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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Why gender equality has stalled 50 years after Betty Friedan

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Feminine Mystique, historian Stephanie Coontz applies her usual genius to the question of why gender equality has stalled in the New York Times. If you haven’t read any of Coontz’s books – I’m especially indebted to her “The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap” and “A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s” – they’re totally fascinating.

As Coontz writes, today’s women and men hold egalitarian values – most of us believe that both men and women should work and should share housekeeping and childcare duties. But few of us can live up to these values, largely because of “structural impediments” – lack of maternity leave, incredibly long work hours, lack of reasonably priced childcare. So women end up dialing back their career ambitions, whether or not they want to. Fewer mothers are working than in the 1990s, women’s labor force participation has stalled across the board, and there’s still a gender wage gap in nearly every field.

“The gender revolution is not in a stall. It has hit a wall,” Coontz writes.

But since no one wants to feel like they’re a pawn in the system, we women tend to justify our decisions in terms of “personal choice:”

Some people began to argue that feminism was not about furthering the equal involvement of men and women at home and work but simply about giving women the right to choose between pursuing a career and devoting themselves to full-time motherhood. A new emphasis on intensive mothering and attachment parenting helped justify the latter choice [we see a lot of this in New Domesticity]Anti-feminists welcomed this shift as a sign that most Americans did not want to push gender equality too far.

But women shouldn’t have to make these choices between work and family. And they shouldn’t have to feel like, when they fail at balancing both, it’s their fault. As Coontz writes:

Our goal should be to develop work-life policies that enable people to put their gender values into practice. So let’s stop arguing about the hard choices women make and help more women and men avoid such hard choices. To do that, we must stop seeing work-family policy as a women’s issue and start seeing it as a human rights issue that affects parents, children, partners, singles and elders. Feminists should certainly support this campaign. But they don’t need to own it.

Amen.

Why don’t women ask for help around the house?

Hong Kong domestic helper ad

Over at The Atlantic, Alexis Coe takes a look at why high-earning working women don’t get much help with housework, even though they can afford it/should presumably be empowered to ask for it:

People assume that women who earn high wages outsource a good deal of domestic responsibilities, but Harvard sociologist Alexandra Killewald found this “buying-out hypothesis” to be overblown, particularly when it came to housework.if they can afford it, why aren’t these women outsourcing housework so that they have an organized, sparkling home that creates more leisure time?

Gender norms and perceived societal expectations of wives and mothers may play a role…Housework has a performative quality to it, and conforming to traditional gender norms may produce social and psychological rewards. This is true for Killewald, who said while she and her husband often cook meals together, when her mother-in-law is expected for dinner, she not only cooks the meal, but urges her husband to make it clear that she was the chef. “That’s important to me because I’m showing [my mother-in-law] that I’m a good wife,” she said. “Those expectations don’t fall on fathers and men.”

The article goes on to add that women are loathe to “delegate” housework to their male partners or children, probably for the same reasons outlined above – housework is seen as nurturing, women are socially programmed to have higher expectations for cleanliness than men (though not always, obv – my husband is much neater than I am), women are suspicious of pre-prepared or packaged food options, etc.

But back to the question of why women who can afford it don’t hire paid household help. We’ve discussed before on this blog the tension around the idea of whether it’s OK to hire a maid in the first place. A lot of people were inherently uncomfortable with the idea of giving other people your “shit work,” while I argued that, as long as someone is being paid a decent wage, housework is no worse than any other kind of job.

This tension does not seem to exist equally in all cultures. I’m in Hong Kong now, where many middle-class people have full-time, live-in hired help. Adults – men and women alike – work extremely long hours, and immigrant “helpers” from Indonesia or the Philippines make domestic help affordable. Perhaps because apartments are so small here, or because cheap restaurants and street food stalls make eating out much more common, people seem to feel less a sense of “house pride” and feel less of a moral obligation to cook from scratch. Having a live-in helper is a status symbol – rather than projecting “I’m a bad mother/housekeeper/woman” (as American women fear it does), it seems to say “I’m wealthy enough to afford help.”

That said, the relationship between Hong Kong women and their helpers is not tension-free, as illustrated by this super-creepy milk ad. Basically, the pretty, pale-skinned Hong Kong woman is jealous of her son’s attachment to his darker skinned nanny, and bribes him with milk to love her better.

How many of you have domestic help? What kind? And how many of you would “outsource” work if they could afford it? What would you outsource?

 

Would you marry a male homemaker?

I'm a man doing laundry! via slate.com

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)?

 

How parenting became the ultimate DIY project

eating homemade baby food via theatlantic.com

While we’ve all heard a lot about what I call “DIY parenting” (the kind of parenting that embraces anti-institutional, self-sufficient strategies like homeschooling/home birth/making all your baby food from scratch, etc. etc.), we don’t talk that much about why this kind of parenting has grown so popular. In the Atlantic, I take a look at the historical and social factors that made DIY parenting so ubiquitous among educated, progressive parents.

If you’re REALLY committed to New Domesticity…

When I was in my very early 20s I wanted a shoulder tattoo of a Mexican Day of the Dead skull and the words “Et in Arcadia Ego” underneath (don’t even ask; I was an English major who drank one too many mezcals in Oaxaca). Fortunately I made myself adhere to a lengthy delay: if you still want the tattoo in seven years, I told myself, you can get it. Well, here I am, 30, with my shoulder still unblemished but for the odd bra strap indentation, so you can see how that went…

This brings me to this amazing collection of crafting-inspired tattoos on Buzzfeed, brought to my attention by the lovely Emily Harris. A few highlights:

These Mason jar flowers look almost exactly like our wedding table toppers (I know, I know; I’m guilty of the twee crime of Mason jarring):

These knuckle tattoos make my Day of the Dead skull idea seem subtle:

Well, if anyone didn’t believe that people are REALLY REALLY dedicated New Domesticity, this should clear that up!

Guy bloggers

Hello! I'm the handsome devil who shows up when you do a Google image search for "male blogger."

Men are definitely underrepresented in both New Domesticity itself, and in the crafting/cooking/childcare/lifestyle blogosphere. But I’ve lately been poking around the internet for interesting male New Domesticity-type bloggers, and I thought I’d share what I’ve found. If you have any guys to add to the list, let me know!

You’ll notice that most of the blogs on the list explicitly focus on the male/masculine aspect of the subject matter: “the manly housekeeper,” “macheesmo,” etc., probably because there are so few men in the genre.

The Manly Housekeeper: a stay-at-home househusband with a working lawyer wife cooks, bakes, cleans, and muses about whether or not flower arranging can be “manly.” Excerpt: It’s thanks to my wife’s career that I’ve honed my housekeeping skills. She works hard all day, and in return she expects dinner when she gets home, the laundry done, and her dry cleaning picked up. And I think that’s a fair trade. We’re like a flip-flopped couple from the ’50s.

That Man Quilts: Musings on quilting, parenting, gardening, cooking and more, from one of the world’s rare (though not as rare as you’d think) male quilter.

Cry-it-out: The life and times of a crafty (think kiddie t-shirt dresses made out of sports jerseys, newspaper forts, melted crayon crafts, etc.) stay-at-home dad.

Rugged Flair: “A male approach to crafting.”

The Life and Times of a Househusband: Jamie reviews slow cookers, complains about his kids’ school’s absence policy, writes gratitude lists. Pretty much the same as 1,000,000 mom blogs, but written by a dad.

Macheesmo: Colorado-based home cooking blog by the author of a cookbook about using leftovers.

Mint Cuisine: another guy home cooking blogger, this one in England. Check out the post on being a male food blogger.

Doodaddy: Stay-at-home dad in San Francisco writes about kids pooping in the bathtub and other joys of parenthood.

Did feminism kill home cooking?

Is Betty Friedan to blame for the downfall of the family dinner and the rise of obesity? Michael Pollan thinks so. But not me. Up at The Atlantic, my essay on why feminism did not kill home cooking.

She’s making jewelry now!

This is like a year old and you’ve probably all seen it, but I’m late to the Portlandia train and this clip just seems too perfect, especially in light of recent discussion about Etsy-as-solution-for-work-life-balance and the reality of crafty, home-based businesses.

 

The cover is here!

Here it is, for your eyes only, the cover of Homeward Bound! The illustration is by the ultra-talented Julia Rothman. You can see her work adorning everything from Anthropologie tea towels to  Crate & Barrel tea pots to the covers of baking cookbooks, and she has also produced, among many other things, an irresistibly charming illustrated guide to farm life. So she’s kind of an appropriate illustrator for my book cover, right?

You’ll notice that the subtitle has changed, from “The New Cult of Domesticity” to “Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity.” At first I was hesitant to have the word “women” in the title at all. Even though the book looks at domesticity from a women’s history/women’s issues angle, I didn’t want to exclude men, since there are plenty in the book, and since New Domesticity is in no way a woman-only phenomenon. But I do think the new subtitle reflects the book’s main aim, which is to look at how women’s relationship to domesticity has evolved over the years (part of the evolution, of course, has been that domesticity is no longer seen as “just a woman’s thing”). Men – please don’t let this wording scare you off reading the book!

Anyway, huge thanks to Rothman and to all the designers who made this cover happen! Now it’s just a few short months to publication: we’re already in Amazon pre-order.

The secret lives of mommy bloggers and their anonymous haters

 

via c-ville.com

In C-Ville, Charlottesville, Virginia’s alt weekly, writer Marissa Hermanson takes a long look at the mom blogger phenomenon – its origins, its appeal (both for bloggers and readers), and its detractors. (Full disclosure: I’m quoted in the article). Especially interesting in Hermanson’s look at the snarkiness and critique mom bloggers often face:

The idea of women sharing their domestic activities, family matters, and social interests on the Internet may sound liberating and empowering, creating a domestic dialogue that never existed before. But the mommy blogging culture isn’t all sunshine and cinnamon toast. A whole world of snark has grown up around it that, in its worst moments, involves cases of Internet bullying and online voyeurism.

In particular, Hermanson looks at a Charlottesville blogger named Kath Younger whose food, nutrition and parenthood blog is so hated by some it has earned an entire parody blog mocking its alleged smugness.

Women like Younger, who have hugely popular lifestyle blogs incur many forms of judgment, often experiencing personal attacks in their blog’s comment sections or sent to their e-mail inboxes. The rise of mediated public forums like getoffmyinternets.com (GOMI) have raised the stakes dramatically, amplifying critique into a performance art of its own.

To me, this raises some really interesting questions about the nature of bloggers: are they private citizens, or public figures? If a blogger is simply an amateur, blogging to show off her baby to distant relatives and share her coconut cake recipes with friends, critiquing her seems nasty and personal, a form of outright bullying. But if a blogger, like, say The Pioneer Woman, is more of a Martha Stewart-esque businesswoman who simply uses a lifestyle blog as a tool in her business empire, it’s easier to see her as fair game along the line of any other public figure. But many bloggers fall into a gray area. They’re ordinary civilians, but they’re carefully showcasing their lives to meet a public goal: making blog ad revenue, promoting their writing, angling for a cookbook deal. Is it OK to critique or parody them in public forums?

Thoughts? Who has spent some guilty (or not guilty) time on GOMI?