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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More debate on whether natural mothering is oppressive

About a month ago, I wrote about Elisabeth Badinter’s upcoming book: The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. The book, which claims that the current mania for natural parenting (babywearing, extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, etc.) is becoming a new form of oppression for women, has been a bestseller in Europe. I predicted that it would cause a huge stir when released in the US.

Of course, predicting that any manifesto/screed/polemic about modern motherhood will cause a huge stir is like predicting that the sun will rise in the morning. It’s really a law of nature.

So it’s entirely unsurprising that the book, which will still not be released until April 24, has already been pondered and reviewed in every publication besides Cat Fancy and Cigar Aficionado. A sampling of thoughts:

Sabrina Parsons of Forbes.com hates the very idea of the book.

Just reading the description of the book fills me with anger. I am annoyed that Badinter is implying that the only way to be a “liberal” mother, and not only believe, but implement theories of attachment parenting, is if you are tethered to your home.

Amanda Marcotte of Slate thinks Badinter’s got a good point:

I’m really glad someone has written this book, even though I expect it to be rejected by people who believe labeling a behavior a “choice” exempts it from analysis or criticism. I suppose it could be a coincidence that lengthy breast-feeding and attachment parenting that interferes heavily with maintaining a career came into style right as it became passé to pressure women to downplay their ambitions for the sake of men, but it just seems highly unlikely. One thing I do know is that the more conservative women of my acquaintance don’t feel the same pressure to breast-feed until their kids are talking or to keep their kids by their side at all times, even bedtime. It seems that if you live in social circles where it’s simply expected that you curtail your professional ambitions and do most of the domestic work so as to avoid emasculating your husband, the psychic need to create elaborate parenting theories to achieve the same result—woman at home, tied to the kitchen—simply vanishes. Strange coincidence, indeed.

[I'd have to quibble with Marcotte on this last point: many conservative women embrace attachment parenting, though they may embrace it for very different reasons than liberal women. In fact, Dr. William Sears, the father of modern attachment parenting, is an evangelical Christian who has written books on Christian parenting. One of the things I find most interesting about natural parenting is the fact that it brings together women on the far right and the far left when it comes to topics like home birth and homeschooling.]

KJ Dell’Antonia of The New York Times Motherlode blog thinks the book raises interesting questions. 

If we absorb a message that to breastfeed on demand, to protect one’s children from all dubious chemical exposures, and to take on full responsibility for their physical and psychological health at all times are crucial to our children’s well-being, then does that message also push women away from the work force, and back into the realm of home and family?

Emily Matchar, of New Domesticity, STILL HASN’T GOTTEN HER HANDS ON A DAMN COPY!

4 comments to More debate on whether natural mothering is oppressive

  • I am (sort of) with Parsons. It bothers me that the usual response to the observation that “liberal motherhood” is incompatible with the modern workplace is (for women to) tell women that they should make different choices. So few responses bother to interrogate the modern workplace! Why not ask how we could make working more compatible with these parenting practices?

    Because the other thing that irks me about many feminist responses to the issue (I’m thinking especially of Amanda Marcotte, whose work I generally admire quite a lot–she’s been on a bit of a tear lately against attachment parenting and its ilk. Not that I am defending placenta eating here!) is that it assumes women only carry out these demanding parenting practices because they have been somehow hoodwinked by the patriarchy into believing they are “better.” Isn’t that line of thinking in itself sexist? Even Parsons takes the technocratic tack–”yes, it was difficult but I thought breastfeeding and cosleeping etc. were better so by gum I made it work.” Personally, I found breastfeeding and babywearing extremely rewarding–emotionally satisfying and physically pleasant. (AND I also continued to find my career of paid work satisfying and rewarding. It’s not either/or!) Why doesn’t that count except to be dismissed as a “choice,” as if I were picking between strawberry and pistachio ice cream?

    I also part company with Parsons with her contention that employees (women) just need to ask for work to be more flexible/accommodating to parenting. That is an argument that is only ever made by high-up executives at large companies! (Remember the Sheryl Sandberg profile in the New Yorker?) I think there are systemic forces at work here that are not so easy for individual women to push back against. But a cultural shift in thinking about how to combine paid work and parenting would liberate men as well, I think.

  • You made an excellent point about how AP brings together both extremes. We rarely see this happen on any other issue. One of my biggest issues with AP is the name and the misconception that this name implies. What I mean by this is that by calling it “Attachment Parenting” parents mistakenly assume that this is the only way to really be securely attached to their children. And as a child psychologist, I can tell you that this simply is not true. There are multiple ways to become attached to your children. AP is only one. I’ve been talking a lot about AP if you’re interested in more of my thoughts:

    http://www.themommypsychologist.com/2012/04/15/what-does-the-mommy-psychologist-have-to-say-about-attachment-parenting/

  • purpleshoes

    I feel like asking individual parents to construct a completely different kind of civilization inside their house then they find outside it in response to finding that the civilization outside their house is ill-suited to children is pretty oppressive, yeah. It’s kind of angel-in-the-home-y, isn’t it? Sure, the outside world might be cutthroat and dangerous, but inside the home a single woman is put in charge of fulfilling the entire role of a family-friendly society towards a single infant.

    A friend of mine said, after trying and giving up a lot of attachment parenting techniques, that she thinks the problem is that attachment parenting details the duties of a mother (and maybe father) towards an infant but doesn’t take on anyone’s duties towards the parents, so it winds up feeling like enormous sacrifice to, for instance, give up your only potential time for spousal closeness in order to co-sleep because there might be someone else who could hold the baby for an hour during the day while your spouse was around.

  • [...] been so much interesting discussion about mothering lately, what with the continuing fallout from Elisabeth Badinter’s book. Today, the New York Times has convened one of its “Room for Debate” panels to referee [...]