Sunday, January 6, 2019

Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity- Emily Matchar

Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity by Emily Matchar is a fabulous book that takes a deep dive into the heart of the modern DIY revival, its benefits, its drawbacks (oh yes, there are definitely drawbacks!), and the desperate need for balance when it comes to this societal endeavor at independence in all things.

What drew me to this book, if you can't guess from the above image of the book with my knitting, is personal. I'm not of the class of women who quit (or lost) a corporate job and came home to wax poetic about the joys of canning pickled beets, but I am at home for multiple reasons. I have a young child (and an older one); I have several health conditions that, while not bad enough to qualify me for disability, make my ability to function physically unpredictable at best (especially at physical jobs); I'm one of those people who slipped through the cracks when it came to higher education- family's income was too high to receive help, my grades were great but not great enough to qualify me for scholarships, and those health conditions made me terrified of taking out loans to get through school only to find myself unable to work and thus unable to repay my loans. And thus I'm at home, participating in many of the activities Matchar describes in this book.

Matchar examines the New Domesticity that took hold during the recession that began in 2007, but that I think really began to root itself in American culture after September 11th; it was then that knitting blew up and recipes for comfort food began appearing in every cookbook and early food blog. Americans in particular were searching for something that felt stable, cozy, encouraging, and life-giving, and what better than the soft, gentle pleasures of home. Enter the recession, and suddenly the necessity of these skills became immediate and widespread. "...the resulting DIY culture does rest heavily on female shoulders," Matchar writes, and if you're familiar at all with the almost entirely female food/craft/homemaking blogosphere, you'll agree.

The reasons for the return to home are many, and Matchar scrutinizes them all, from the lack of satisfaction so many women experience at jobs that don't support them as caregivers and people who have lives outside of work, to distrust of the food, medical, and educational systems in the US, to the desire to live more in harmony with nature for various reasons (lessening one's carbon footprint, taking care of the earth for religious reasons, etc), to the need to be frugal due to lack of income. Matchar finds that a not insubstantial amount of women who return to home and hearth 'may simply be rationalizing their decision to make the best of a bad economic decision,' and I don't disagree. It's not always easy living on one income (especially in areas with higher costs of living), but when you can fill your days with bread baking, making your own cleaning supplies, taking care of chickens, and homeschooling the children, it gives you what feels like a higher purpose.

She criticizes, rightly so, the dreamy nostalgia assigned to the world of our grandparents and great-grandparents, where things were supposedly better and people ate fresh, healthy, home-cooked food at every meal (for real, have you SEEN old recipes? Take a gander through The Gallery of Regrettable Food, with hot dogs and onions suspended in celery-flavored aspic, where slithery canned vegetables lie gray on the plate nearby, and you might change your mind), and how apparently no one ever got sick (dinosaurs got cancer as well, diphtheria took out entire families and could fill up entire cemeteries in an astonishingly short time). She doesn't deny that there are problems with many of the systems that are meant to protect us, but instead points out that when too many people opt out, choosing only to take responsibility for that which is right in front of them, there's no one left to fight for those who aren't privileged enough TO opt out. And of course, the dangers of women opting out are well-known; when the partner who is earning the paycheck no longer provides that income due to divorce, illness, or death, the woman is oftentimes left to struggle in less than ideal circumstances.

"New Domesticity is, at heart, a cry against a society that's not working," Matchar opines, and I agree. There needs to be a better system in place so that parents feel supported enough to be able to remain in the workplace, along with much better work-life balance- we already know that these things make for happier, more productive employees, but so far, the political will necessary to effect such changes has been sorely lacking in our pro-corporation, employees-are-expendable culture. I don't know if we'll see changes to this system in my lifetime, or even my daughter's (she's four), and that depresses me. Maybe by the time my grandchildren or great-grandchildren are entering the workforce, their country will realize that you can't work people like robots. Holing up on a rural farm may sound nice in theory, but on a grander scale, the practice falls flat; a technology-based society like ours cannot survive infinitely on people selling each other eggs.

This book spoke deeply to me. I knit, sew, can/freeze/dry food, cook almost everything we eat from scratch, we garden and compost, I've homeschooled in the past (not as an opt-out-of-the-system thing, but more as a way to provide stability to my son's education at a time where we moved around a lot). I make my own cleaning supplies, have figured out how to feed a family of four on about $60 a week, breastfed my daughter, cloth diapered for a good portion of her diaper-wearing days, and even as I type this, I have laundry hang-drying on indoor racks. It's how I contribute, since I haven't been able to contribute in a financial sense. It's something I'm deeply conflicted over, and something I've never been totally comfortable about. I saw myself in many of the women profiled in the book, but I also found myself nodding vigorously as Matchar pointed out the flaws in the overarching philosophy of the New Domesticity. While I still don't have any concrete answers as to how I could make opting in work in my particular situation, reading about so much of the ins and outs of my life and what I've long considered its weaknesses felt redeeming.

This is a great book and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Visit Emily Matchar's website here.


  1. I am so glad you enjoyed this book and could relate to much of what the author said. I do think corporations and such could do a much better job in helping with that work/life balance, especially for women, than they do now. Productivity soars when they try. I am lucky my current manager is as flexible as she is, but there are times she cannot be.

    1. Even for my husband's sake, I'm envious of the countries like France (I think it was) that legislate more of a work-life balance. So often when my daughter goes to bed, my husband is still trying to cram in more work, to the point where we started watching Supernatural together at night because it's the one single thing we can do together as a couple. He gets to work before 8 am, doesn't get home until 6 pm, you'd think that would be enough...and I know he's absolutely not alone when it comes to schedules like that. He does enjoy his job, so at least there's that, but something definitely needs to be done in order to ensure that the work-til-you-drop culture like Japan sadly has doesn't take over.

      I'm glad your manager is as understanding as possible! My mom had a good manager as well when I was growing up, who always understood if I was sick and needed her to leave to pick me up at school. A friend of mine who was recently diagnosed with cancer had a boss snipe at her about needing to take time off for surgery, and our circle of friends was just aghast. It shouldn't be like that at all. :(

  2. This book sounds completely fascinating. I've been noticing this phenomenon, but didn't have the words to describe it. I might need to dive into this book...

    So glad you wrote about it so thoughtfully.

    1. It really is a neat book. I literally enjoyed every single page and was sad when the book came to an end because the author wrote about the topic in such an engaging way. I'm so glad I read this!