BOOK REVIEW: ‘Homeward Bound’: Women (Mostly) Embracing ‘New Domesticity’: Another Short-lived Fad or Something More Permanent?

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'Homeward Bound': Women (Mostly) Embracing 'New Domesticity': Another Short-lived Fad or Something More Permanent?

The appearance of books embracing something called the “New Domesticity” has me wondering if this trend — if indeed it is a trend — is yet another indicator to me that job growth isn’t enough to get people out of their parents’ basements and into an apartment of their own — and a real job.

As I sat down at the computer to write this review, the April employment statistics were being  broadcast. U.S. employers added 165,000 workers last month and many more in February and March than previously estimated. The unemployment rate fell to the lowest level in four years, 7.5 percent. If this keeps up, we’ll see if the New Domesticity has legs.

  For a good take on employment policy, see Jared Bernstein’s (he was economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden from 2009 to 2011) op-ed “Where Have All the Jobs Gone?”  in the May 3, 2013

New York Timeshttp://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/04/opinion/where-have-all-the-jobs-gone.html

In “Homeward Bound” (Simon & Schuster, 288 pages, $26.00),  Emily Matchar takes a long, hard look at both the inspiring appeal and the potential dangers of this trend she calls the New Domesticity, exploring how it could be reshaping the role of women in society and what the consequences may be for all of us. Along the way we’re discovering, Matchar says, what Mormons have known and practiced since their beginning in upstate New York. Before there was a New Domesticity there were Mormon women showing  that domesticity and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS)  “go together like (homemade) bread and butter’. Matchar  devotes a couple of pages to this symbiotic relationship.

Traveling the nation, interviewing interviewing  all kinds of people from coast to coast, Matchar examines the motivations of those who have embraced this movement, from Southern food bloggers to chicken-keeping “radical homemakers” on the East Coast to Etsy entrepreneurs in Provo, Utah, to attachment parenting devotees in Chicago, and many more. Matchar’s reportage on the New Domesticity will transform our notions of women in today’s society and add a new layer to the ongoing discussion of whether women can—or should—have it all. Or it may be just another flash in the pan trend.

Amid today’s rising anxieties—the economy, the scary state of the environment, the growing sense that the American Dream hasn’t turned out to be so dreamy after all—a groundswell of women (and more than a few men) are choosing to embrace an unusual rebellion: domesticity. A generation of smart, highly educated young people are spending their time knitting, canning jam, baking cupcakes, gardening, and more (and blogging about it, of course), embracing the labor-intensive domestic tasks their mothers and grandmothers eagerly shrugged off. Some are even turning away from traditional careers and corporate culture for slower, more home-centric lifestyles that involve “urban homesteading,” homeschooling their kids, or starting Etsy businesses. They’re questioning whether regular jobs are truly fulfilling and whether it’s okay to turn away from the ambitions of their parents’ generation.

Matchar says that “New Domesticity is, at heart, a cry against a society that’s not working. A society that doesn’t offer offer safe-enough food, accessible health care, a reasonable level of environmental  protections, any sort of rights for working parents.”

So, instead of taking to the streets like the people of Greece and Spain, Americans are reaching out to a golden age that never was, raising chickens and selling hand made shit (a word Matchar uses) on Etsy? Is this the way the world ends?

How did this happen? And what does it all mean? What happens to American culture as a whole when our best and brightest put home and hearth above other concerns? Does this sudden fascination with traditional homemaking bode ill for gender equality? What role have the media and blog culture played in making domesticity look so darn appealing?

Matchar also delves into the class issue of this New Domesticity. As I suspected, the practitioners aren’t the survivalist farm folk that I was part of growing up on a Michigan farm in the 1940s. We canned our produce because we had to, not because we were fighting the food industry, as today’s New Domestics are doing. Matchar notes (Page 244) that while “most of the people featured in this book are not at all wealthy, the majority enjoy some degree of class privilege.  Most have college degrees. Many come from professional families. This makes their experience of domesticity completely different from that of, say, a young Mexican immigrant who stays home with her kids because she can’t find a job — or a Colonial era knitter who had to make blankets or her family would freeze….”

 About the author

 Emily Matchar writes about culture, women’s issues, work, food and more for places such as The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Salon, The Hairpin, Gourmet, Men’s Journal, Outside, and many others. She lives in Hong Kong and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with her husband.

 

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