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Homeward Bound

(article, Emily Matchar)

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h3. From Chapter 10: "Take-Home Points for the Homeward Bound: Lessons of New Domesticity"

In an era where free time is the ultimate luxury, time-consuming types of cooking, child-rearing, and crafting speak to affluence and a wealth of choices. 


h1. About the book and author

Based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Emily Matchar is a journalist who writes about travel, culture, food, and women's issues. 

Homeward Bound, her first book, is an in-depth look at the phenomenon and consequences of the New Domesticity trend, in which women around the country are rediscovering traditional feminine crafts and skills.

Copyright © 2013 by Emily Matchar. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


In the early 20th century, a homemade quilt meant you couldn't afford linens from the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog. Today it means you have the time and money to indulge in an expensive hobby. In the 1950s, serving frozen and canned foods meant you were a cutting-edge homemaker indulging in the very best the Space Age had to offer. Today canned green beans symbolize cheapness, laziness, bad taste, a lack of giving a damn about your health. Convenience has become deeply associated with poverty, lack of education, and worse: think Walmart, McDonald's, TV dinners.

All this puts us in the weird and somewhat uncomfortable position of having privileged people proudly "reclaiming" the work that poor people have long done out of necessity.

Though most of the people featured in this book are not at all wealthy, the majority enjoy some degree of class privilege. Most have college degrees. Many come from professional families. This makes their experience of domesticity completely different from that of, say, a young Mexican immigrant who stays home with her kids because she can't find a job, or a Colonial-era knitter who had to make blankets or her family would freeze, or an 1850s pioneer smoking his own venison jerky to last through the winter because there was nothing else to eat.

While most New Domesticity types are fairly well aware of their class privilege, it does create some uncomfortable, not to mention irritating, dynamics. When an educated mom refuses to "outsource" her children to day care or waxes poetic about the benefits of extended breast-feeding (smarter! thinner! better!), how can that not be seen as a judgment against her less-fortunate peers who work full-time, place their kids in day care and before-school programs, and don't have time to breast-feed for three weeks, let alone three years? Are their kids dumber, less attached? And when you don't believe in day care to begin with, why would you fight for the kind of universal free day care that might benefit your poorer neighbor? 

[%image feature-image float=right width=400 caption="Are your pickled green beans home-canned or store-bought?"]

If you think "formula is the devil," why would you care whether or not other moms have access to it? Breast-feeding activists have even managed to remove the "goody bags" of free formula traditionally offered to new moms in hospitals. That's great for sending the message that "breast is best," but it doesn't mean much for the working-class mom who's going back to cleaning office buildings in a few weeks and might appreciate some free formula.

Yet, despite all this, I see New Domesticity as a distinctly middle-class phenomenon, not a wealthy one. When I started researching this book, I was expecting to run into a lot of ultra-privileged people. Dropout corporate lawyers turned organic farmers. Wealthy homemakers obsessed with gardening and organic food. CEOs who gave it all up to practice DIY parenting.

Yet mostly what I found were middle-class people struggling with modern life. Underemployed recent college grads learning to knit because they got no satisfaction out of their temp jobs. Women who "just happened" to learn about attachment parenting at the end of their too-short maternity leaves from jobs they felt ambivalent about to begin with. Homesteaders who want to live off-grid because their experiences with mainstream life have been miserable — crappy health care, crappy jobs, crappy houses in crappy suburban neighborhoods. 

New Domesticity is most attractive to people who are removed enough from the horrors of rural poverty to find canning charming, yet still struggle to find genuinely fulfilling careers and decent ways to balance work and life. For the genuinely rich, there's nothing to cry about. People at the very top of America's class structure, men and women alike, have options. They have the best educations that give them access to the best jobs. They can buy the best care for their children, whether that means a live-in au pair or a five-star day care. While a Yale-educated surgeon might knit for fun, she's not likely to "downsize" and start an Etsy shop. A couple of tech executives with thrilling, high-powered jobs aren't as likely to fall into the ideology of attachment parenting as a middle-class mom with an unfulfilling job.

New Domesticity is, at heart, a cry against a society that's not working. A society that doesn't offer safe-enough food, accessible health care, a reasonable level of environmental protections, any sort of rights for working parents.

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