance, let men be, and re-wild sex.

“Abolishing Big Romance” means restoring the idea of marriage as a lifetime legal partnership where men and women work equally towards building a stable society.

This means raising their own children at home as much as possible, and sharing that load equally. It might mean a single income, or two part-time incomes, or taking turns being the chief income earner.

It’s not romantic. But romantic love—fragile, brief, and always ending  in disappointment—is not a good basis for marriages that have to hold an entire society together.

Big Romance has also driven the cost of the average Australian wedding up to around $36,000 (much of this as debt). If you get divorced later with lawyers to help you over the rough bits, it will cost you about the same.

“Let men be” is a call to restore single-sex spaces for both sexes. We need to get away from each other sometimes; it’s normal, healthy, and good for us.

And finally, “re-wilding sex” means embracing male and female fertility for what it is—a gift, not a burden. This means that men and women must equally share responsibility for sex and creating new life. It also means rejecting porn and chemical sterility.

Whether you agree with any of this or not, I’m glad some young women are choosing to live differently from my generation. It gives me confidence for our future, and I am excited to see what they make of it.

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