Reviews of Homeward Bound

“3.5 out of 4 stars” - People Magazine                                                               “The brilliance of Emily Matchar’s new book is that it exhaustively describes what disillusioned workers are opting into: a slower, more sustainable, and more self-sufficient lifestyle that’s focused on the home. Matchar synthesizes dozens of trend stories … into a single, compelling narrative about the resurgence of domesticity….Refreshing.” -The New Republic                                                       "[P]rovocatively explores what the movement says about the role of women in society today.” – The New Yorker                                                                       "I unreservedly loved it…It’s empathetic and funny and thoughtful and smart, and I encourage all of you to read it."– The Hairpin                                                         “Cogently argues that choosing a more hands-on, DIY lifestyle – family farming, canning, crafting, can, without sacrificing feminism’s hard-won gains, improve on an earlier time when ‘people lived more lightly on the earth and relied less on corporations, and family and community came first.’” - ELLE                                                               “[I]ntelligent and insightful...essential reading.” - Christianity Today                                                       “A lively and perceptive reporter… a valuable and astute assessment.”—Publishers Weekly                                                         “A well-researched look at the resurgence of home life…. Offers intriguing insight into the renaissance of old-fashioned home traditions.”— Kirkus Reviews

What is New Domesticity?

This blog is a look at the social movement I call ‘New Domesticity’ – the fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex & the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from? What does it mean for women? For families? For society?                                                                                     My book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, which explores New Domesticity in greater depth, will be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2013.

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When Onion headlines become reality

 

colonial williamsburg women

via history.org

Until today, I could gladly and truthfully say that my life never resembled an Onion headline. But then, this morning, someone emailed me this:

“Grueling Household Tasks of the 19th Century Enjoyed By Suburban Women”

The headline was hilarious-because-it’s-kinda-true when it was published in 2001. But these days, it barely reads as parody at all:

Soap-making is not the only arduous 19th-century chore Brinkworth enjoys in her spare time. She also dips her own candles, re-upholsters foot stools, and makes her own clay pots.

“It’s so neat to make something with your own hands,” Brinkworth said. “There’s nothing more pleasurable than spending a lazy Sunday afternoon churning butter.”

Uh, I’m pretty sure I read that exact same story in the New York Times’ Home & Garden section the other week.

As someone who currently has about 30 pounds of Virginia apples in her kitchen awaiting saucing, I’ve been thinking a lot about the privilege it takes to consider this kind of work “fun.”

In this highly worthwhile Lapham’s Quarterly piece on our culture’s “bourgeois nostalgia” for agrarian life, an elderly West Virginia farmwife shakes her head in confusion over the idea that her urban granddaughter might want to do hands-on farm labor. A friend of mine who grew up in rural North Carolina thinks the whole jam-canning craze is pretty funny, remembering the long, hot, sweaty days her great aunts used to spend in the kitchen putting up bushels of tomatoes.

This isn’t to say that farmwives of yore didn’t find any of their domestic labors enjoyable or satisfying; I’m sure many did. But obviously it’s a lot more fun to spend “a lazy Sunday afternoon churning butter” when you spent Monday through Friday sitting in front of a computer screen rather than threshing wheat or milking cows. So I wonder – when people go beyond the hobby phase with the old-fashioned domestic work (neo-homesteaders, I’m looking at you), how quickly does it become un-fun? Does soap-making and butter-churning and all the other charmingly pastoral-sounding work become just as tedious as coding HTML or doing dissertation research?

Just for fun, let’s play “2001 Onion or 2011 New York Times?”

A) Brooklyn, fiercely proud of its independence from Manhattan, is an expanding frontier for the do-it-yourself movement — resourceful residents are baking bread, raising chickens for eggs, keeping bees for honey or simply renovating brownstones themselves.

B) Said Huson: “In centuries past, many women didn’t have a lot of fabric for blankets, so they were forced to make quilts out of whatever bits and pieces were lying around. Of course, to mimic these elaborate patterns, modern quilters buy yards of brand-new cloth from fabric stores and cut them up to resemble precious scraps.”

C) ”We made some absolutely gorgeous shell-shaped pink hand soaps and some wonderful oatmeal facial-scrub bars. And it was so easy: All you do is dissolve lye in water, weigh out the hard and liquid oils, melt it on the stove to 110 degrees, stir until smooth, add fragrances, pour it into the molds you’ve pre-lined, wait for it to harden, cut it into blocks, and presto!”

D) She makes everything she wears save the odd pair of jeans, socks and shoes…Ms. Beaumont likes to call her project slow clothes, after the slow-food movement promoting the homegrown.

 

Answers (New York Times: A, D. The Onion: B, C)

1 comment to When Onion headlines become reality

  • Ruben

    I found the Lapham’s article to be unfulfilling. Saying farm life is tedious and hard is not educational. Many, perhaps most of us, are stuck in jobs that are tedious and hard, we just haven’t come around to saying the industrialization promise of the good life never came to pass.

    So now we work in an airless cubicle with no windows so we can have enough money to pay for our car to get to that cubicle and pay for someone else to grow, and increasingly cook, our food, and sew our clothes and educate our children? We pay for homes that provide no income to us; just shelter and offgassing from the crappy chipboard they are built from.

    So yes, farm life is tedious. Office life is also tedious. Though I make ten times as much money in the knowledge economy, I provide one-tenth the value, and that matters to me, and it matters to many people. When I grow a bean, 100% of that bean is a positive addition to our world. When I go to a meeting, the percentage of positive addition is much, much lower.

    So what is the third way? Is the future the side hustle? Will we all have to graft gardening onto our laptop jobs?

    You will find precious few people who can honestly say their work is without tedium. I think it would be more beneficial if we resumed teaching how to enjoy life and find meaning while doing tedious work.

    My mother always said, “Get an education so you have something to think about while digging ditches.”