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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Would you marry a male homemaker?

I'm a man doing laundry! via

In Slate, Finn Boulding talks about life as a “stay-at-home dude” (ie, full-time homemaker with no kids supported by a working wife):

I drop my wife off at her office (we’re trying to remain a one-car couple), then clean, mend, cook, run errands, and deal with the various logistics of life…I found myself taking on the things we used to do in a rush in the evenings, such as laundry and cleaning, and eventually the things that we had never had time for at all, such as cooking and mending clothes we might have just thrown away. Years of old paperwork got purged or organized, unwanted books sold on Amazon or donated.

As a result, when she is done with work—if I’ve managed my time well—the evenings and weekends are now totally open for us to relax together. And if there is cooking and cleaning for me to do while she is home relaxing, I do it without feeling frayed and resentful, because I can relax here and there during my “work” day in a way she can’t.

Staying home with your kids is one thing, but staying home all day to “mend” and do laundry? I’m guessing this is fun for the writer because, up until recently, he was working a stressful, crazy-hours job as an architect. This sewing and cleaning and errand-running probably feels like a vacation. I know that when I’m overloaded with work, I sometimes fantasize about spending whole days cooking or crafting – things I currently do as hobbies. But if I suddenly had unlimited free time to do those things? I’d probably be bored out of my skull in about 3.7 hours. Also, Boulding is putting himself into a position of terrible economic insecurity (obviously) by depending on his wife while his career skills atrophy, as generations of female homemakers have learned. Being a man doesn’t change this. And no kids equals no child support and little alimony in the case of divorce.

Also, Boulding and his wife must have a waaaaaay bigger house than I do. Between my husband and I, a pretty thorough weekly cleaning takes about 2 hours every Sunday, and laundry and cooking take another 2 hours a day max (and we don’t have a dryer or a dishwasher). And mending? This might be a time-suck if you have six kids, but for two people? I know I rip a hole in the occasional sock or skirt seam, but this isn’t Little House on the Prairie here. Busting out the sewing machine twice a year or so pretty much takes care of it.

If I told my husband I was going to quit my job to be a homemaker, he’d A) laugh, and B) say “hell no you’re not! Seriously.” My interest and engagement in things outside the home and our family unit are part of the reason he likes me. And I feel the same way about him. Also, he would not be cool being solely responsible for our financial security in exchange for my cooking and cleaning. I feel the same way.

Do you think housework (minus childcare) could consume your entire day? Would you be OK with a stay-at-home spouse (NOT a stay-at-home dad)?


16 comments to Would you marry a male homemaker?

  • tenya

    If my husband was actually devoted to keeping house I would be thrilled. I, like the dude’s girlfriend/now-wife, make enough to support the both of us. I’m on course to get my master’s next year and up that to “more than enough.” My husband is currently working part-time in education (so things like summers off, very set schedule, and low pay) and although talks about “being a house-husband” it is honestly pretty minimal. I still need to manage cleaning and even then a lot of it doesn’t happen. I don’t want people seeing my house unless I have several days prior to clean. The concept of planning meals is foreign.

    The problem I find with guys who say they’d be willing to do this arrangement is that they don’t approach it like this guy or the mythical housewives of yore, where the house is well cleaned, the clothes mended (wot? how much time does this take a week?), dinner in the oven and a cold cocktail waiting. Coupons are clipped to manage meals/manage household finances. Dry cleaning is picked up. Appointments are managed. Even sometimes home gardens are started. These are things I notice my girlfriends doing for their husbands when they are between jobs, to “really get into this housewife thing.” Instead, in my experience, with guys it is treated like college vacation staying at Mom’s house, where you don’t have to work and Mom takes care of cooking, cleaning and life management for you – or at least yells at you to do it. Video games are finished, not the laundry.

    Not to say I don’t think he’d find devoted house-dude-ing stimulating, I was bored to tears the two weeks I spent doing it (although the apartment was really clean!) and whined a lot. I don’t know if I’d choose someone with that as a goal, and would think “wouldn’t that get dull?” but where I am right now? I would not be unhappy if my evenings and weekends could be spent relaxing.

    • Emily

      “Like college vacation staying at Mom’s house” – ha! I think I do this, actually. When work is really slow, I totally don’t step things up around the house. I just bake fancy cakes and work on my hobbies ;)

  • Katy

    I can’t really imagine ever being in a position to support a spouse (I am an art teacher), but hypothetically…I suppose? As a bisexual woman, I immediately started thinking if there would be a difference if I ended up married to a man who wanted to stay home or if I end up in a long term partnership (I’m in Texas) with a woman who wanted to stay home. No doubt that the woman would be putting herself in the more vulnerable position since our marriage would not be legally recognized…

    I personally value ambition in partners, and I remember my mother talking about her and my father’s (excellent) relationship being strained when she was staying home with the kids during an extended maternity leave because she didn’t have anything to talk about besides the babies. Would the world start revolving around cleaning products – everything become about new vinegar-based cleanser, or learning to sew and “mend”, or whatever project comes along next? I think I would find that disappointing – if my partner didn’t have some new outside life to bring home and tell me all about.

    But would I feel this way more about a male partner? I think I would trust a male partner to be proactive (as tenya describes) less than I would trust a female partner to fill her day and make things nice for us. But I think I would, ironically, be more worried about what it would do to our relationship with a female partner. Perhaps I should have waited to comment until I have a more settled opinion.

  • Katy

    I want to clarify: I talk about lack of stimulating conversation mostly in response to the way the man describes his life in the article, not house-spousing in general.

    It sounds like he spends all his days cleaning, “mending”, and tending to the house. He doesn’t mention additional interests and hobbies picked up, volunteer work he pursues, or other things outside of the business of keeping house. And that seems like something you can reach the end of your knowledge about.

    Not so much with cooking, I suppose. Cooking talk is great.

  • Brittanyann

    I want to start off by saying, I am a homemaker so I may be a little biased.

    I am one of the “mythical housewives of yore” that Tenya mentioned. I do all the cooking and cleaning and everything else she listed, with the exception of the mending because I can’t sew to save my life.

    I am not saying that what I do is hard by any means but most men I know couldn’t do it. All the men I know were raised to believe that even if their wife made more than they did, it is their job to help provide for the family. I personally struggle with the fact that being a homemaker or a stay at home mom is kind of looked down on by our society. I think that struggle must be even harder for a man who chooses that role.

    While having the wife or partner at home may have a negative impact on others relationship, it has definitely helped ours. When I was working I had a job I hated. It stressed me out and that stress affected our relationship.

    I am lucky enough to have a husband that makes enough to support us and he enjoys it. He believes that it is his job to be the provider and would be miserable if the roles were switched.

    I am not sure about the househusband mentioned, but most housewives that I know have other things to occupy their time. I do not have children yet so I do have a lot of free time for hobbies and other interests. I know that my life would probably be boring to most people. But for my husband and I, this works the best.

    I get great value out of knowing that I am making our home a place of peace and respite that my husband looks forward to coming home to at the end of the day.

  • Truc

    I feel like this is a trick question. Of course I would like a stay-at-home dude. I never have to cook, clean, do laundry, or run an errand I don’t actively enjoy doing again? I never have to deal with crowds at the grocery store on a weeknight because my dude can go shop in the middle of the day? I can come home to awesome fresh home-cooked meals far beyond what I’d ever have the effort to do after work? Sign me up.

  • Isa

    Good question. When I was a stay-at-home wife (for lack of jobs) at 27, it lasted about 6 months. At month 5 and a half, my house was perfect and I was going crazy – I put the blame on isolation and lack of social/intellectual inputs, lack of aims – what of an aim is it to make about every day the same repetitive things that you will have to do again the next day (I had no children either, which I guess would make some difference for some years at least)? I do not know which human could keep up with such a life – for long, not temporarily, of course – without loosing interest in life and my eyes, actually. It is true that in some social classes, stay-at-home wives also make an important “networking job” for their husbands which is probably less monotonous, even stimulating and quite rewarding somehow, yet I guess it would not work with a stay-at-home husband, due to current mentality – he would be seen as ridicolous.
    Yet, if someone thinks he loves such life… Well, the fact is that nowadays it is not either a necessity, as when it was a real lifelong job, as you had to home-make and even hand-make almost everything you needed for life, nor a “career”, I mean a task in life with some evolution or opportunities of evolution in it (leave alone money).
    So, I do not really understand why a person with different choices at least possible would want to stay home. It is probabily a view (unreal, on medium-long term) of homestaying as a burst of freedom and lack of pressure, which is very attractive if someone comes from a distressful working environment. According to my more recent experiences, I also think that the staying-home choice is generally more a reaction to the some excessively unconfortable, unrewarding and yet very demanding work environment, than a choice according to one’s preferences. As a woman, I would advice anyone to think it over. And happily hire a domestic help whenever possible, if not possible then involve everyone in home tasks (which are VERY time-consuming, I’d like to know how they do it at Emily’s, that it takes such a little time! :-)

  • Lauren Ard

    Everyone has a threshold for what they can handle. What might take you only a few hours may take someone else a lot longer, whether it’s because they have emotional or physical issues, or because they are a perfectionist, etc. I can tell you that I was a stay-at-home spouse for a year when I was trying to get pregnant, and then pregnant, and we saved a crap ton of money during that time because I was able to make all meals from scratch, hang dry the laundry, tend a huge garden, be coupon savvy, etc. I think I saved way more money in that time than I would have made as a teacher (the previous three years I taught middle school science), without all the weight gain and stress from teaching! Now that I have three kids, of course that’s all out the window. But, I think that, as long as they are happy with what they are doing, a stay-at-home spouse could be a very effective person in a marriage, reducing the stress and financial burden of both people.

  • My dad was a homemaker throughout most of my childhood, because my mom made more money, so it just made more sense (and actually saved our family money, even) for him to stay home.

    I would marry a homemaker if I had a very, very high income.

  • Jessica

    I disagree. I am married with no kids and a one-bedroom apartment and I find the duties of having to run a household on top of having a full-time job to be really hard and stressful , but maybe I’m a wuss (or just bad at it). I recently got a new job and am now making twice what my spouse does. I thought I might resent being the main breadwinner but, now that I am, I find myself fantasizing about asking my husband to be a stay-at-home pet dad. How nice would it be to have dinner waiting when I came home every night, a sparkling clean house, and an endless supply of fresh underpants? Unfortunately, the reality is that we have student loans to pay off, I don’t trust my husband’s sanitation standards, and he probably likes his job too much to quit. Oh well. Now I’m just waiting for them to legalize polyandry so I can get an additional husband with mad cleaning skillz.

    • Emily

      Polyandry – now there’s a solution I didn’t think of! When I watched Big Love, we certainly had discussion about how nice it would be to have two built-in babysitters living next door ;)

    • An unsolicited tip from another dual-career household: after a period of unemployment, we both were working full time. Making a schedule for cleaning (vacuum this day, clean kitchen that day, clean toilet the day after) and preplanning/precooking meals to reheat really, really helped with the stress. I completely understand where you’re coming from, and since I have to use the gym at night (I live abroad and this country does not believe in pre-work workouts), it really cut into our ability to cook dinner before dying of blood sugar issues and have a life. Good luck!

  • I would die. My husband and I keep our place pretty clean while both working fulltime (usually out of the house but we have also both had periods of part-timing while freelancing).

    While I was in grad school and engaged, an educated acquaintance my age asked if I were going to quit after I got married. I’m not sure what I said, but I think it was along the lines of “Yes, because a whole year more till my MA can’t wait since I need to clean house and take care of my cat.”

    But back to the topic: neither one of us wants to be a homemaker, and when there’s no kids and not a lot of home to make, it’s not a viable option. When we are between jobs, being at home is all job apps, art projects, and freelancing. Having a more flexible schedule means that more dishes get washed (we are sans dishwasher currently) and more vacuuming gets done, but when we are both fulltime, we have to plan meals, cleaning, laundry hanging better.