Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity

Homeward Bound book review Meet Me in Philadelphia
Don't let the title of this post scare you. It's not my own, but the title of a book I received for Christmas and recently finished. Its topic--the resurgence of the DIY lifestyle among Millennials--generated a lot of ideas that I've been dying to discuss with you, my dear readers.

So, let's talk a little about this book; but, really, I'd love to chat about the larger topic at hand: the revival of all things domestic and what it means for women in our society.

Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity by Emily Matchar (published in mid-2013) explores a cultural phenomenon that has come into the mainstream since the Great Recession: what Matchar identifies as "collective nostalgia and domesticity-mania" among her female Gen-Y peers.

Referencing friends and the occasional statistic, the author outlines the ways in which young, educated women are embracing the homemaking skills of early generations as a "revolutionary" response to a stagnated economy, growing concerns about the environment and the hamster-on-a-wheel American lifestyle.
(via Pinterest)
New Domesticity, for Matchar, takes on many forms. Most chapters of the book examine (often extreme) themes like blogs, the rise of the Etsy economy, neo-homesteading and attachment parenting. Yet, the examples offered in these chapters read less like sociological analyses and more like hyperbolic anecdotes.
(via Tumblr)
At times, the book commends trends like blogging, which Matchar describes as "hav[ing] created a frankly old-fashioned sense of community," a modern take on knitting circles of the past. At another turn, the book is didactic and disapproving. It suggests that a focus on the home--rather than on the corner office--is preventing young women from finally breaking the pervasive glass ceiling.
(via Flickr)
As you can probably sense, some of this book resonated with me while much of it felt better suited to an article in a weekly magazine. Matchar takes justifiable aim at the "opt-out" myth, the limited prospects of living off blogging revenue, and the perilous anti-vaccine movement but manages to be measured in her critique. The author also strikes a funny, self-deprecating and self-aware tone, which I really enjoyed. Yet, I found myself wanting the book to be more journalistic in nature, like a modern study of female domestic life, an updated version of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (despite all of its flaws).
(via Pinterest)
What is missing, for me, was the understanding that Second and Third Wave feminism bought women my age choices, the option to pursue an MBA or an 'MRS' degree free of judgment. And let's be honest here: the economy has been the factor limiting so many Millennial women. What's wrong with choosing to save money by baking bread or generating opportunities by selling handmade wares on Etsy?

So much of what my generation has experienced has been extreme. We've lived through a Dot Com boom and a sluggish post-2008 job market. We've voted in the first black president but have yet to see the first female president. We've adapted to a tech-centered world but still long for the unplugged comforts of home and family.
Here's where I turn it to you, readers:
What do you make of the spike in DIY self-sufficiency, homemaking, sewing, knitting and the like?
What do you think women get from blogging and blog reading?
Do you see any relation between the economy and the revival of domestic skills/hobbies?

I know this post is a departure from my usual posts, but the book gave me a lot to consider as a young woman who values career goals and the pleasures of home. Can't we love both?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. I don't think all American women can be generalized under one group. Some are still on the glass ceiling track and some have gone out on their own to find what works for them. I think those that have found other ways to earn/save money, thru an etsy shop, blogging or growing your own veg should be seen as just as industrious as those that work to be the first woman promoted within her company. Women are far more inventive and expressive than their counterparts and each one has their own unique definition of success. And I say cheers to everyone who follows that fire in their belly, where ever it leads them.

  2. Such an interesting discussion, Ashley. Thanks for bringing it up. I had not heard of this book, but it does seem to address some notable cultural shifts. I'm with Elizabeth that not all women can be so neatly categorized. While this book seems to address the younger generation of Millenials (I sound like an old woman, but pushing 41 puts me in a different demographic), it applies to older ladies as well. For me, staying home with my children was a choice I made almost 12 years ago. And through ups and downs in our economy, I've still had what some might call the luxury of getting to stay home. I don't take that lightly. But also, trying to break back into what is considered the traditional work force just wouldn't work for our family right now. I like being able to be here when they get home from school (which for my middle schooler is 2:45) - I don't know of many jobs that allow for that. So, what to do? Make my own job. I think entrepreneurial women who start their own businesses and make their own way are the new trend - often with jobs that are seen as domestic (sewing, crafting, decorating). And I say it's a great thing. But of course, I'm a little biased.

    Once again, great discussion!

  3. I agree whole heartedly with what Elizabeth said. In addition, I think there's a return to domesticity because hyper materialism is a bust. People are longing for community and finally realizing that money can't buy you love or happiness, but putting first things first can bring about those things.

  4. So my quick answer as a stay-at-home mom is that relying on others to take care of our homes and families has failed. My husband and I both lost our corporate jobs at the same time in our late 20's after we'd purchased our first home so the diy mentality was a must. Growing up with so much and having more given to us in our mid-twenties than we couldn't afford to give ourselves by our late twenties created a good healthy dose of value. Why pay for what you can do yourself? And processed food + fast food + microwaves are all so full of chemicals that it makes me want to grow our own vegetables in a garden and cook my own meals.

    On the second part, my sister and her husband are both attorneys who just made partner this winter. They have a five year old and a 10 month old. They obviously source a lot out because of time limitations. But she still loves to put on an apron and cook breakfast Saturday mornings. Or make cookies to take to the office. They entertain a lot and she loves pleasures of home.

    You can totally have both. Just choose what's important no matter your "job". Maybe use paper napkins and metal forks so you don't have to polish the silver and iron but get in the kitchen and bake that turkey :)

  5. Ashley, Very interesting - makes me want to check-out the book. I can see the argument that the trend back to the joys of home, diy is an actual movement. However, I'm left wondering if it really has been going on at a fairly steady pace all along and it's just that we see/notice it more because of social media? Before someone baked cookies but now they bake them and post them on instagram. If the author gives stats that show, for example, a spike in the sales of yarn and knitting needs. then I'd be more inclined to see it as a real change in society. Very interesting.

  6. Interesting... I'm going to be thinking about this for the next couple of days. Is this trend around to stay? You can't underestimate the influence of women on society. For me, diy and homesteading has been a longing to return to simpler better times. Not that those before us didn't struggle but I think the images of 1950 family and farm life evoke a goodness and community that so many feel is lost. A sense of community is huge! I think the diy, etsy movement has partly been brought about by women looking for opportunities to make money while staying at home in spite of post-2008. Perhaps the business world isn't as fulfilling as once thought for some. At home, I am anything but a "hamster-on-a-wheel". Necessity is the mother of invention! Great thoughts!

  7. So interesting as I spent a good portion of my children's life home with them, and doing my own work so I could set my own hours. I so meet alot of young mothers these days as I am 48 and anything under 45 seems young to me, these women are staying home with there children and I am seeing a rise in the number of children as wellas compared to when I was having them. I am curious to see if this is a trend or merely based on the economy where women are doing more hands on at home again to save money. Very good to think about!!

  8. Fascinating, Ashley. I do wonder if women practicing the domestic arts is simply more transparent than trendy with the changes in technology and the ability to better communicate with one another (etsy! blogs! fb!). Certainly at one point, to be interested in all things home-making was to thumb one's nose at feminism. But that isn't the case anymore. (Actually, I take that back. Oh, the awkward silence I am met with when strangers ask me what I do and tell them that I stay home with my kids!) If there really is a rise or trend, I credit Martha Stewart. For all the flack she's gotten over the years, some well-deserved, she took Gloria Steinem feminism and flipped it on it's head. For Martha, there was no glass ceiling. She created her own empire based on the domestic arts, and quite frankly, I think she made home-making seem more acceptable.
    I think I need to read this book.

  9. It's interesting living in the Bay Area as I have a skewed perspective. The economy is booming and only stalled for a short while in 2008. So many here have excessive wealth and really value getting on top of the corporate "start up" ladder. When I go to the park, 95% of the time, it's all nannies and myself. The domestic community seems to be very small. I often hesitate to say Im a stay at home because that does feel frowned upon here.

    That being said, I wouldn't trade it. I also think domestic life can be much more challenging than my friends in their high powered, high paying jobs. What frustrates me is that it seems as though the author didn't pay credence to the amount of work that goes into blogging and etsy shops, all while simultaneously running a household. These women are entrepreneurs. And, well at least in the Bay Area, there is nothing more impressive then saying you're an entrepreneur.

    Have you read Sheryl Sandbergs "Lean In"? Although, it wasn't her intention, it made me feel guilty to chose to "lean out". I'm in the middle of reading "How to be a Woman" by caitlin moran and I'll be curious what she has to say about women in the workforce vs the new domesticity.

    Very interesting topic and I loved reading all the comments.

  10. Thanks for posting on this, Ashley. It's an intriguing question. Part of the resurgence is probably a result of the social media diary we all keep. Plus a certain segment of the "new domesticity" is making a business out of it, so it's strategic. Capitalizing on the hipster love of heritage brands and homemade goods. Personally, I struggle with the fact that my passion now lies so much in things related to home. With so much money and time and energy spent on attaining a career in a cut-throat field....I find myself wanting to be a housewife essentially. But we have to follow our passion, even if it runs counter-current to some stereo-typical feminist model. Knowing how to dissect a harbor porpoise on the deck of fishing boat, but still wishing I was home making dinner, doesn't make me any less of a modern woman. That applies to all of us interested in the domestic arts. :)

  11. Interesting. For me DIYing was born out of the need to save money and as a creative outlet alternative to my tech job.


I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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