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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This IS a first

An ad with a man doing the laundry. And not in a stupid, hee-larious “Mr. Mom” way either (“I just poured dish detergent in the washing machine. Doh!”). The is a real first. As Hanna Rosin writes in Slate:

I have been waiting all my life for this Tide and Downy ad. That lovely man, down in the basement, waiting for the dryer to stop so he can pull out his daughter’s favorite princess dress…

When I was a kid Carol Channing made me believe on my Free to Be You and Me album that by the time it was my turn to be a grown-up, we would all share the housework. And this is becoming true, to a certain extent, but that’s not what it looks like on the TV commercials. Lifetime breaks still serve up a steady diet of women with neat hair in pastel cardigans scrubbing the tub, mopping the floors, polishing pots till they gleam like new! Or if they update the old formula, they do it by having a woman scold her husband for what an idiot he is because he can’t understand a simple grocery list or eat a pizza in the living room without smearing sauce somewhere, thus reinforcing the concept that wife knows best.

These days, I’m just jealous of anyone who has a washing machine AND a dryer. We’re living in dryer-free place at the moment, and hanging the laundry on the drying rack is the most hated task in the house. Though we do share the job.

Who does the laundry in your house?

Chicken coop by Anthropologie

So now there’s this…Who’s got $3k to spare?! Plus an entirely white gallery space, because the great outdoors would just, like, ruin the minimalist-chic thing, you know?

 

Do you feel embarrassed about wanting a relationship?

Hannah in "Girls" wants experiences, not relationships

Maybe it’s because I did my 20s in North Carolina rather than New York or something, but this doesn’t sound at all familiar to me: young women being ashamed to want a boyfriend, or feeling like a boyfriend will derail their careers. As Leslie Bell writes in The Atlantic:

[Today's 20-something women] face a new taboo and it’s not about sex or money or power. Instead, it’s a taboo about that traditional province of women: relationships. Ambitious young women in their 20s feel they shouldn’t want relationships with men at this phase in their lives.

Really? Most of the women I hung out with in my 20s – AND most of the men – were pretty relationship oriented, and not ashamed of it either. And when I say “I did my 20s in North Carolina,” please don’t think I’m talking about something out of Deliverance. That’s Georgia. JK. But seriously, I spent most of my 20s in the Raleigh-Durham area, and most of my friends were ambitious PhD candidates and journalists and artists and what have you. Nobody worried that a relationship would hurt their careers. Why would it? It’s not like the men we were dating expected us to be home to cook dinner for them. Sure, we didn’t want to be married with two kids in the suburbs at 27. But we did want committed relationships – with the right person.

But maybe I’m missing something. My sense is that young people of late have been rejecting the 1990s “Sex and the City” thing, and are trying to focus more on “what matters” – including relationships. Or maybe, at 30, I’m a microgeneration too old to understand this phenomenon?

Does this sound familiar to you? Are you and your friends embarrassed about desiring a relationship, or worried that a relationship will bring down your career?

On “ironic, low-key, unconventional” weddings

 

Me playing with goat at our "unconventional" farm wedding ;)

Oh, man, does this ever hit home.

Writing in The Atlantic, Phoebe Maltz Bovy dissects the phenomenon of the “ironic, low-key, unconventional wedding” – the non-diamond engagement band, the non-wedding wedding dress, the reception at the local dive bar. Brides planning this type of wedding are displaying what Bovy calls “fauxbivilance” – they want a wedding, but are embarrassed that their dreams are so conventional.

I totally understand this. I – a woman who NEVER had wedding fantasies as a kid – felt really weird and squicked out by diamonds and white dresses and the word “fiance” (uggg! still hate it!) when I was engaged. I wanted to feel like I could do a wedding – and a marriage – without losing my identity.

Ironically, however, planning the ironic, low-key unconventional wedding is just as involved (and probably MORE involved) than planning the “typical wedding.” And when it’s over, you’re just as conventionally married as the girl who had a 12-bridesmaid taffeta-n-pink roses extravaganza at a church.

As I’ve written before, my husband and I had a low-key, rustic, handmade, DIY wedding on a local goat farm, which ended up costing far more money and energy than if we’d simply rented out the local Marriott ballroom, bought a white wedding cake and gotten my dress from David’s Bridal. It also – shocker – turned out to be more similar to the rest of the weddings we attended in the 2009-2013 period than it was different. In all the weddings I’ve attended in the recent years, only two were at houses of worship (one at a synagogue, one at an Episcopal church co-officiated by a priest and a Buddhist monk). Most were at farms or on rooftops or in art galleries or exposed brick “event spaces” in old tobacco warehouses. I’ve only been to a couple weddings where there was an actual white tiered wedding cake – more typical were wedding pies (us), wedding cookies, wedding cupcakes, wedding mini rhubarb tarts. Probably 90% of the couples wrote their own vows.

Unconventional, it turns out, is the new conventional.

I’m not complaining – I loved our wedding, and the planning was extremely fun. But the reality is, getting married is an extremely conventional act (in the best meaning of the word ‘conventional,’ I think), and no amount of DIY or ironic mustache photo booths makes you different than the billions of other people doing the same thing.

What were your weddings like? How did you feel about the planning process? Does the term “fauxbivilance” ring true for you?

In defense of Sheryl Sandberg

It was lame when Betty Friedan was criticized for not writing about working class women or women of color in “The Feminine Mystique.” And it’s lame that Sheryl Sandberg is being attacked right and left for being too privileged to have anything valuable to say about working motherhood.

Sandberg, the massively influential COO of Facebook, has written a new book, “Lean In,” which aims to tackle the issue of why women still have so much trouble getting to the top of the ladder in business, government and pretty much every other high-powered field. I haven’t read the book, because it’s not out yet (March 11 is the release date), but from my understanding, it’s main gist is that women need to be more assertive and willing to toot their own horns in order to succeed in competitive fields. Sandberg acknowledges the structural issues that can make success difficult – no paid maternity leave, inflexible policies, etc. – but encourages women to band together and fight these. She even suggests weekly “lean in” sessions (which sound like a modern update on 1970s consciousness raising groups) for women to get together and talk about their successes and failures together.

Yay, right?

Not so fast. Apparently, Sandberg is a Marie Antoinette in Louboutin heels, too blind with her “privilege” to offer anything of use to “real women.” Because she has “a husband, children, a beautiful home, a seat on the board of a billion-dollar company, a nine-figure net worth of her own,” her interest in supporting fellow ambitious women is merely a useless “vanity project.” She is a mere “pom-pom girl for feminism,” whose Prada boots and access to private planes make her impossible to take seriously.

This is bullshit.

Betty Friedan was writing for and about a specific demographic of women – middle-class women, most with college educations, who found themselves shunted back into the home due to postwar pressures to return America to safety and normalcy via domestic goddess-dom. Sandberg is writing about women who want to succeed in the upper realms of business and industry, a place where they are sorely underrepresented. Criticizing either of them for what they didn’t write about strikes me as grossly unfair, an easy – and yes, sexist – way of diminishing their message.

I am 1000% in favor of making structural changes that will help ALL women (and men, for that matter) – ambitious and non-ambitious, rich and poor, black and white and Hispanic and Asian and native, educated and not – be better able to balance work and family. I think Sandberg would completely agree. But just because that’s not what her book focuses on doesn’t mean it’s worthless. There are so few people addressing the ways women are socialized to fail in the workplace – being afraid to ask for raises, not applying for ambitious enough positions, etc. This is important stuff!

What do you think? Will you be reading Sandberg’s book? For some more positive takes, read Janet Maslin’s New York Times pre-review, or Anna Holmes’ New Yorker defense of Sandberg.

 

 

Paging Dr. Drew

 

A real question to Slate’s “Dear Prudence” advice column:

Q. Crafting Obsession: My sister and I live close to each other and get together with our kids a few times a week. We have a pretty good relationship overall, but lately one thing has come up that is becoming increasingly hard to deal with. While she was always crafty, it seems as though the combination of Pinterest has made her almost obsessed with crafts and presentation. At a recent birthday party, my brother-in-law told me that his wife was up until 2 every night that week and 4 the day before the event. It is clear this is taking a toll on both of them. I work part time and spend the remainder of my week with my 3-year-old and 5-year-old doing normal mom stuff that does include homemade meals and some DIY projects, but I’m certainly not up until 2. I would like to bring this up to my sister, but I’m not sure how to be tactful and concerned instead of pushy and unhelpful.

Hmmmm. I dunno. Knit her a straightjacket? Attach electrodes to her fingers and shock her whenever she tries to access her Pinterest “cute DIY projects!” board? Cross-stitch her a sampler that reads “All craft and no sleep make Jane a pain in the ass”? Send her to Cupcakes Anonymous? Use her hot glue gun to glue her Craft Drawer shut?

I wanna major in blacksmithing!

Spinning at North House Folk School

As the self-sufficiency/DIY phenomenon grows, a number of “folk schools” teaching old-fashioned, nearly lost domestic and homesteading skills are springing up around the country. Writing in Grist, Lori Rotenberk looks at the rise of the folk school movement:

But now, a growing interest in sustainability and the rise of craft and DIY culture, as well as unease with the current course of the economy and climate, are drawing people back into the folksy classroom.

“There’s a level of uncertainty about what the future holds for us as a society,” says Kyle Lind, a 27-year-old college graduate who recently started a 10-month internship at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minn. “Oil and food prices are on the rise. The cost of electricity and heat are skyrocketing. More and more people are realizing they have to know how to do for themselves.”

At Driftless Folk School in rural Wisconsin, you can learn to make cheese, butcher a deer, make a broom, build a solar cooker or forge a knife. At the Folk School of Fairbanks, Alaska, you can learn to build a canoe, make children’s toys, and weave. At North House Folk School in Northern Minnesota, you can learn to sew Scandinavian-style work shirts, learn to grow your own fruit orchard, make herbal medicine and build your own sauna (yes, please!).

[The organizers of the folk schools] see the movement as more of an awakening, an awareness that we’ve drifted a bit too far from nature. Not as doe-eyed as their earlier ’60s counterparts, they know the world won’t become one happy commune. Still, they point to a budding homesteading movement in both urban and rural areas as evidence that these ideas are gaining traction.

I’m gonna guess we’ll be hearing a lot more about these folk schools in the near future. Is this something you guys have heard of?

Mormon mom bloggers, Evangelical Etsy vendors, Jewish urban homesteaders: New Domesticity and religion

I was inspired by a post by Danielle at From Two To One, on why feminism as a whole benefits from religious feminists. It’s a great post, and it got me thinking about religion and new domesticity. While I don’t identify as religious (I was raised Jewish and I still love to make latkes on Hanukkah and matzo ball soup for Passover dinner, but don’t go to synagogue), but I’m really interested in the ways religion shapes our identities as women and as people.

While I was researching the book, I interviewed a number of women whose domestic identities were deeply tied to their religious identities. I talked to a number of very conservative Evangelical women who ran Etsy shops because, in their communities, mothers didn’t work outside the home, so selling homemade goods online was one way for them to have some financial independence. I talked to Mormon mom bloggers who felt it was their calling to blog about motherhood in a positive, upbeat way to counteract anti-family messages in the mainstream media. I talked to a Jewish urban homesteader who felt that “reclaiming” lost domestic arts like canning and crocheting was a way to honor her the women who came before her.

Though I’m not observant, I think my heritage as a reform Jew helped shape my interest in gender equality at home and at work (at the synagogue I grew up in, women gave sermons and men baked hamentashen; very “Free to be You & Me”). Do you have religious backgrounds that have influenced your identity as a woman, and your participation in domestic life?

 

Dad blogs fighting sexist ads

 

dad bloggers. image via nytimes.com

Dads. Those incompetent man-children who can’t diaper a baby, those horse’s asses who would rather watch football than help their sons with homework. Sure, they’re fun. They’ll feed the kids candy or rile them up with tickle fights before bedtime. But when it comes to real domestic responsibilities, mom’s in charge.

A growing number of dads are rejecting this sexist imagery. And, as dads start to blog in greater numbers, dad blogs are helping shift the way advertisers deal with parenting. As the New York Times reports, on a recent dad blogging conference:

[The dad-as-idiot paradigm] is an image that many fathers who attended the Dad 2.0 Summit — a meeting of so-called daddy bloggers and the marketers who want to reach them — have come to revile. They are proud to be involved in domestic life and do not want to serve as the comic foil to the supercompetent mother.

Right on, I say.

As we know, mom blogs have become a major outlet for product promotion. Readers trust bloggers more than they trust print or TV ads. McDonald’s, for example, has used mom bloggers to promote its healthier choices menu to great success. Attendees at any mom blogging conference worth its salt are loaded down with more swag than Beyonce at the Grammys. Popular mom bloggers can earn everything from ad dollars to paid sponsorships to free products to “test drive.”

Say what you will about the insidiousness of bloggers-as-flacks for big business (and I have plenty to say about this in my book). But if a new breed of dad blogger is helping shift the corporate narrative around parenting, I say hallelujah! As the Times writes:

Mr. Candelino [vice president of marketing for Unilever] described his target customer as a father, or an expectant one, who is in his late 30s and married, cares deeply about his role as a father and mentor, and is as comfortable having a tea party with his daughter as he is having beers with his friends.

“No brands were talking to guys at that level,” he says. “Society is ready for a new narrative about dads.”

Indeed.

Thoughts? Do any of you read dad blogs? What are some of your least favorite “man-as-idiot-in-the-home” commercials? This is mine.

Talking “The Feminine Mystique” on BBC Tuesday 9am

UPDATE: You can listen to the segment here. It’s at about 0:45 or 0:50, I believe.

Just FYI, I’ll be talking about the 50th anniversary of “The Feminine Mystique” this morning (Tuesday, February 19) on the BBC News Hour (which plays at 9am on various NPR stations in the US), along with Letty Cottin Pogrebin, the feminist activist and co-founder of Ms. magazine.