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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Feminism, Domesticity and Choice

choice

Here’s a comment I get a lot: “Why are you looking at New Domesticity as a women’s issue? Feminism has been successful, women have equal opportunities – hell, they’re even going to college at way higher rates than men! – and men are doing tons of domestic stuff too – my husband loves to cook! So why ask a bunch of questions about the “meaning” of baking/knitting/mom blogging/homesteading, etc? Feminism is all about choice, and these are all just personal choices!”

These are all good and important questions, so I thought I’d try to go ahead and answer them now. A few points:

A) I think we tend to see analyzing and writing about women’s life choices as a form of criticizing/being judgmental, which is something we’re all (for good reason!) extremely wary of – we’re all sick to death of the endless media “mommy wars,” are we not? But I would argue that ‘analyzing’ and ‘being judgmental’ are very different things, and that analyzing why we do what we do is interesting and important in almost any area.

B) When it comes to women’s issues, the meaning of “choice” gets really, really complicated. Of course feminism has been successful – women today have a range of opportunities and choices our grandmothers could barely have dreamed of! But our choices (women’s AND men’s) are still really bound up in a bunch of social/cultural/historical gender expectations and norms, and I think those things are worth looking at.

I recently stumbled on this fascinating piece by academic Delilah Campbell, which touches on some of these big, thorny questions about New Domesticity and choice and feminism.  I don’t agree with everything Campbell says, but I think she makes several interesting and worthy points, some of the same points I explore at greater length in my own book.

Here’s where she goes right for the heart of the question of “choice:”

The idea that domesticity is a choice tends to go along with the idea that it is an equal opportunity activity, which simply happens to be chosen by more women than men. One argument against this is economic: since men usually earn more, if one member of a couple is going to give up paid work it will often make financial sense for it to be the woman. This ‘choice’ is obviously conditioned by a persistent structural inequality between the sexes.

Now, keep in mind here that Campbell is not criticizing women or calling them stupid for becoming stay-at-home moms/quitting traditional careers to launch Etsy businesses/becoming “radical homemakers” or whatever. She’s just saying that these choices are influenced by a huge variety of social, cultural and economic factors that are still very tied up in gender norms, even when we’re not aware of them.

It made me think about my own life, and how I often feel compelled to do certain things that men (well, my own husband, at least) would never think to do. Two examples: 1) making homemade holiday cards for my in-laws, and 2) being scared to stand up for myself in work settings. Now both of these things are influenced by internalized gender norms – “wives are in charge of keeping family ties together” and “nice girls don’t ask for too much.” If I’m aware of these gender norms, I can choose to accept the behavior (“I LIKE making homemade holiday cards”) or reject it (“I worked hard – it’s OK to ask for a raise and still be a nice person”). New Domesticity is, I think, quite similar. As we empower ourselves to say things like “so what if embroidery is considered ‘girly?’ – I think it’s awesome and deserves respect!” we ought to also empower ourselves to ask “why, exactly, do I feel obligated to bake for my daughter’s school’s bake sale but my husband doesn’t?” or “would I have chosen to quit my job if the company had offered adequate paid maternity leave?” Which is not to say that lots of women aren’t already asking these question – I’m sure plenty are.

Anyway, it’s a long essay, but totally worth the read – I’d be very interested to see what other people think (I find Campbell’s arguments about New Domesticity being in part a reaction to the disappointments of the workforce to jibe particularly well with my own research).

3 comments to Feminism, Domesticity and Choice

  • Very interesting, definitely going to give it a read.

  • What a silly comment… (not you Lindsey, the one that started this article off). It’s clear from your blog description why you think New Domesticity is a women’s issue. Why don’t some people just use their brains? ;)

  • AntoniaB

    I think there’s a lot of ignorance about and lack of understanding of nuance. People just parrot things and don’t think about what they’re saying. I like the way you tackle this sort of ignorance – it makes people want to ponder and engage. Really, in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about a considered thrashing out of ideas?