Why I wrote about Ballerinafarm twice in one month
Because Hannah's musings about cooking as a metaphor for good wifehood were the first thing I saw on Insta at 6:13AM Wednesday morning.
I had no intention of writing about Hannah OR Daniel this week. I really didn’t. But then I saw this post from Hannah.
“Hardly had the ink dried on our marriage certificate when it occurred to me I didn’t know how to cook. I was a 21 year old newlywed bride."
I knew this post would be a doozy after the first line because the first line is really all that’s necessary to understand Hannah’s belief that part of being a “good wife” is being a “good cook.” Her belief that to be a “wife” is to agree to uphold a certain set of expectations, most of which adhere to stringent gender norms.
For today’s newsletter, I was going to feature one of two delightful interviews I did earlier in the week (I’ll share them eventually - fear not). But goddammit guys. I was wedged into my preferred couch crevice as usual. Drinking my PG Tips tea in the dark with earplugs in. As usual. Telling the kids they were capable of pouring cereal in a bowl or putting bread in a toaster without my intervention. Begging them to put on Cocomelon so their toddler brother would stop requiring things of me. As usual! And then this image of Hannah nearly breaking into a curtsy of good wifehood foiled all my newsletter plans.
So let’s dissect the image itself. Hannah’s pregnant and we know she’s mere weeks away from delivery because she shares these facts on Instagram. We know she’s pregnant with her seventh child (and apparently has no outside help in caring for her other six children). And here she is. Smiling as is her wont. In front of her beloved $24,000 stove which she had every right name to name Agnes. She cradles her belly, her chin high in the air, sort of like an under-servant at Downton Abbey waiting for Lady Grantham to lead a trio of visiting duchesses for a tour of the kitchen to ensure all is up to snuff “downstairs.”
When I was in the third trimester of pregnancy with my third kid, I felt as though my innards were in danger of dropping through my vagina almost constantly. I went to pelvic floor physical therapy twice a month and during the final weeks of pregnancy, I periodically melted to the floor when random hip spasms overtook my muscle control. I do not recall cooking. In those last few weeks, smiling was equally rare!
But because this is Hannah of course she looks thrilled to be super pregnant and standing in front of a stove instead of curled up in the fetal position in a pile of throw blankets simply waiting to no longer feel so uncomfortable.
Before we move on to the text of the post, let’s pause to give Agnes her time to shine (because shine she must).
Back in 2020, Hannah wrote in almost sneering tones about how Agnes eradicated her need for a microwave. “This stove is always on, piping hot, and ready to heat up anything a microwave would. My goal in the kitchen is simplification. I also can’t function until it’s clean.” My only guess as to her anti-microwave rhetoric is that such “new fangled” contraptions don’t exactly match Ballerina Farm’s vintage homesteader aesthetic. Bad for the brand.
Hannah wrote about Agnes again here (“They also are always hot and ready for cooking. I’m not sure if it is the cast iron matériel, the simplicity of its function or its ready-to-cook temperatures, but for me it makes for country cooking of fairytale-quality. 🌻”), and here (“Though our propane bill is likely 4x what it would be, having every meal taste like it was cooked in a Dutch oven makes me 10x happier”). Long live Agnes.
Ok, back to the post in question.
“Hardly had the ink dried on our marriage certificate when it occurred to me I didn’t know how to cook. I was a 21 year old newlywed bride. Madly in love, Daniel and I were living in Manhattan while I finished my senior year at the Juilliard School. From one moment to the next I became the queen of my own household and set out to make 3 square meals a day. I quickly realized I had few skills in the kitchen dept. That first year we ate a heavy dose of frozen pre-made meals from Trader Joe’s. Eating them was simple, getting them home to our apt was an ordeal. Car-less in the city, we would schlep home on the subway as many grocery bags as we could carry. Arriving to our address with cramping fingers and burning forearms we were then greeted by a grueling flight of stairs to our humble abode. Learning to cook takes time and practice. After a decade of studious hours in the kitchen things are looking up. By no means have I summited my Everest, but thankfully we have advanced from our culinary Valley Forge.”
Following the already infamous wet ink opener, the next point of interest is “madly in love,” which assures the reader that this marriage has its roots in fairy tale logic. “Queen of my own household” continues this logic and also seems to indicate that Hannah has moved from one man’s house to another, and that, in order to be “queen” of a household, one needs to be a wife. We might presume Hannah lived on her own (or with roommates) while at Juilliard, but she doesn’t get to be a “queen” of a household until she’s married. She also, apparently, had no need to feed herself or fret about living off of delicious Trader Joe’s turkey bolognese until feeding her husband (in the right way) became an urgent priority. Which was when the ink was still wet on the marriage license. So, like, immediately.
Next, there’s the much vaunted “three square meals,” which is simply delicious 1950s housewife lingo. And then we have the exotification of a very humdrum fact of city living that millions of people deal with every day! The to-be-pitied Hannah and Daniel are “car-less” (another humdum reality for most city dwellers). There’s the “shlepping,” making the buying and transporting of frozen meals seem somehow shameful and grotesque. Then, of course, there’s “cramping,” “burning,” “grueling,” and “humble” lest the reader be in any doubt as to the abject nature of the couple’s pitiful urban existence before they moved to the country and Hannah was able to become a real wife/woman.
The passage closes with espousing the moral virtues of hard work and with an emphasis of Hannah’s selflessness (“decade of studious hours”) and modesty (“by no means have I summited my Everest”), because after all, it’s not as though Hannah is a celebrated male chef or whatever. She’s but a lowly wife. So let’s not praise her too highly. She merely did the bare minimum of what any good wife must do in order to be called a good wife.
The whole thing immediately reminded me of this post from 2020 that I’ve read many, many times.
Here’s the accompanying text:
“Like the champion farm wives of yesteryear, I strive to be a good homemaker. I want to put food on the table that makes my children happy and keeps my husband giving me the wink. Hot breakfasts, cold homemade ice cream, and homegrown meat and potatoes to fuel our physically demanding lifestyle. Hungry bellies leave jobs undone and I make sure my crew is fueled with God-given nutrition. We are grateful and humbled for the animals that support our family and their sacrifice is in our hearts each time we say grace.”
“Champion farm wives.” “Yesteryear.” “Strive.” “Good homemaker.” “Physically demanding lifestyle.” “God-given nutrition.”
“GIVING ME THE WINK.”
This is where Hannah says the quiet part out loud. That for her, wifehood means holding up her end of the gender normative bargain and doing the right kind of domestic labor to ensure her husband still wants to have sex with her (love her!?)
If you want to end your week feeling less enraged, I encourage you to read this essay by Lyz Lenz about her divorce, the pleasure of saying fuck it to the relentless labor of meal preparation, and living “off of bagged salads, rotisserie chicken, and whiskey.” Or this essay by Virginia Sole-Smith about the “tyranny and misogyny” of meal prep. Or this one by Aurvi Sharma about cooking for oneself as a way to find feminist freedom. Or this one by Alicia Kennedy about rejecting “easy gendered traps” in her pursuit of a subversive version of domestic goddess-hood (while you’re at it, subscribe to Alicia’s newsletter, which is one of the only millions newsletters I’m subscribed to that I read every single week).
See you next week, when I may or may not have to write about Ballerina Farm again because they’re on a roll lately.
As always, if you have a friend that finds this type of thing fun, I hugely appreciate any shares.