Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Book Review: Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity

When the economy crashed in 2008, I was freshly laid off from my first job out of college. So I didn't pay much attention to the growing movement that Emily Matchar puts a name and in the end, several faces to, in her new book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity.

But as time worn on and as the economy slowly started to heal in small sections, I began to notice that Etsy, previously a cute but niche website, was mainstream. I couldn't spit without hitting a new knitting book on bookstore shelves. And everywhere I turned, there was a new article about women "opting-out".

Matchar crafts a beautiful and in-depth look into this new movement, which she mentions has roots in both the rosy-bedecked 1950's and the hippie back to hearth movements of the 1960's and 1970's, but ultimately stems from "a deep desire for change in the world."

The author starts off with this premise, "A cruddy economy. A generation of young workers who demand meaning and fulfillment. Lack of maternity leave and other workplace protections. Sexist expectations. Guilt. A sense that we've been fighting for two generations and still haven't won even basic concessions like paid maternity leave. No wonder domesticity has been looking so rosy lately."

She covers all facets of this new trend, including parenting, work, food and crafting. She is able to deftly weave common themes throughout the ten chapters of the book. The economy crashing, as well as the cultural backlash against the so-called Sex and the City excess mentality, made for a powerful cocktail. In short, the world became very scary and unpredictable in a rapid amount of time. It was easier to control child-rearing, the amount of chemicals entering a house, what income you could feasibly generate (entering crafting and Etsy), and what food was in your fridge than begin to cope with the massive and devastating changes wrecking havoc on American and global economies and societies. In this new movement, "preppers", Mormons, conservative Christians, liberals and crunchy hippies from Portland have united in a common goal of growing food, canning and environmentalism, among other things.

It was also easier to call up lost images of traditional living, which includes traditional gender roles, to soothe the anxieties of today. Many of the women who are interviewed are stay-at-home moms and frequently reference that it is more natural for women to be at home, like Mallory who says, "I do think that a lot of things are biological...A lot of tendencies to be more caring and protective of children are biological. My husband likes going to work-it's partly biological."

While their attitudes are frustrating, Matchar takes them in stride while mentioning that given lack of universal American paid family leave, limited flex time, lack of affordable or quality daycare, along with lack of partners who don't pull the same weight when it comes to chores or childcare. It's understandable why staying at home would be more appealing than battling seemingly insurmountable goals in the workplace. The author does not neglect the issue of race or class either, stating what is obvious to most people, but apparently oblivious to the writers of the trendy pieces about stay at home moms that dominate the media; wealthy white women are able to make this choice because they can, whereas anyone else doesn't always have the choice to stay at home and raise their children.

Knitting your own blankets and then selling them on Etsy helps ease the pain of working for a job with little to no benefits where your boss has added more responsibilities but no raise. Growing your own food helps save money and ease your mind to know that there is nothing artificial in the produce or likely to be recalled. This movement did not spring forth from nothing, but from many people frustrated with the lack of resources or the lack of a promise that was taught from a young age: if you work hard and go to college, you can have it all. But by the same coin, by "retreating" into the home, as safe and cozy as it may be, will not help break the barriers in the workplace for more benefits or flextime. It won't help push for better food regulations, it won't help lobby Congress and representatives to put forth a universal childcare bill. In short, the frustration is understandable and worth emphasizing with, but it is not productive to retreat.

This book helps create context for the next step, for creating a balance of fighting for all families in terms of benefits and food safety, while realizing that achieving CEO is not the dream of every American, but that everyone who wishes to achieve work success should have the opportunity and resources to do so. There is much to tackle and digest in this book. I bookmarked more than a dozen quotes and wish that I could include them all but would take up two other blog posts. Matchar tackles the material with tongue-in-cheek humor and thorough research and offers an in-depth look into a new movement that does not appear to be leaving anytime soon.

(Photo Credit: by way of Simon and Schuster)

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