When you think about fictional end-of-world narratives, it's usually a guy in the leading role: Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead; the father in Cormac McCarthy's The Road; or Steve Carell's character in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
But women, too, can be survivalists, despite how male-oriented many of the most popular prepper blogs online (think The Survivalist Blog and The Prepper Journal) appear. And when the shit hits the fan—whether that's in the form of a zombie apocalypse or a category-five hurricane—we're probably going to want women taking charge.
"Since the beginning of time, women have been the caregivers of society," says Gaye Levy, the founder of the survivalist website Backdoor Survival. "In many cases, women are the maintainers of the home, so they are the ones that are going to internalize the need to ensure that their family ... stays safe and healthy if there's a disruptive event in the world."
Levy first started prepping in 2010 when she lived on San Juan Island, off the coast of Washington state. "The economy had tanked," she tells Broadly, "and a lot of people were angry at what was happening to the middle class. At that point in time, we were often on high terrorist alert." Her concern was two-fold, she explains. Because the island was only accessible by ferry, she realized that if a natural disaster—such as an earthquake or a terrorist attack—hit the Pacific Northwest, she and her community would be cut off from the mainland.
"That told me I needed to figure out how I could sustain myself on my own for an extended period of time," Levy says. She immediately did a risk evaluation, and realized she needed to stock up on drinking water, food, and medical supplies, plus stow away lots of cash in the form of small bills.
Lisa Bedford, another survivalist blogger and mom of two, has a similar story. The instability of the Great Recession "hit a little too close to home," she writes on her website, The Survival Mom, which launched in 2009. Once she realized the need to protect her family and prepare for worst-case scenarios, the first thing she thought about was food, she tells Broadly. "I went to the grocery store and just started loading up a grocery cart with things that I knew were common sense for food storage," she says.
Since then, her skillset has grown by leaps and bounds. "I was strictly a suburban mom," says Bedford, who lives in Texas. "I've learned canning. I've learned food dehydrating. We can hunt if we needed to—we're not a big hunting family but we can do that. I can grind my own wheat and make my own bread. I can knit and make my own clothes."
She believes it's that kind of get 'er done attitude that reveals the benefit of women helping to lead the way in the prepper movement. "When women feel compelled to do this for whatever reason—whether it's on a casual basis or they're ready to dig a bunker in the backyard—they're more likely to make things happen," Bedford says.
"When we first began prepping, my husband's first concern was for our family's physical safety," she continues. "I've found that men typically take on the role of protector and provider. Women focus on everything else: laundry, toilets, bathing, childcare, health/medical issues, cooking, and, yes, feminine hygiene." (For the record, she recommends women use menstrual cups in place of pads/tampons.)
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Levy, who now lives in Arizona, says that she does have firearms in her home, but "I wouldn't say that is the cornerstone of my preparation." Once she got to the point where she'd stockpiled enough food, water, and medical supplies to last a while, she turned her attention to learning how to be less reliant on traditional Western medicine, instead utilizing herbal remedies and essential oils. She's also honing her skills in re-creating commercial products using raw ingredients, such as laundry detergent.
For many people, the idea of prepping might seem a little crazy, maybe even a little off-putting. But at the core of a prepper's frenzied planning, stockpiling, and researching is the drive to become more self-reliant. And a little bit of fear of the unknown is not necessarily a bad thing, Bedford says. "It actually propels us to do things that are really smart sometimes. The stupid thing is to be afraid of something and then take no steps to address it."
There's an approved template they are convinced is the only right way to survive. I know better.
Although about a third of her regular readers are male, Bedford says she occasionally receives a disparaging comment online for being a woman prepper. "There are people in the survival/prepper niche, mostly men but often women as well, who have a fixed version in their minds of what survival is all about," she explains. "There's an approved template they are convinced is the only right way to survive. I know better. There are thousands and thousands of variables that will impact the survival of an individual, a home, a family, and it's foolish to believe that just because you have followed your favorite survival guru's books that you are impervious and have some sort of Cloak of Invulnerability. No one has that and no one ever will."
Contrary to popular belief, survivalists do not just sit around and worry, too scared thinking about the apocalypse to live their lives. In fact, in her bio online, Levy writes that she's "addicted to prepping, DIY projects, adult coloring books, and ballroom dancing." She also calls herself a "glamourista," and admits that makeup is one of the many items in her bug-out bag (a kit with all of her essential supplies in case of an emergency).
Levy says that in the early days of her blog, she garnered some criticism for her choice to maintain that part of her identity—she says she was told that was "so immaterial to the process of becoming a survivalist." Nowadays, however, it's a nonissue, and she also says that half her audience is men. "When times are bad and you are feeling pretty rotten and stressed, for me personally, looking nice helps me feel better about myself and my situation," she says. "I want to get up in the morning and feel good about myself and know that I'm putting my best foot forward."
It's all a part of her mantra: "I believe everyone should lead a strategic life, and leading a strategic life has a lot to do with defining what's important to you and taking those steps to make goals to ensure you're happy, healthy, and safe," she says. "That might not be the standard prepper mantra, but it's the one I live by and it's the one that I share."