Review: Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity
Title: Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity
Author: Emily Matchar
Release Date: May 7, 2013
First Line: “The draw of nostalgic domesticity is not surprising.”
“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.
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?” – from goodreads.com
My thoughts: I really wanted to read this book because I am so conflicted about what the author calls “The New Domesticity,” and I think she was too when she set out to write this book. Emily Matchar goes into the lives of educated young women choosing to leave their usually pretty lucrative jobs to stay at home and keep house. These women find it empowering in a way to take back “women’s work” or what for women is more “natural.” And this is where I become so at war with myself. On the one hand, I totally of course see the appeal to leaving the corporate work world behind and concentrating on yourself and your family, especially if you have young children. As this book points out, it’s not as isolating as it used to be with all the blogs, mom groups and other activities you can do with your kids. Plus the DIY culture has the pull of creativity, making something with your own hands. Forget playing politics at work all day, getting home late only to have to find something to eat, maybe a couple of hours of leisure time and then going back to bed.
But then, on the other hand, this new culture is deeply concerning to me. As some of the critics of this New Domesticity point out in the book, women still have a ways to go to gaining equality in the workplace, and it feels like this is all a step in the wrong direction. I’m a librarian, so my workplace happens to be 95% female, but you can easily see that women are horribly under-represented in so many career paths. I can’t ever judge someone for wanting to stay home with their kids, I don’t know that I wouldn’t make the same decision if I could afford it, but it’s still hard to see educated women taking their places by the stove.
Although Matchar did talk about more and more men joining the DIY movement, there weren’t very many men in the book. In fact, there were hardly any comments from the women she interviewed about what their husbands do at home. My mother recently told me when I voiced my concern about my husband’s problems with “icky” things that it was just her job to change diapers and clean up pet messes when we were growing, because my dad didn’t do that. And that seemed to be okay with her. I don’t think I’m really okay with that. Even if I was staying home and my husband was working, I would expect help with parenting when he was there. Some of these women (especially the attachment parenting followers) seem like single mothers aside from the fact that they don’t work.
I think one of my main issues with this whole thing is the loss of a woman’s identity. I realize that being “mom” is an identity, but I will never believe that it should be your only one. And as is clearly stated in the book, I do believe that some kind financial independence is always a good thing. You can’t always just jump right into a career if something were to happen with your husband or his job.
I guess I just mostly agree with Ms. Matchar’s opinions on the matter, which of course made the book more likable to me despite her over-use of the term “crunchy.” While it seems very nice to stay at home making money on Etsy while DIY decorating and baking bread from scratch, that’s not always really realistic, and some of us don’t even LIKE to cook that much! The homemaker blogs may just show us the sunny sides without getting “real” with us, and not everyone can make a bunch of side money on Etsy or even have a significant other’s income high enough to allow us to stay home. The fact is that there is more pressure than ever on women to not only be the perfect nurturing mother, but also to have a house that looks like Martha Stewart’s. I feel like while our fight for equality lays stagnant, or maybe is even slipping, and we are under growing scrutiny for our “natural women’s” skills.
And as always, screw the United States’s lack of maternity leave and complete disinterest in ever even entertaining the possibility of public day care for young children. I totally understand why women are giving up on “having it all.” Although I feel like we are judged less for our choice, I feel sometimes like it is a choice between being a mom and staying home or having a career and no kids. It eats at me sometimes. Can I be a good mother if I’m working? Can I even afford to have kids either way?
Okay, I’m going to stop ranting now before I rewrite the whole book. But I definitely recommend this book. As women, we have to continue to stand up for each other and fight for each other, for equality both in the workplace AND at home. We are not there yet.
Kept me interested: 4/5
Overall rating: 4/5