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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Has motherhood ruined feminism?

Don't make Susan B. Anthony angry, moms!

I promise, my book isn’t all about motherhood by any means (it’s also about crafting, and cooking, and women’s history, and pie!). But there’s 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 the deathmatch of “Motherhood vs. Feminism.”  Fun!

To save you time, I’ll summarize.

Mayim Bialik (AKA Blossom!) says no, attachment parenting is empowering because it celebrates what’s natural and rejects male-dominated ideologies about what ladies should do with their vaginas.

Heather McDonald (a comedy writer) says yes, because as a woman you shouldn’t “sacrifice your career, your financial security and oftentimes your happiness all in the name of motherhood?” She also offers that she didn’t breastfeed and her son is still good at basketball. So…

LaShaun Williams (a blogger) says yes, but “good riddance to feminism” anyway, because feminism “devalued marriage and the familial and societal benefits of homemaking and encouraged self-indulgence.” I’ll spare you my long-winded historical analysis of why this is bullshit (you’ll have to buy the book!) and simply say, “this is bullshit.”

Erica Jong (zipless fuck enthusiast) says yes, because women who are busy breastfeeding and co-sleeping don’t have time for “making music” or “data entry.” I hear Jong spent a lot of time doing “data entry” in the 1970s, if you know what I mean!

Pamela Druckerman (cheese-eating surrender monkey enthusiast) says yes, and points out that the French don’t do “mommy martyrdom.” And the French are amazing. Baguettes, hello!

Annie Urban (blogger) says no, and wisely points out that fathers can parent just as well as mothers – though she doesn’t say whether or not they parent as often as mothers (they don’t. Not even close).

Maria Blois (author of a book about babywearing) says no, and quit being judgmental, jerks!

All fun aside, I do think looking at how parenting trends impact women’s lives is totally valid. And it’s clear that many young women today are choosing very, very intensive methods of parenting. In my book, I hope to offer more than a knee jerk yes-no opinion on what natural parenting means for feminism, instead giving some historical and cultural context on why women are choosing this.

7 comments to Has motherhood ruined feminism?

  • i appreciate this quick round-up, as i been slogging through reading about this issue for a few weeks now (ignited by the badinter book, of course). doesn’t seem like it’s a debate that is going away anytime soon, does it? although i’d argue that “motherhood vs feminism” is a bit of a large umbrella for what they’re really discussing, which is attachment parenting. haven’t women been discussing motherhood vs feminism since, well, feminism began?

    • Emily

      That’s the truth! Utopian feminists like Charlotte Perkins Gilman were arguing that women should be freed from the burdens of motherhood and homemaking by armies of professional cooks and cleaners and childcare workers back in the late 1800s (and they weren’t talking about McDonald’s and Molly Maid, either!).

  • I haven’t read Badinter’s book yet, but I am so sick of this debate! And I’m especially sick of people framing it as “motherhood vs. feminism,” as Carrie said above. At this point in the game, I think most feminists would say you can be a feminist and a mother; that caregiving is something that should be valued (and done by both sexes). The real issue is whether a specific style of parenting is feminist, and exploring issues of choice around it. That is a much different conversation!

    Besides, with all the war on women rhetoric about how feminists just hate motherhood and want all women to abort their fetuses, I think it is especially problematic to pit motherhood and feminism against each other. But thanks New York Times!

  • Katy

    I haven’t read the nytimes piece (damn you, ten free article limit), but I have to agree with Shannon – I’m sick of this debate – and it’s tedious reification of the false feminism vs motherhood dichotomy (how unlike the media to oversimplify…). One of the big criticisms of badinters book is the way she papers over the real negative consequences of historical motherhood practice (the correlation between use of wet nurses and infant mortality). Similarly, this ‘debate’ engages only problematically with the fact that there may be very real developmental positives flowing from attachment parenting. As the mother of a 7 month old it is intuitive to me that there are – and well supported by the literature. At the same time, attachment parenting is a huge, often boring, often messy and financially unrewarding slog. To me, as a feminist, and a mother (who is also doing a phd to keep myself sane AND because my scholarship money supports little treats like food and bills), the debate should be around why attachment parenting is inordinately the responsibility of women. Yes, I can breast feed. But everything else, boys can do too. And in some societies (eg Sweden) they are able to do that because there are financial and social structures in place to enable and encourage it. A feminist approach to motherhood shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater – it should (in my view) demand that society introduce systems to enable PARENTS – and not just women – to parent in the way they consider to be in the best interests of the child. Afterall, feminism is not about controlling the nature of the parenting choice we make, but enabling us to make a choice at all.

  • Katy

    Although I want to be clear that I don’t think every choice is feminist simply because it is made by a woman!

  • Meredith

    I recently read a re-posted entry on this topic over at Blue Milk. In the post, the author offers an extended quote from Daphne de Marneffe which includes the idea that the framing associated with this debate “flattens the complexity of mothers’ own desires…”

    As a new mother with an academic focus on mothering (oy), I am also tired of this latest incarnation of the mommy wars. However, it does make me wonder about what the narrative structures we use to “tell” mothering might show us. The “flattene[d]” assumptions about mothering (what “mother” means / what [who?] a mother is) seem eerily similar regardless of ideological position.

  • As a child psychologist and a mom, I’ve spent lots of time discussing what I think is “wrong” with our generation of parents (myself included). Here’s one of the biggest differences that I think exists and that is that we are the generation who have all been to therapy and blame our parents for our mistakes. So, when the table is turned and we have children of our own, we are terrified of “damaging” them in the way we feel our parents “damaged” us. I talk more about it here: