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!

How much do you spend on food?

When I was first out of college, I used to buy foods I straight-up hated – slimy pink sugar-free yogurts at 10 for $5, mushy Red Delicious apples, gloppy, artificial-tasting store-brand strawberry jam – because they were cheap. When I quit my low-paying newspaper job to work at an even lower-paying fact checker job at a magazine, I got even more tightfisted. I’d try to keep my grocery budget to $20 a week, which meant a lot of pasta, canned tuna, econo-sized blocks of cheddar cheese, apples and green cabbage, supplemented with Trader Joe’s dark chocolate truffle bars. I was not exactly stone broke at the time – I’d eat out in restaurants sometimes, and frequently blow the grocery budget on cake supplies (or movie candy) – but going cheap at the grocery store gave me a sense of control over my paltry finances.

Now that I’m older and slightly less not-exactly-broke, I tend to choose my groceries based on criteria beyond cheapness. Things like, oh, taste, come into play, as does health (hello, flax seeds!) and, to a degree, environmental sustainability. This also means my grocery trips have gotten pricier, though I try to be careful.

In today’s New York Times Dining & Wine section, Ginia Bellafante muses on how, as food has grown more and more important in our culture, it’s become more normal to spend exorbitant amounts on groceries and eating out:

We have long since moved past the vague idea that the personal is political to the notion that the epicurean is essential — for ethical cleanliness, environmental sensitivity and all the rest. Pleasure is mingled with obligation. “I don’t think about what anything costs,” Emily Gerard, a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and a publishing assistant making the requisite salary, told me recently. “I’ll drop $60 once a week at the Greenmarket, which I would never do at a grocery store; I like supporting local farmers.”

The thing is, if eating “correctly”  - ie, local/seasonal/organic – really IS essential for ethical cleanliness and environmental sensitivity then we’re screwed. Because few us are are gonna drop $60 a week at the farmer’s market. I know I’m not. And if the ethical importance of “correct” food is being overblown (as I suspect it is), then the insistence on eating correctly is just another way to throw up a wall between haves and have-nots.

Where do you draw the lines, when it comes to grocery spending? How important do you feel your grocery choices are, in terms of ethics and environmental sustainability?

The Feminist and the Cowboy: ditch gender equality for “femininity” and “submission”?

A new memoir, The Feminist and the Cowboy, by bestselling chick lit author Alisa Valdes seems custom-designed to enrage those of us committed to gender equality. As the Amazon book description reads:

Yet despite her professional success, Valdes hit forty-two a single mom and a serial dater of inadequate men in tweed jackets—until she met the Cowboy. A conservative rancher, the Cowboy held the traditional views on gender roles that Valdes was raised to reject. Yet as she falls head-over-spurs for him and their relationship finds harmony, she finds the strength, peace, and happiness that comes from embracing her femininity.

From their first date the Cowboy makes her pulse race, and she discovers that “when men… act like men rather than like emasculated boys, you as a woman will find not only great pleasure in submitting to them but also great growth as a person.”  Told with plenty of humor and candor, The Feminist and the Cowboy will delight the many readers who made The Pioneer Woman a bestseller [emphasis mine]—not to mention every woman who dreams of being swept away by a rugged cowboy.

Writing on The Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky manages to swallow the throw-up in his mouth and find a point to salvage, which is this:

The most frustrating part about Valdes’s memoir is that, beneath the pseudo-science nonsense, the boasting self-abnegation, and the simple-minded feminist-baiting, there is actually the glimmer of a point. It’s true that feminists from Julia Serano to William Marston to Luce Irigaray to Susie Bright have, in different ways, tried to figure out a way to create a feminism that embraces traditional femininity. …I’ve heard from several stay-at-home or homeschooling moms whose so-called feminist friends have dressed them down for choosing children over career.

Interesting. Certainly many of the women I interviewed for my book felt attacked or rejected by their peers for “letting feminism down” by giving up high-powered careers or focusing on domesticity. Because they perceived feminism as attacking their lifestyle choices, they often chose to reject the label of “feminist” as well. I don’t agree that the second-wave feminist movement of the 1960s-1970s actually had it out for domesticity, but this is certainly the popular perception: Betty Friedan killed home cooking, feminists hate stay-at-home moms, etc.

Also interesting is that, shortly after the release of the memoir, Valdes left the “Cowboy” because he physically and emotionally abused her.

Has anyone read this?

What to Say About Wives With Beehives?

Dollie with her hubby

So I’m in the middle of a lovely winter vacation, lying in bed in an Atlanta hotel room eating Oreos, when this comes on TLC:

Wives With Beehives.

And here’s what I have to say: WTF?

While lots of women these days are embracing the aesthetics of 1950s domesticity – retro hairdos, A-line dresses, frilly aprons, homemade cupcakes – the four women on this show are also actually trying to live the values of the 1950s: feminine subservience, focusing 100% on family, letting “men be men.” As Anna Breslaw at Jezebel snarks, “there’s no mention in the clips or interviews as to whether any of these women are on birth control or insist on getting paid 60 cents to every man’s dollar or what.”

Seriously.

Apparently this is some kind of subculture in Southern California, though I’d certainly never heard about it. And, not to brag, but I’m kind of an expert on obscure retro-feminine subcultures. I mean, I read upwards of 100 blogs a week, so… ;)

The women I know who are super into New Domesticity would certainly not be into the idea of reviving 1950s gender values. But the New Domesticity movement and Wives With Beehives do have this in common: a dislike for certain aspects of the modern world, and an interest into bringing back certain aspects of the past. For lots of New Domesticity types, this means eschewing processed foods in favor of cooking from scratch like your grandma used to do, or raising kids with “ancient” techniques like babywearing or co-sleeping rather than fancy cribs and strollers, or turning off the internet and relaxing with some knitting or crafting. For the Wives With Beehives, this means going whole-hog for retro sex roles, old-fashioned outfits right down to the tea gloves and pillbox hats, and authentic vintage kitchens complete with lack of dishwashers.

“The modern world looks confusing, scary, and kind of ugly,” says Dollie, a 24-year-old “wife,” explaining why she wants to be “the perfect 1950s housewife.”

Have you seen this? Thoughts? Has anyone heard of this phenomenon before the TLC show?

The reality of crafty, home-based businesses

image by camy west/flickr, via theatlantic.com

My latest piece at The Atlantic looks at how the idea of crafty, home-based businesses (Etsy shops, artisan cupcake businesses, etc) is increasingly being sold as a solution for women’s work-life balance woes. Spoiler: it doesn’t work (at least not for the vast majority).  The problem, IMHO, is that mainstream businesses do such a crap job of family friendliness that women are driven to find other solutions, and that the media is happy to sell women on Horatio Alger story of work-at-home businesses (“Learn how these moms are living the work-at-home dream by starting an organic baby food businesses!”).

The piece is also generating a really interesting thread at Etsy, which has often been accused of selling women a “false feminist fantasy” of work-at-home riches.

The odd bedfellows of New Domesticity

image via homeschoolers for obama

Over at The Atlantic, a little something I wrote about the odd political bedfellows created by New Domesticity. Portland hipsters and stay-at-home Mormon moms share space on Etsy! Obama-loving atheist “unschooling” parents swap homeschooling tips with Nebraskan Creationists! Bleeding heart liberals concur with Glenn Beckians about the importance of “traditional values” when it comes to food and cooking! Weirdness ensues!

Is the domestic goddess blogger having enough sex?

image via nymag.com

Over at New York Magazine, Lauren Sandler riffs on what she sees as the prudishness of the lifestyle blog world. Lifestyle bloggers, “the Internet’s most ostentatiously blissful women,” are more interested in food porn than real porn, get more turned on by throw pillow than by men, turn their beds into opportunities for cutesy morning newspaper n’ coffee Instagram pics, Sandler claims. As she writes:

[S]wapping out lingerie for an apron has become a symptom of an online world where “lifestyle” is something to be perfectly arranged and presented rather than lived…

Today, “lifestyle” is something to be curated online instead of indulged; not a lifestyle so much as the pixelated tyranny of the domestic goddess. Once-oppressive female chores are now framed as a dopamine delivery system; a bed exists to be dressed, rather than to be undressed upon.

I agree that there’s something curiously retro and infantile about some lifestyle blogs, what with the endless cupcake worship and cutesy pet names for “hubby” and elementary school-style craft projects. But while this may project a sexless image to the world, it doesn’t mean the bloggers aren’t getting it on plenty. Maybe they just keep their aprons on in bed? ;)

There is a wider societal shift here, one in which the glamorous, casual sex-filled Sex and the City-style lifestyle of the boom years has fallen out of favor as an aspirational ideal, replaced with the blissfully married Boho domestic goddess with her vegan cupcakes and Etsy shop and twin babies. Over-romanticizing domesticity is always problematic. But is an aspiring Boho domestic goddess having less sex? Only she knows.

Do you find the lack of sex in lifestyle blogs problematic?

 

Reading recommendation: The Equals Record

I recently had the honor of writing a “what I’m reading” piece for The Equals Record, a (fairly) new online magazine. Mostly first person essays, it features stuff that often gets filed under “women’s interest”  or “lifestyle” (relationships, food, parenting, spirituality, etc.), but is so much more. All smart, thoughtful, honest stuff, no “Is He Just Not That Into You???” quizzes or weight-loss tips. To whet your appetite, a snippet of Lisa Sanchez’s essay on how knitting saved her sanity in grad school:

I felt smothered by the weight of so many books that needed to be read and so many papers that needed to be written. I felt like I was climbing a mountain whose summit I couldn’t see. As part of me began to hunker down and plow through the work, another part of me came up for air, grasping for something tactile to hold onto.

I was searching desperately for something that was not a four-syllable word or an idea about a theory about a concept. I wanted a real thing, with measurable weight and texture and vivid color. Hence, the knitting.

 

Is quitting your job to be a blogger the new female dream?

I know, I know, I promised I wouldn’t link to the Daily Mail, let alone link to columns by professional pisser-offer Liz Jones. But this recent column on homemaker bloggers does, in an awfully mean-spirited way, point out just how domestic the world of blogging has become. Jones visits a convention of female bloggers and wanna-be bloggers (I’ve been to similar ones here in the United States) and doesn’t like what she sees. As she writes:

It appears blogging has become the new home knitting, enabling an entire generation of women to leave the workplace for good, and to stay at home writing things like, and I quote, a ‘chocolate-obsessed, yoga-teaching Mummy and Wife’: ‘I do have opinions about everything and instead of just shouting at the telly thought I’d put them on here instead :o ).’

…I have queasy feelings in my empty womb about all this. The most revolutionary tool we have – namely, free speech on the internet – has been turned into a giant WI [Women's Institute, kind of like the British Junior League] meeting, with women being PAID to sit at home, ignore the child about to toddle into the glass wall that makes kitchen and garden seamlessly as one, and to write about being mothers.

…Suddenly, rather than feeling I’m with a group of women who want to change the world, I am in a tangled teepee of virtual knitters, spinning yarns so they can remain inside their cupcake-scented world.

…Women have again been duped into thinking the world exists in their tiny, safe, fragrant homes, that life revolves around burps.

I have always found it interesting how blogs seem to allow women (a select few, at least) to turn homemaking and stay-at-home-motherhood into a paid profession, by blogging about it. Feminists have often argued that women should be paid for housework. Now they can be – if they blog about it, and that blog becomes successful. Unlike Jones, I don’t think this is a bad thing, or that an entire generation of women have been duped by blogs into quitting the workforce (most of us couldn’t afford to, even if we wanted to).

But there is certainly something distinctly retro about reducing your persona to “Mummy and Wife,” even if it’s just your online persona. I can see why Jones finds it troubling. More troubling, though, in my mind, is that people think making money off blogging is a viable goal. Because unless your name is Pioneer Woman, you better have a financial backup plan besides blogging!

Hipsters heart Martha Stewart

I’ve been a fan – really, an acolyte - of Martha Stewart since I was in college. I used to watch her show at 2am, when it was re-run on one of my three fuzzy TV channels. Something about her calm, authoritative voice combined with the soothing pastel colors of her kitchen was better than a tranquilizer. When, after the insider trading scandal, they pulled the show off the air, I couldn’t sleep for weeks. Her Baking Handbook is my Bible – every recipe in it is fail safe and awesome (with the possible exception of the slightly-too-sweet brownies). I once even painted my bedroom a pale blue, attempting to imitate her trademark robin’s egg color.

My mom thought it was pretty funny that I, an early-twentysomething, would be so fascinated by Stewart’s uber-housewifeness. One summer, I returned home from school to find she’d taped a giant picture of Martha to my wall as a joke.

Now, the New York Times has a story on how a younger, hipper demographic has gotten turned on to The Martha. Apparently, her website has seen a 40% jump in traffic from 18-34 year old every month since January. She’s especially beloved by the new breed of crafty small business entrepreneurs we’ve seen so much of lately. As the Times writes:

Ms. Stewart, the 71-year-old founder, has emerged as something of a patron saint for entrepreneurial hipsters, 20- and 30-somethings who, in a post-recessionary world, have begun their own pickling, cupcake and letterpress businesses and are selling crafty goods online.

Pilar Guzman, the editor in chief of Martha Stewart Living magazine, said the magazine’s readership had become “the intersection between Colonial Williamsburg and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.”

New Domesticity in action!

I’ve been a bit slow on the blogging lately. If you’re interested in the story of why, here’s my Washington Post piece on our recent move to Hong Kong. I’ll be writing more about this soon.

Would you rather have no internet?

Lynne Norledge's wifi-free coffee & flower shop. Image via the Daily Mail.

Part of New Domesticity seems to be the desire for simpler, slower living in a high-tech, fast-paced world. Normally I wouldn’t link to the Daily Mail (though I read it every day during lunch, a guilty pleasure), but today they have an interesting profile of three women who are trying to live this more switched-off lifestyle. One has even made her (nostalgic, vintage-decorated) bakery cafe a no-wifi zone, which is apparently a growing trend.

I accept constant connectedness as part of modern life, and normally I’m quite happy to be able to check my email in line at the bank or play Angry Birds on the bus. I’m definitely in the “I don’t know how I ever lived without my iPhone” camp. I don’t think I could ever choose to switch off voluntarily. But, when faced with the occasional forced bout of disconnectedness, I find it has its surprising pleasures.

Three years ago, my boyfriend (now husband) and I went on a three-week road trip through the Australian Outback, our last hurrah after half of year of living in Sydney for his studies. The Outback is one of the ever-shrinking number of places on earth where phone signals are literally impossible to come by, so checking email was a once-every-three-days occurrence, usually in the public library of some dusty mining town in the back of beyond. I found myself quickly losing that “itchy mouse finger” sensation, the feeling that I NEEDED to know what was going on NOW. By the end of the trip, I found myself dreading going back to internet-land, where everything seemed so urgent all the time.

I miss that trip.

On the one hand, New Domesticity relies a lot on constant connectedness – blogging, Twitter, Pinterest, Etsy, etc. – yet rejects the ethos of fast-paced, high-tech living. I totally get this paradox. I need and love the internet, yet sometimes I feel like it’s driving me out of my mind.

Do you ever feel the need to quit the internet?