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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Perfect blog = perfect life?

My sad attempts at food photography. This is a pound cake.

Confession: I started a food blog back in 2007 for the sole purpose of making my life look good. At the time, I was unhappily working a low-level job at a newspaper, unsure about whether I wanted to stay in my hometown, and angstily wondering whether my life was going anywhere. I spent hours of my workday hiding in my cubicle and secretly gorging on food blogs like Orangette and Chocolate and Zucchini. These blogs were gorgeous and witty and well-written, and made the authors’ lives seem so adorable and perfectly imperfect. Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini lived in Paris with her cute boyfriend and a cadre of fun, quirky friends and neighbors who were always inviting her over for impromptu dinner parties. Molly of Orangette had a fairy tale story of meeting her husband via her blog. He sent her Spanish chocolate bars and pink sea salt care packages from New York; their wedding was catered by some of Molly’s many foodie friends.

I realized, of course, that blogs are works of careful editing. So, as an experiment, I decided to start my own. I would only write down the good stuff, I told myself – the picnics at Jordan Lake, the homemade basil ice cream, the dinner parties. Then I would see that, with careful editing, my life could look as lovely as anyone’s. I thought this would be instructive, a way of proving to myself that I was framing my life negatively. Instead of being a miserable hack covering numbingly boring town council meetings and fielding abuse-filled phone calls from readers, I could be a quirky, enterprising girl reporter beloved by her community. Instead of living in a mold-infested apartment with a flood-prone kitchenette, I could focus on the nice aspects – the herbs on the windowsill, the hibiscus plant in my bedroom. I could writer a better me – more creative, more whimsical, gentler, more beloved, with a better attitude and nicer hair. Perhaps if I could write a better me, I could be a better me.

As it turned out, I was a crap food blogger. I’m a lousy photographer, for one.  To achieve the kind of sun-soaked closeups that are de rigueur on food blogs, I had to totally abuse the “fill light” setting on Picasa. Secondly, while I like to cook, I rarely cook anything that interesting. Chocolate chip cookies and Thai green curry don’t make for fascinating reading. Thirdly, I am not good at whimsical and good-natured. Molly of Orangette captures the tone perfectly. I sound like a robot Robert De Niro trying to channel Martha Stewart.

And all this was before the explosion of domestic blogs and Etsy and Pinterest and all the other places that give us unprecedented looks into strangers’ carefully mediated home lives.

Over at Jezebel, Katie JM Baker writes more on the issue of social media like Pinterest and feelings of domestic inadequacy:

Writing this, I realize that my real issue isn’t that I’m not crafty or domestic enough — I honestly have no interest in learning how to knit or sew or weld or garden — but that I conflate having a perfect-looking home with having a perfect life. My fantasy is that, if I was the kind of woman who baked her own bread, painted her own walls, and stenciled her own t-shirts, I’d never yell at my mother, drink too much, or sleep through my alarm clock in the morning. I know that having a fervent Instagram following doesn’t necessarily mean shit about one’s non-virtual life, but it’s hard to remember that, since nowadays it only takes a handful of fresh, uncut flowers, a carefully-placed mason jar, and the right photo filter to appear like you have it all under control.




18 comments to Perfect blog = perfect life?

  • Meredith

    All modern riffs on The Angel in the House? Instead of subservience to a husband, subservience to a…Gaze?

  • Katy

    The Internet as panopticon point is an interesting one, and I’m sure it plays a role in the way that those of us who do lifestyle blog often attempt to do so in an aspirational rather than realistic way (plus we’re all suckers for a trend).

    What I don’t understand is why we choose the aspirations we do in an online context. Of course, this whole blog is about critically interrogating new domesticity, so I know I’m not alone in my confusion. But in the real world my friends and role models are kick ass powerful women…. And then online I choose to be inspired by insipid girlie prettiness?

    It’s not that I dont like baking and crafting and braids(!), and I don’t think liking those things is inherently not feminist – in fact I think they can often be very much part of a feminist identity. But if I’m honest, when I look at the lifestyle blogs I like & aspire to emulate – my criteria is pretty cutesiness first, ideological considerations second.

    That’s not how I choose people to associate with in real life, so I’m puzzled that it’s so central to my preferred presentation (& self presentation) online.

  • Emily

    I know, it IS so strange, isn’t it? In real life, I don’t aspire to any kind of domestic perfection whatsoever. I’m fairly disinterested in fashion and decorating. I eat packaged crap all the time, and don’t feel bad about it. My personal interests run more towards travel and rock climbing and watching bad TV than crafts or home renovation. Yet the winsome aesthetic of the lifestyle blogs is so addictive, even though they don’t resemble the life I really aspire to. There’s just something about the presentation – “I’m cute, I’m loved, I have things under control” – that I find absurdly addictive.

  • Regarding our food blog experiment, I’d be interested to know what the result of that effort was for you internally. Regardless of whether the blog was actually successful, did you feel differently about the *real* life you were living while you were capturing only the happy/pretty things in it, or did the disparity between actual life and pretty blog life make things feel worse?

    I wonder about this a lot, and tend to go back and forth in my feelings. I also started blogging as a way to kind of forefront the pleasant moments in a not-always pretty life. And when I look back on mine it genuinely makes me happy to have a record of the fun shit I did/stuff I made/things I liked, even though I know that during part of the time I was writing it I also logged plenty of hours of couch-bound depression.

    But I already feel myself getting bored with it

    • Emily

      “Blogging as a way to kind of forefront the pleasant moments in a not-always pretty life” – that’s a nice way to put it. I did think there was value in trying to re-frame my life in a more positive way via the blog, but I got bored with it pretty quickly. Plus, it just felt really unnatural. Much as I’d like to be, I’m not a peaceful, grateful person who appreciates the simple things in life – I’m restless and neurotic and skeptical and easily bored! Once I left the newspaper and got a more stimulating and less-depressing job, I pretty much lost interest in the blog.

  • Um, so I accidentally pressed publish while I was halfway through that thought. Awkward!

  • Katy

    I thick a good example of the un-live-up-to-ability of the cult of perfection on lifestyle blogs is the proliferation of aspirational posts – 10 things I like, or whatever, where bloggers basically stick up a bunch of pictures/links to projects they’d like to do, things they’d like to buy, etc (this has now gotten even more structural with sites like pinterest. It’s no longer ‘look how perfect my life is’ but one step removed – look how perfect my life could be. I want/like therefore I am. I think it’s an interesting change (although my thesis is on sell commodification and it’s admittedly MUCH more interesting in that context)….

    • Emily

      Totally! On so many lifestyle blogs, pure materialism gets dressed up as something noble of spirit. Like, since we’re talking about buying stuff on Etsy or sewing our own skirts or our love of vintage cardigans, we’re somehow launching a strike against mass culture, living “the good life,” creating community, etc. But it’s basically still all about “pretty stuff.”

  • Katy

    Obviously that shoulda said self commodification

  • [...] of housekeeping/crafty porn and often discussing how these sorts of blogs give us a warped sense of what life should be, versus what it really is (sometimes I wonder about this in homeschooling blogs). I’ve [...]

  • I’m fairly new to blogging and deliberately kept my options option when I started (my tag line is “Writing, babies, ideas, plans — let’s see what hatches”) because I didn’t want to unintentionally limit myself to it just being a mommy blog, or just a book reviewing blog or just, well, a one-specific-thing blog. I wanted to start writing and see what happened.

    One thing that happened is that the twins grew up a bit and I started cooking again. I made pickled grapes and fried capers and I wrote about it and took some pictures and even added a recipe page … and then suddenly wondered if I was veering into lifestyle-blog territory. I didn’t want to be.

    I had read this post and Katie JM Baker’s (I have a home-made terrarium, but I’m not over-propping!) and went link-hopping from there and was amazed at how much people — bloggers — were trying to project and promote. Somewhere I found the word “curate” to describe what people were doing to their lives and while I loved the *idea* of life-as-an-exhibit I was slightly appalled by it in practice.

    Maybe, as you said, by writing or photographing a better “me” we think we can become better “mes.” But I fear we just get better at projecting better “mes.” And there’s a danger in letting too much space grow between what we project and who we actually are … especially when writing about motherhood (but that’s a whole nother topic!).

    Thanks for asking all these smart and timely questions about the New Domesticity.

    P.S. I love the picture of your pound cake.

    • Emily

      Fried capers…yes, please!
      That’s such an interesting point you make about having to be intentional about making your blog NOT a one-topic thing. When I wrote my first blog in 2004, I had no thought that anybody but my friends and family would read it (and nobody but my friends and family did read it), so it was basically just a sprawling record of my life and travels. Now everyone has to worry about their identity being pigeonholed – am I a “mom blogger”? a “food blogger”?
      Thank you for your kind comment about my pound cake pic; I’m afraid I probably spent half an hour editing it in Picassa, which is insane.

  • the quickest possible fix for the technophobic photographer is to take the damn thing outside to photograph it. i wasted a LOT of money on a fancy camera only to leave it on auto, turn off the flash and use daylight.

    it is tricky to navigate the new world of blogging, where we are told in no uncertain terms that we will be MUCH more successful if we stick to a theme. well, maybe. maybe. really big blogs are often single themed, but then, they are really career blogs. if you are *just* writing then why shouldn’t you meander about? if it helps to have a theme then have at it. my only themes are my life, my opinions and my dog.

  • [...] too boring for a photo shoot. So I pinked it up, Toddlers and Tiaras-style. See what I mean about the internet and the perfectly edited life? Unfortunately I was far too lazy to wash the green mold off my house’s craptastic vinyl [...]

  • [...] read more than a few posts on this site, you probably know that I’m obsessed with how the internet drives lust/envy/aspiration/inspiration/jealousy/insecurity and all that good stuff, particularly when it comes to the domestic realm (“I wish I had a [...]