Gardening Is Not For Sissies!




We were delighted that Peggy Aloi chose to link to Garden Rant in the Huffington Post last week.  And we all had a good, loud laugh at Rant Headquarters when we figured out that Aloi was using us to illustrate that feminism has failed.

Here's a taste of Aloi's argument:

Women are girly. Again.

Don't believe me? The proof is in the blogosphere: Women who blog about cupcakes! Women who blog (okay, rant) about gardening, Hello Kitty, and knitting!… So many women have seemingly retreated from our reign of awesomeness to immerse themselves in the feminine past-times of yesteryear, it does indeed appear that we've lost sight of what it means to be a badass, strong, tough woman.

Obviously, Aloi has never stuck a single plant in the ground and has no idea whereof she speaks.   Gardening as "a feminine past-time?"

Here's a hint, Peggy: Take a look at the equipment gardeners use. Bowsaws designed to remove limbs as thick as an arm.  Wheelbarrows large enough to carry a limp body.  Picks that could disembowel a man with a single swing.  If we weren't gardeners, we could easily be soldiers in any criminal organization you can name.

Take a look at our hands: they are calloused, wrinkled, and dirty.  They are very much like a brick-layer's hands.

Take a look at our projects.  At some point, every gardener, except for the very rich gardener, gets involved with laying stone or erecting a pergola.  Want a log house built on the frontier?  We gardeners are better qualified for this job than most.

Look at the way we dress.  It's hard to dig furiously or move a mountain of compost when you are wearing a shirt-waist and pumps, so we tend to favor big boots from the worlds of construction or horse-wrangling.  Many of us look just like Chrissie Hynde, only tanner.

Look at what we accomplish:  With little besides brute labor and a good local nursery or two, we tranform the landscape around us.  We take depressing holes and we make them places of inspiration.  I'm sorry, that's power.

And seriously, look at how buff we are! I mean, as far as I'm concerned, there are no more handsome specimens on earth than professional farmers and landscapers.  The amateurs are pretty solid, too.  It's safe to say that some of the fittest old ladies on the planet are gardeners.  They'll kick YOU around the block any day. 

Plus Peggy, wise up.  The domestic sphere is not girly.  It's where the species carries on, the people are shaped, the dogs are fed, and the civilization evolves.  It's where life takes place, and you need to be one tough-assed, super-competent modern human being to cook, garden, raise kids, wrangle a spouse, and keep the house from falling down, all while earning a living. 

So maybe we knitters and gardeners and cupcake-makers represent an advance, rather than a retreat.  We know that real toughness is more than just striking the right pose. It's meeting the umpteen demands of an adult life in the 21st century and still having the energy to produce a nice sweater or grow some very fine tomatoes.


  1. Nothing getting a little angry with my coffee this morning! I love how all of her references of “tough gals” (which I find insulting) are from tv and movies – women that don’t really exist. After all the manual labor I do in my gardens, and in other people’s gardens I will gladly sit on my ass and eat cupcakes, and knit, and read blogs about these things (I’m not so much into Hello Kitty).

  2. Ms Aloi’s article for HuffPo follows a trend lately of journalists, critics, and writers of all stripes taking on a subject not for its substance, significance, or thoughtful analysis. Rather the sole goal clearly is to generate hits, to drive traffic to a site.
    Logical inconsistencies, factual errors, and outrageous suppositions are not flaws, but rather goads to evoke a response.
    Fortunately, the responses can be genuinely illuminating and inspiringly thoughtful. The replies at HuffPo are far more genuine and considered than the original article. And Michelle’s Ranting Reply is a moving and heartfelt and very thoughtful (unlike Aloi’s original post) inspiration to get out there in this heat and bug-heavy weather and get dirty again.
    I do love this blog! . . and, as a proud and determined one, I assure you that Gardening – like Getting Old – is indeed for sissies.

  3. Well done! Now I hope someone posts this link in a comment on the HuffPo story because when I tried, it didn’t work for some reason. And unlike those kickass knitters and cupcake makers, gardeners haven’t responded much over there.
    And Will, you’re so right – this article is probably just a ridiculous traffic-generator. And we’re bringing it still more traffic. Oh, well.

  4. There is nothing wrong with feminism embracing some old traits if they do it for the love of doing it and not to be feminazi about it.
    If baking, gardening, firefighting make you fell fulfilled as a woman then go for it. Stop trying to label it already
    The TROLL

  5. And by the way, editors at Huff-Po, who maybe should know better, the word is “pass time” as in “something with which to pass the time.”
    Nothing to do with the past-time, which is not even a word.

  6. I’d like her to come tell me I am not a feminist to my face. She obviously isn’t reading _my_ blog, where, true, I talk about gardening and occasionally cooking, and rarely, quilt-making, but I also chronicle my exploits with woodworking, bike building, cycling, canoeing, garden construction (as in building gates, fences, stone patios, etc.)…

    Furthermore, just because someone enjoys blogging about knitting (and I confess that I do not) does not mean that she does not hew to feminist principles. I mean really? We are only allowed to talk about the “serious” stuff, or the “non-domestic” stuff? What a terrible, colorless world that would leave us.

    I get tired of women pointing fingers at other women and making judgments like this.

  7. (Sorry–I’ve decided that I’m not finished with this.)

    Furthermore, I am 54 years old and a geologist by training, which means that I have lived through (and triumphed over, largely because ground-breaking women made it possible for me) what the REAL feminism has been about, which is mainly, not being given the opportunity to follow your interests and talents to their fullest potential because of your gender. And that has nothing to do with whether women blog about knitting.

    I became a geologist back when there were still some who believed that was not a proper profession for women because there were no restrooms in the field. I mean, for goodness sake. That’s how stupid the “rules” were for some of us.

    Come tell me I’m not a feminist or that I’m not tough to my face.

  8. I’ll be right there beside Susan. Such shallow interpretations of the gains of feminism (though if you look at most women’s pay checks, we still have a very long way to go) leave me shaking my head. One of feminisms gains? Men blog about cupcakes (and gardening) now, too.

  9. I’m pretty sure Aloi must not have read the blogs she linked … I’m not sure about House of Kitty, but the Yarn Harlot is not a shrinking Victorian violet — she’s a NY Times best-selling author, among other things, fer crissakes — and anyone who reads here regular knows this place isn’t staffed by pretty princesses wearing tiaras, either.

    Whatta maroon.

  10. Well I hope I do not insult all the badass women gardeners I know when I wonder what Aoli thinks of men gardeners. Are we all girly men ???

  11. I, for one, just came in from the turning the compost in my Tiffany tiara, Christian Louboutin hooker heels & Dolce & Gabbana gardening apparel to find this … ;D

    Since when was feminism about NOT being girly, anyway ? I thought the point was to break down the limits society had imposed on women (and men & families, by relation) and to open up opportunities for everyone. Be who you really are, not who society defined your sex to be.

    “Wheelbarrows large enough to carry a limp body.” Now there’s a visual !

  12. Huffington Post is like a crap brulée. Sure there’s this interesting, crackling shell at the top, but once you’re finished with that, it’s just a lot of unappetizing mush.

  13. The real power women have today is their buying power. More women are working in this economy and making more money than their male counterpoints in the under 50 demographic. Has Ms. Aloi even looked at the higher education numbers by gender in this country? These days it is a woman that controls the household budget and any one that thinks differently is going to go out of business. And anyone that thinks gardening is “girly” is so cube-slave-out-of touch that they need to get out and actually watch both women shopping in a garden center as well as when they take their purchases home and work/play in the dirt. The urban farm women we see every day are just as tough and in touch with the land as my dirt-farmer grandmother was fifty years ago. But they are also educated enough to realize why we only carry lead-free, drinking water safe hoses, after all why buy organic veggies to only take them home and water them with a hose that leaches lead and other nasty compounds? Smart buying is market power and economic control and it is going to change the face of our economy, anyone that calls that “girly” is just out of touch with reality.

  14. Amen!! well said. I’ve always said that taking care of a house and working a garden was a better workout than any amount of gym-time could accomplish.

  15. Amen, Amen. I have always seen Martha Stewart as a major feminist because she made millions doing what we all used to do for free. Now I do it too. (Well not millions, but I make some money) I love all the craft blogs, mommy blogs etc. etc. They represent feminism to me. I am an avid gardener, still do it all myself with no help and I am 68.

  16. Best response ever!

    If you read the comments on the HuffPo site for this article, they are very similar to the responses here. Not too many pro-Aloi comments.

  17. Girly gardner writes fierce rebuttal – brilliant. Michelle should submit her reply to the Huffington Post with a request that it be published as an article – it’s too good to end up buried in the comments, and even non-gardners deserve to hear a little wisdom.

  18. I love this discussion, and the one happening in the comments on the HuffPost article. Nice to hear from all these women and men who resist being put into the “feminine” and “masculine” boxes.

    We are all human, and it is human to use tools, both to create and to reshape our world. The tools may be saws or knitting needles, guns or wheelbarrows.

    And as we gardeners know, it is not “girly” to take fierce pleasure in nature and to approach other species with curiosity and a sense of wonder. That too is human.

  19. The Huffy piece is so obviously written as to provoke response.
    It’s not worth my time to respond, but I’m glad that Michele did.
    If I ever have the chance to meet Ms. clueless I’ll show her a face full of diamonds… diamonds as in my diamond cutting saw blade that whizzes as 11,000 rpm on my stone cutting angle grinder.

  20. I think this woman needs to remember the pioneers and their descendants. Many of the men in my family were too busy being drunk to truly contribute much to their families. It was their WOMEN who gardened and ran the roost and they were far from girlie. Many of them were eventually happy single parents and early feminists. Gardening helped to enable them to care for their families. They were terrifying and I loved one of them with all of my heart as a child.

    I admire these women far more than some young snark sitting around typing half-baked ideas on her laptop about culture. Sounds like she needs to go out and get some herself.

  21. As a 33 year old female I am disgusted with Aloi’s article. I bought my first house, by myself, at the age of 22. I own more power tools than my city boy husband. My new favorite toy is a 15 ft pole chainsaw. I have tan lines galore from countless hours spent in my garden. My drink of choice is a beer. I climbed Half Dome just a few months after having brain surgery- about a year after I gave birth to my daughter. But I can put on a dress and heels and look hot for a night out on the town when I feel like it. Don’t tell me I’m not tough!

    Oh- and I love cupcakes 🙂

  22. First time and hopefully the last time I read the Huffington Post….what drivel. I didn’t finish the article because there was absolutely no substance–shame on the editors of Huffington.

  23. LOL….My Gardening friends who happen to be Women can garden me into the ground. Your response is perfect. I have friends who wear gloves to protect their manicure while they drag a 10 foot rhody across the lawn to replant, often swearing like a fool, Strong Women Rule, garden on!!! By the way, as one of those “Sissy” men, I surround myself with Strong women who garden, bake, knit, run businesses, raise families, hold public office.

  24. Yeah! And in addition to all the good comments to your excellent post, I can only say, isn’t it about time we stopped worrying about ‘feminism’ and moved onto something bigger and more important: humanism?

  25. Feminism has failed because some women garden? What does that make me, a male gardener? Just another biased, idiotic media person with no facts to back up her hypothesis.

  26. Nicely done, Michele! I’m in my mid-50’s, and quite frankly have had it up to here with feminists. I was around when the whole movement started, and while the original goals may have been laudable, the follow-through wasn’t. Feminist support for women stopped with women who wanted to crack the glass ceiling. Admins, secretaries, clerks – really, any woman in a low-paying job – were invisible to feminists, and apparently still are today. Nuts to them. I’d love to see Aloi in a landscaping contest. She wouldn’t last 5 minutes compared to most of the gardening women (and men!) I know, myself included!

  27. As a feminist since about 1970 and a gardener since 1983, I don’t see any contradiction in the two. A feminist is someone who believes in equal rights for women. I don’t match Susan’s stereotype of a feminist any better than Aloi’s stereotype of a gardener. Michele’s post is great.

  28. Blogs by women are often about science and math or hiking, camping and canoeing in the great outdoors,but I bet she didn’t google any of those.
    I often sleep on the ground in below freezing temperatures,hike in the mountains and face creatures like bears and mountain lions,little chipmunks and hummingbirds to.Activities that take knowledge and good health. Growing food and raising children or restoring a habitat are pursuits to be proud of and take strength of body and mind. As a gardener and a feminist the writer offends me.
    She should get off her screen and go meet some real people.

  29. Feminism is about choices. If we choose to be gardeners or bakers, mothers or CEOs–or all of those together–that, my friends, is feminism.

  30. Even her stuff about fashion and movies is bogus. My grandaughter is a film student that aspires to being a famous director one day. She cute as hell and stands less that five ft but give her a movie camera and she becomes this no nonsense , get this right no matter how many times you have to redo it,hard working, in charge woman.

  31. Clearly, Peggy Aloi is on pain mediction. I suspect a root canal is behind this ridiculous story.

    I am tough as nails. And I don’t mean the manicured variety. Not that there’s anything wrong with manicures…..

  32. I am so pleased to see that someone else feels the same way that I do…..I’m 54 and I have done it all EXCEPT lol I never learned how to knit… slow for me. However you make a great point that not all women fit into catagory’s…..I am my own women and my Garden is my lifeline to my soul……… tools, sweat shirts,a and paint…….;)

  33. Tell me where the picket line is forming for we women daring whatshername to look us in the eyes and say we’re not feminists.

    The rebuttal was very well written, as are many of the responses. To think I tuned in this evening to “unwind” after a hard week at work.

    Oh, I’d love to ask her this: I’m a hospice chaplain who sits with dying people and gardens to work off the tension and grief I absorb. Am I doing “sissy” work because I sit and listen? Ms Huff, tell me what your work contributes to the world. What a waste of air.

  34. Right on, Michele! I challenge Ms. Aloi to walk in my shoes for a week and then say I’m a girly-gardener. She’d wilt like lettuce in our 105 degree heat turnin’ compost and dragging a hose for hours.

  35. I hate it when I’m talking about a long weekend of gardening and my coworkers laugh and say it’s not like I broke a sweat. Okay, it’s not the same as training for a sport — I do that too. It can, however, be more arduous than non-gardeners realize, especially around spring planting and harvest times.

  36. I just dug a ditch, with a pick through shale and clay, a foot deep and a foot wide in order to create a French drain to help with runoff in my garden… what kind of dainty is THAT?

  37. Fantastic Rant! Definitely one of the year’s best. It really needs to be in Huff Post as a response.

  38. Love all the responses! This one hit a nerve, being a feminist does not mean one has to be a badass! Ms Aloi wanted a reaction – she got it!

  39. Love reading your response Michele and I can relate. I’ve got the bruises, cuts, and scrapes from doing such “girly” work like hauling bags of gravel, soil, compost, worm poop or organic fertilizer, or installing a raised bed organic garden, pounding stakes or wrestling vines and branches, etc. And I’m under 5′ tall! Yes, I’m a “girl” and gardening ain’t for wusses. Perhaps Ms. Aloi would like to lend a hand to serious gardeners and she’ll see what we all go through.

  40. I remember shopping for the trailer to pull with my truck and many men said “oh so you and your husband landscape?” I said no its just me. grrr…… Where was he when I spread 12 yards of bark mulch by myself in one day (yes I had a cart to fill and the ATV). And a week later I spread another 12 yards!

  41. I just had a mini-rant about this on Facebook:-) Couldn’t agree with you more.

    I guess Aloi also hasn’t heard of that thing child childbirth? It’s not sissy stuff either

  42. I would love to use secateurs instead of pruners, wear “Wellies” instead of rubber boots, carry a trug instead of a bucket and generally be a La-Di-Dah gardener. But the reality is that I look like a sweaty, dirty ditch digger when I garden. I have never felt that I was doing “girly” work, and indeed, at the end of the day, it would be difficult to determine my gender at all. But don’t we clean up well!!

  43. Love reading all these comments and still keep wishing I could “like” them as on Facebook!! After hauling rocks and washing them all day and transplanting a bunch of hostas, I feel like a nice bubble bath! Ha! Feminist and feminine and TOUGH, BABY!! haha.

  44. I hate it when woman say something just to be edgy, it is so fake! It’s like they haven’t even talked to a gardener to know how much effort it takes and how it makes us all stronger in every way, in body, mind and spirit.
    Loving your work is the first step to being a strong woman and we abhor the lack of opportunity for women in some fields but in gardening there are plenty of us strong women.
    Thanks for posting your great reply.

  45. Ms. Aloi’s misogynistic article gained you another reader. I’d never heard of your blog, but I’ll follow it from now on. I am a gardener, a knitter, and a feminist too. I have been know to bake cupcakes… My mother, a knitwear designer, could sew, bake, do carpentry, lay tile floors, garden, heck, she was good at anything she wanted to do. She managed to spend part of her youth in bomb shelters too.

  46. I spent four hours in the garden today – brought a load of stacking wall blocks home from the hardware store, turned some turf, laid the blocks to extend the terraced area, dumped a dozen wheel barrel loads of compost, and prettied it up for the neighbors. I’m about halfway thru turning the lawn into garden – should be finished in another five years. I’m leaving half the back yard as turf to play on. My wife and daughter and I (and a few friends) do martial arts, and we need that space. Martial arts are mean – but gardening is hard.

    My sweety will be disappointed to discover that she has failed feminism by gardening with me. Does this leave me as the only feminist in the family?

  47. I guess you told Peggy! This was one finely refuted post. My profession is as an architect and when I started, was the only woman in the office that was not clerical. So now that I am doing landscape design, a much grimier job on soil laden sites, Peggy can not call me girly if I am out tending my perennials in my backyard. Like you said, the dress, the tools, the sweat and on and on.

  48. I see how many comments there are, and initially wasn’t going to comment. Reading through them, I remember my mom, going to work in her feminine clothes, no “dress for success” for her. She was a woman and proud of it, even as she was the first woman stock broker, and a successful one, in Atlanta. And her garden – beautiful. Ask the people who came through on tours, after she spent hours and years on them (with some help from all of her children).

  49. Ive been doing womens work all morning.Pulling weeds,spreading compost for the fall garden and,turning the other two bins of compost.I should be in the house watching sports and let my wife do this back breaking work.I didnt know it was her job!

  50. Hello Garden Ranters. I’m the “heirloom tomato” blogger who was also singled out for being too girly, smug, not fun, and definitely not a tough girl. Clearly Ms Aloi has never attempted to grow heirloom tomatoes, an activity not for the faint of heart and littered with the plant corpses of failure and disappointment year after year! If she’d took a few seconds to look around my site she would also have seen that I’m a pretty tough breast cancer blogger as well, who also happens to love gardening and cooking. I’ll give her “tough girls”. See my response at

  51. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this blog. Oh…does that make me girly??

    I’ll raise my fence post against the huff post anytime!

  52. okay, i’m a week late, but i had to add my rant as well. i would have thought this kind of shallow thinking about feminisim was long dead, but i guess that’s naive. Activities/hobbies/certain jobs are not innately non-feminist. it’s being RESTRICTED to certain activities/hobbies/jobs that is the problem. Gardening because you WANT to is feminist. Gardening because your husband says you have to stay home and grow the zucchini: NOT feminist.

    I agree that it’s likely this article was written just to provoke response (and hits). But i wonder whether the authors ever consider the very real damage they cause with this kind of nonsense? Basically they are telling women that consider themselves feminist, they have to reject anything that could be considered traditionally feminine. In other words, if you LIKE to garden or sew or cook for the family, there is something WRONG with you.

  53. I can hear the exclamations even now, from the women in my life that are yelling, “You Tell Em” at their computer screens. Women who have cleared land, laid walls and sod, tended gardens big enough to feed their families and then some.
    Women like my late Grandmothers Catherine and Alice. My mother Betty, Sister Lindsy and wife Kristy.

    Women whose hands may be tough, but they have tender hearts and strong families that the “Hello Kitty” crowd will never understand. Women who enjoy (gasp!) being Ladies and who wouldn’t be caught dead reading the dribble at the Huff Po! Something else they apparently are unaware of, there are still some of us real men out here – who will have to be put down before you lay a finger on those women in our lives.

  54. Hauling three tons of cinder block in a morning. Unloading a cubic yard of steaming hot compost by myself in the rain in 30 minutes. Driving out to the country to learn how to cull hens I raised in my backyard. All real girly past times – if you’re Pippi Longstocking, my childhood shero. My (animal loving) husband is hesitant about bringing in another flock because he thinks they’ll end up in the freezer – he’s right, but they’ll be treated like royalty before they go to glory.’ Glad I find a Garden Rant, cause I certainly feeling that manifesto. Keep ranting!

  55. Being a man, I guess by definition I may not truly understand the feminist movement, but I always thought the whole point was to remove barriers and inequities that were gender-based.

    In my simple thought process that boils down to “don’t limit my choices of career or hobbies (or my earning power) because I am female.”

    Guess Aloi (is she a closet male?) doesn’t get the point of the feminist movement either.

    Enjoy your gardening. Don’t worry if it’s girly or butch. Do what you love. Be a real feminist.

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