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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Should we feel like failures for leaving the workforce?

Interesting read of the day: Noah Berlatsky’s defense of quitting your job in The Atlantic. Berlatsky, himself a grad school dropout turned writer, suggests that perhaps we need to stop talking about women leaving the workplace as a “failure,” and instead embrace everyone’s right to put family over work. As he writes:

I wonder whether women’s experiences of quitting—or, for that matter, my experiences of quitting—should be so thoroughly discounted as a retrograde return to “the expectations of the 1950s,” as Hewlett puts it. Lots of women have shown, pretty clearly, that if forced to choose between work and family, they’ll quit work. Rather than seeing that quitting as false consciousness or failure, maybe we could learn from it that work is not always more important than family, and that quitting, for women or for men, is not a sin.

I agree with a number of Berlatsky’s point, but I think this is a straw man argument: few people actually think quitting work is a “sin,” or that work should be more important than family. I think most people are just worried that women are quitting at higher rates than men, often because of sexist or family-unfriendly work policies. Whatever these policies are, we should root them out and fix them. Which is completely consistent with Berlatsky’s view that nobody should be called a failure for leaving their job.

What do you think? Has anyone left their job and felt like a failure, or been accused of being one?

4 comments to Should we feel like failures for leaving the workforce?

  • It’s one hits pretty close to home for me. I quit a very lucrative job about a year and a half ago because the management team that lead our team bullied me on a regular basis. I was going through the final stages of a divorce at the time and quite preoccupied with paperwork and court sessions and the whole emotional aspect of it all so I was tired and doing, really, the best I could. I was always in time, did my job to a “T” and made sure I was “leaving my baggage at the door” but my managers would constantly point our that I wasn’t smiling, seemed distracted and oversll just wasn’t “bringing positive energy to the team”. There were several instances of management “discussions” we’re I felt backed into a corner and ended up having to spend quite some time speaking with our company’s HR team about the whole thing. I loved the work but the environment was so incredibly toxic that I decided the only way to get back to a state of real health, I had to quit.

    My best friend (now boyfriend) and I jumped when a job opportunity for him presented us with an opportunity to move somewhere new. I took a few months off and allowed myself to recover from the last job and then picked up a part-time gig to start back into the workplace while I looked for a more permanent job. The hunt has been a tough one and I’m still working that same part-time job and freelancing a bit on the side. Not where I want to be and struggling not to think that quitting that last job was a huge mistake. I feel like I’ve failed myself for quitting and I have to constantly remind myself of how truly awful a and toxic the job was. A much as I’ve hated the forced hiatus on the career front, I do love that I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I want in the process. It’s a constant struggle to not feel like I’ve failed or let down my family. It’s a constant struggle to not compare myself to others my age with marriages, kids, houses and a seemingly perfect life. I think there is a pressure from all around me to “have it all together” and to know what I want and to already be where I’m going to plant myself or to at least have a “life plan”. It feels disingenuous to me and, it turns out, to a lot of my friends in the same boat. I think the pressure to have a perfect life is something that gets pressed on women from mostly other women in our society, breaking the norm and taking a different path marks someone as a failure, in a sense. I hate that it’s a thought for me and my family and friends have been really supportive and absolutely don’t think I’ve failed. I still struggle with it though. I do wonder if this conversation on women getting fed up, quitting and then having kids instead of reentering the workplace “because family is more important” is a conversation that is happening because women are trying to justify their choices. Perhaps the job market is bad enough that having kids, raising chickens, growing you own food, etc etc etc provides a sense of accomplishment that would have been filled by a career if the career had been available. I’m sure that there are many women who consciously drop out of the workplace for family. But I do have to wonder if this does indeed, as you point out, have more to do with the system that makes it extremely difficult to manage having both family and career. Phew! All over the place, but I hope that answers you question!

  • When I was a senior at Wesleyan, I did my thesis on the transition to first-time motherhood. It was a one-year study of a group of moms before and after the birth of a baby. Despite their prior plans, almost all of them quit their jobs. My feminist, mid-1990s self was horrified, and my thesis was quite judgmental.
    Now fast forward to today. I’m staying home with my toddler. I have so many conflicted emotions about it. I do often feel like I’m “failing” — career and academic as well as “housewifery.” Turns out that I’m not very good at the “new domesticity” either!

  • Nate

    I don’t think that you’d get many people “on the record” saying that work is more important than family, but I do think that reducing the family income (and hobbling your career) is a “sin” through the lense of the unofficial state religion of the US, consumer capitalism.

    I am a stay-at-home father, but we used to do the dual-income-and-a-baby-shuffle. When our child was 18 months old, my wife was offered a great, though very demanding job, and my (also demanding) job wouldn’t let me go part-time, so it was either hire a nanny 12 hours/day and catch up in the hectic hour or so before bedtime or make the jump to a single income. We took the massive pay-cut and made the jump.

    Our family’s quality of life immediately and dramatically improved. Family dinner was on the table when my wife came home, the grocery shopping was done, the house was cleaner, and laundry was clean and folded, thus evenings and weekends were free for recreation, family time, etc. It has been hard to make ends meet, but we are still managing.

    My wife, though a great mom, has few domestic skills and little interest in developing more. Being raised in the 70s & 80s by a highly educated “supermom” type, my wife was groomed to perform academically and in her career, and, like her mom, has done very well in those endeavors. I, on the other hand, grew up in back-to-the-land family, so domestic work is my bread and butter (and I have no shot of navigating either academia or the corporate world!) Even though our preferred roles are absolutely clear to us, our guilt is still tremendous: I feel as if I should be providing financially, particularly when my wife is having difficulties at work, and my wife feels as if she should be more domestic, that she’s failing as a wife and mother; somehow those traditional gender roles have been stitched into our respective psyches. I think that this must be a major factor in all of this, even though we know better it has been impossible to shake our cultural programing!

    While nobody has used the word “failure” to my face, within months of leaving my job my wife’s family began asking me about when I’d be going back to work –they just don’t get it. Though, to be fair I’m not sure if they are hinting at something or just so used to living among workaholics that they don’t know what else to talk about!

    Our child will start school next year and I have been looking for work in order to cover tuition. Finding work is difficult, finding work with favorable hours and conditions is impossible. Interviewers will nod and say “of course” when I am inevitably asked to account for my three years out of the workforce or when I ask them questions about work/life balance, but I can see that they are confused and terrified by me: “He left a high-paying job after ten years to stay at home with a baby?” The last thing that most employers want is someone who won’t be relying on them for survival. That worker might say “no” to their demands, or worse yet might make demands on them!

    Once a family’s basic needs are met, i.e. they have a middle-class income beyond servicing their debt load, the work-consume paradigm becomes extremely unattractive. You mortgage your family life in order to suffer the constant indignities of corporate life for a company that might discard you any day without notice. Beyond the obligatory PR department lip-service most employers are not just family-unfriendly, but downright antagonistic toward anything that doesn’t involve the bottom line. With the disappearance of organized labor and our money-centric “value” system, quitting a job is the last, sad scrap of power wielded by an American worker.

    In the end it is about control. You can either cede it to an insidious globalized debt peonage system that is wasting human potential on a galactic scale, a system that has obliterated the social fabric and is too large to comprehend, let alone change, or you can take control of the things that really matter in your life: a toddler’s nap schedule, a loaf of bread, a handful of mustard greens, a simple picnic. I fail my family everyday, but now I fail in ways that I understand and can correct, which makes all the difference.

  • Kristal

    I quit my high paying job after my first son was born and was told by a grocery store clerk (after noticing a sweatshirt I was wearing from my Alma Mater that said “School of Engineering”) that getting my education just to stay home with my son was “such a waste”. Meanwhile, she’s scanning frozen veggies and paper towels for a living.