Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Book Review: Homeward Bound


Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity by Emily Matchar was a fascinating read for me. So many of the things that I grew up doing without thinking about have suddenly become "popular" as the "New Domesticity" has spread across the western world like fire.

Matchar examines various arenas of this "New Domesticity" (Domestic Blogging, Etsy and Handmade, DIY Food Culture, DIY Parenting, Stay-at-Home Moms, and Homesteading) and the people that are involved in the arenas, searching for their motivations for what they do and how they became involved in these movements.

Rather than give you a blow-by-blow review of the book, I want to put some of my thoughts and reactions to the book down here.

Interest in domestic arts comes to me from women on both sides of my family. My mom, her mother, and her grandmother all were highly interested in making their homes special for their families. My paternal grandmother was an excellent housekeeper and showed her love to us by cooking amazing family dinners when we visited. She also gardened avidly and was an expert seamstress (sewing her own Pendleton wool suits for her job as an executive secretary). So, I find it strange to think about people that didn't have access to all this wealth of information as they grew up.

Matchar describes the "New Domesticity" as a "re-embrace of the home and hearth by those who have the means to reject these things." Basically she's saying that it is the middle class and upper middle class who have suddenly turned to all things domestic even though they have the money not to worry about it. To a large extent, I think she's right. Most of us that enjoy things like knitting, sewing, baking, and gardening do so not because we really have to but because our lives allow us the privilege of doing so for enjoyment's sake.

I think Matchar left out a few things. 1) What about those whose financial position requires them to be domestic -- there really are people out there who, if they want to eat an amazing loaf of bread, are going to need to bake it themselves. And, some people can't just DIY cook some nights of the week and then run to a restaurant the rest of the week. But, perhaps these people don't qualify as "New Domestics".

Sometimes my mom laughs at us and says every generation goes through this "return to the home, take care of the earth, etc." To some extent she is right. She and her buddies had larger than life gardens in the 1970's and recycling was also a big push back then (oh!!! get this -- they went to the farm and got raw milk each week and they all baked their own bread too). My parents had friends that decided to go off the grid and live in their Vermont home without electricity, raising all their own food. My parents, back then, could probably qualify as "New Domestics". They moved to Vermont and spent a number of months living in an old sugar shack in the woods-- no running water, no electricity -- while they built their own house. I guess what goes around comes around. (They even had a sheep and maybe some goats and definitely chickens and my mom knew which mushrooms she could eat and which herbs she could forage for in the forest.)

I did have to laugh at my self in just about every chapter of Matchar's book -- because I've gone through the same struggles and scenarios as so many of the people she interviewed: raw milk or not, vaccinate or not, organic or not, homemade or store-bought, whole wheat or white, attachment parent or not, etc., etc., etc., I read a funny quote in a Gladys Taber book this week (written in the 60's or 70's). She said something like, It used to be that we needed to be more concerned about vitamins in our food, now it seems like concern for vitamins is what will kill us!! She's so right!

I could go on and on.....I think I want to sum up this topic by asking: "What do you love?" and "What are your responsibilities?" and how can you combine both in pursuing a balanced life? And also two other good questions to ask would be, "Am I doing this out of fear or guilt?" because those are not good reasons for doing something.

In closing, I hope that this current interest in domesticity doesn't fade, because I love so many of the things associated with it. I'm sure some of the fervor will die down but I hope that the generation that is growing up now will be taught these nurturing arts and go on to make their future homes a place of blessing and refuge for their families.

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Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

I have told younger friends (and my kids) the same thing your mom did. That a lot of what is going on recently with a return to nature and natural products remind me a lot of the 1970s.

I remember one day when I was still working in a corporate career when I realized only one woman who was a manager or above was still married. And that woman worked with her husband as a team for the company.

It wasn't too long after that I knew God was calling me "home".

elizabeth said...

that is so true... sigh... well, at least people are still loving all things domestic!