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.

Follow me on Twitter!

Do we need marriage agreements?

I recently had the honor of talking with feminist writer and activist Alix Kates Shulman, who became (in)famous for her 1970 essay “A Marriage Agreement.”  The essay laid out all the often-invisible tasks of homemaking and childcare – calling the babysitter, picking up dry cleaning, making breakfast – and divided them up, legal contract-style, between Shulman and her husband. He would do dishes Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. She would do them the rest of the week. She would drive the kids around in the afternoon; he would help with homework at night. Etc. Etc. Etc.

More than 40 years after the essay was published, housework and childcare arrangements are still a huge source of stress for tons of couples (even though they’re not considered solely women’s work in the same way they were in the 1960s). Yet Shulman’s essay is still being mocked as uptight and humorless and absurd (“Certainly Shulman has earned herself a spot on almost any short list of very silly people,” snarks Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic).

So I wonder: is a marriage agreement a good idea? I have so many friends who say things like “well, I clean more, because he doesn’t mind the dirt but I do” or “I cook all the dinners because she can’t even boil spaghetti.” These complaints are usually delivered with good humor, but I wonder if a marriage (or partnership) arrangement would defuse burgeoning tensions, or would it just make the relationship seem unappealingly businesslike? (As for myself, I have almost no housework disagreements, but my husband and I have almost no housework, thanks to a teeny-tiny one bathroom house that can be vacuumed in 10 minutes. Yay for tiny houses! Plus, we both like to cook, and we both often work from home. But I know it’s harder for people with kids and long hours and bigger houses).

Shulman, for her part, thinks we need bigger, society-wide changes to reach real equality:

Probably not until the polity is more child- and woman-friendly, not until men and women are equally valued – economically and otherwise – not until free or low-cost quality childcare is universally available, will the ideal of equality in marriage be other than radical.

Thoughts? Would a formal marriage contract laying out responsibilities be a good idea, or a terrible one?

10 comments to Do we need marriage agreements?

  • While I do feel like the act of laying it all out legal-style does color it with something businesslike and unappealing, I think each partner having set duties in the household is incredibly useful, so long as there is a little flexibility built in.

    My husband and I have things divided up pretty neatly now, and it’s been really freeing knowing that I never have to wash a dish and he never has to fold the laundry. Back when we were taking turns with everything, trying to make sure each was doing their share, there would inevitably be little resentments that would build up. But now, as we’ve divided up the tasks by our particular strengths and aversions, each of us has a set routine and neither one of us feels like we got the raw deal.

    If one of us is sick or has to work late etc, neither minds picking up the slack, and there is no expectation of “making it up” later to make sure things are absolutely even.

    So far this has worked like gangbusters, but for now we have a tiny apartment and no kids, so ask me in ten years and we’ll see if I still sound this pleased :)

  • Katy

    I wouldn’t have thought something like this was necessary (or palatable) when it was just me and my honey – we just did what we wanted to do, and the things no one wanted to do we shared (or threw money at – sigh, preparenthood disposable income, i miss you). But now we have the little dude, as well, and suddenly time – especially free time – is a precious commodity, closely guarded. So maybe a formal agreement could help avoid the build up of resentment – but who has the time to draw up a document??!

  • Katy

    And of course, not to get all joni mitchell, but contractually allocating marital duties could be a slippery slope…

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/aug/14/afghanistan-womens-rights-rape

    • Emily

      Whoa. On the other hand:

      “the Talmud provides a detailed schedule for men’s conjugal duties, organized by profession. While a man of independent means is obliged to sleep with his wife every day, a camel driver is only obligated once in thirty days, and a sailor once in six months. That being said, a woman is allowed to reject her husband’s sexual advances, and Judaism forbids a man from pressuring his wife sexually.”

  • no husband now but I too live in a tiny house with only bathroom :)
    AND my bathroom is tiny and the kitchen’s a galley kitchen to boot :)

  • Maggie

    I think when you have children, you must maintain an organized schedule, whether it be a legally binding agreement or not. As the oldest of 4 kids with both parents working full-time, Mom and Dad had their life organized down to the hour, which included divided responsibilities. My parents never had an agreement, but they did have a detailed calendar of who was picking up/dropping off kids to school/practice, who would prepare dinner for that day, and general housekeeping chores that were equal depending on who was busier/out of town that week. Raising 4 active kids requires a lot of businesslike planning (My parents had a meeting every Sunday evening to sort through their calendars and plan). And my mom always said “The more you stick to your schedule, the more freedom you’ll have”. There’s nothing unromantic about that!

    • admin

      Sounds like your parents had the right idea! My mom kept a calendar with all the family members color-coded with highlighter pens; I am still in awe at her organizational skills.

  • I tried something like this, and what bothered me most was that, as the woman, it was not only my job to divvy up the tasks, but to also draw up the agreement, make sure he thought it was fair, do the tweaking, and enforce it (nag him) when he didn’t do his fair share and I had to. Now, I find it easier just to do it all myself than spend so much energy trying to get him to do his part and still at the end of the day have to do it myself. Anyone else find that the organization/enforcement/execution of the plan still falls to the woman and it’s her job to keep it up and running?