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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Do we want to go back to the 1950s?

Hannah Mudge, author of the super-smart We Mixed Our Drinks blog, has just posted about a book I hadn’t heard of but must now read immediately*: The Fifties Mystique. By an English author named Jessica Mann, it’s (in Hannah’s words) a “memoir-cum-warning” about our current nostalgia for retro culture. Mann lived through the era as a bored housewife, and worries about today’s young women’s apparent longing for “a simpler time” that really wasn’t so simple.

Mann has a piece in The Guardian this week, explaining her book’s thesis:

After a survey found recently that young mothers long to be full-time home-makers, novelist Kate Kerrigan said: “Luxury is the time to stay at home and decorate cupcakes. We’re not fighting for our right to work any more, we’re fighting for our right to knit.”

Knitting, which is often used as a demonstration of radical feminism, can also be a demurely domestic pastime, like group crochet, cake-offs or joining the Women’s Institute [to my fellow Americans: this is kinda like the English version of the Junior League]. “We long to put the clock back to the postwar years when life seemed prettier and nicer,” writes another thirtysomething, who, like many of her contemporaries, has nostalgic fantasies about the pre-women’s liberation era when mothers were never expected to juggle jobs and families.

It is understandable that women today, who work long hours out of financial need, might yearn for more time at home. But distance has lent enchantment to that view of the 1950s and 60s. I remember those days very differently…But for every working mother now who fantasises about giving up work, there must have been a ”captive wife” then, who felt utterly bored and frustrated by full-time domesticity. I was one of them.

Hannah, who is English and has read The Fifties Mystique, offers this excellent summary of the book’s end:

She [Mann] turns her efforts to encouraging today’s women not to look at inequality and their dissatisfaction and see turning back the clock as the answer, but to look towards the problematic issues of the 21st century that are causing it instead. She mentions the stressful long hours culture of work today, the still-elusive dream of shared parenting and equality in relationships, the admonitions that we “can’t have it all” that discourage women and fuel judgmental attitudes, the “old-fashioned sexism” of biological determinism (quoting Natasha Walter’s excellent Living Dolls), the one-sided and exploitative approach to women’s sexuality and appearance, and the fact that as during the 1950s, mothers are still to blame for everything.

Truth! I also see today’s nostalgia culture as partly a reaction against 60-hour workweeks and lack of maternity leave and the stress of “balancing it all.” If it were easier to find part-time work with full benefits, for example, perhaps no one would fantasize that June Cleaver’s life was simpler?

*(Oh, great. Now I see the book is published in England and is only available via international air mail. Woe! Woe!)


3 comments to Do we want to go back to the 1950s?

  • Agreed — almost all nostalgia for days of yore is founded on ignorance. Yes, let’s please return to a time when women’s only outlet for personal growth was the home! Let’s please return to the time before Civil Rights! It’s a privileged and inaccurate fantasy.

  • KP

    I had read this article in the Guardian as well, the book sounds interesting. I read the comments on the Guardian article and a lot of the discussion was centred around issues of class (namely, working class women –– both in the fifties and now –– have less ‘choice’ to stay at home). The issue of class is, of course, tied to the economic and social issues mentioned (lack of maternity leave and child care). How do class issues tie in to some of the topics that have been discussed here, like the fact that the ‘new domesticity’ has the habit of individualizing what are, instead, systemic problems that have to do with things like childcare and food safety?

    Also, look up the website book, they have free shipping from the UK. I’d like to hear what more people think about this book.

  • I had a period of somewhat involuntary housewifery between the ages of 19 and 22, due to immigrating to Canada and not being allowed to work or attend university until my permanent residency went through (which took a couple of years.) Even though I had been looking forward to quitting my job and settling in as a housewife, the enforced nature of it, legally not being allowed to do anything else, really wore me thin. It was not a very pleasant experience, despite the fact that I expected it to be a relief from the stress of working full-time.