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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Catharine Beecher & redeeming “women’s work”

Catharine Beecher

A lot of New Domesticity has an explicitly political, feminist agenda of “reclaiming” what was traditionally considered “women’s work” from the dustbin of history. The DIY/indie crafting movement, for example, was born out of the 1990s punk subculture and promoted by third-wave feminist magazines like Bust, which helped make things like knitting and baking hip again among a younger generation of women. There’s also the rising idea that “homemaker” needs to be reclaimed as a legitimate vocation. There’s even the idea that DIY homemaking – growing your own vegetables, sewing your own curtains – should be considered in terms of monetary value – if you save $100 by sewing your own curtains, you’ve “earned” $100. One woman I talked to, who considers herself an urban homesteader, told me she earns $5,000 a year – the value she assigns to her homegrown vegetables. I don’t think I agree with this calculation, but it’s an interesting concept.

What’s really interesting to me is that this is hardly the first time people have tried to professionalize domesticity. Women have been arguing for “homemaker as vocation” since the 19th century, at least. Check out this 1864 Haper’s essay, from Catharine Beecher (Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sister), on “How to Redeem Woman’s Profession from Dishonor.”

Here’s Beecher’s take on why young women would do well to take up some good, honest physical labor (sounds a little bit like today’s “I’m tired of working at a computer I just want to garden and bake bread!” rhetoric, eh?!):

Our early mothers worked and trained their daughters to work, and thus became healthy, energetic, and cheerful. But in these days, young girls, in the wealthy classes, do not use the muscles of their body and arms in domestic labor or in any other way. Instead of this, study and reading stimulate the brain and nerves to debility by excess, while the muscles grow weak for want of exercise. Thus the whole constitution is weakened.

2 comments to Catharine Beecher & redeeming “women’s work”

  • Truc

    This is surprisingly relevant today in legal terms, as people continue to struggle with assessing the value of homemakers at divorce. Even though things like property division and spousal maintenance (aka alimony) aren’t always tied to the economic value each spouse put into the marriage, I think (particularly with regard to maintenance) there’s a sense of “why should someone have to pay their ex-wife money out of a salary they earned.” So although I agree with you that it seems artificial to say “I earned X amount through my labor,” it could have tangible effects beyond greater respect for homemaking work.

  • I think its perfectly find to equate labor, money saving and keep track of it. I did so for many years (mainly as a frugal standard) when I was an at home wife and parent saving money.I generally did it as an hourly wage savings. If I can make ten homemade pizzas for ten dollars in less than an hour (yes, I can), and a pizza with everything is twelve dollars, it’s not unreasonable toequate that in a wage, or savings, and compare it. Nor is it unreasonable to compare all that savings to a wage, and figure out what you would have to make to cover the difference. Actually, I think its sexist not to do this.

    I mean, if a GUY works on his car and does all the maintenance and routine work, would we allow him to declare that as savings? some how I think we would. If my husband redid our 1940s brownstone, our we not allowed to consider that as savings and compare against contractor pricing?

    If so, how does that differ from my comparing cooking from scratch, homemade curtains and the like in the same vein.