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

Review published on May 6, 2013. Reviewed by Kate Westrich

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Going to school, training to do something creative and then finding yourself in a career where you spend most of your time staring at a computer screen. It can leave you disillusioned and seeking a creative outlet. For me, this has taken the form of blogging, taking art classes, learning to sew and making upcycled candles. It was for this reason that I was excited to ready Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity by Emily Matchar, which features a tatted up female on the cover, knitting and sitting next to cooking utensils. I wanted to know more about New Domesticity and understand if it was a movement I have unknowingly joined.

New Domesticity, as defined by Matchar, is “the re-embrace of home and hearth by those who have the means to reject these things.” While the term may be new to you, you’ve likely seen this trend occurring. Women making their own laundry detergent, men making all of their household’s food from scratch, people turning to homegrown veggies in lieu of those from a store, people blogging about keeping house and selling their crafty creations online. Increasingly, people (of means) are turning to skills that people used 50+ years ago.

Matchar does a wonderful job of covering this subject in great detail. Maybe even too much detail? She has interviewed many, many people to represent different perspectives. She interjects her own opinion throughout the book, usually just at the time when you’re thinking, “Seriously?” so that you know you’re not alone in your skepticism.

A professional desk-jockey and amateur crafter myself, I was curious to see how I would identify with Matchar’s interview subjects. I was in awe of so many of the people. Moms who grow their own produce, raise their own livestock, don’t use a car and augment their income through selling art online, blogging and writing books. Men who quilt on the sly because they love it. And yet…

I struggled because so many of the people in the book were moms, which I am not, and expressed their movement to more traditional living as being very much related to being a mom. I understand this decision-making process, but wondered if there aren’t more childless people making similar decisions to whom Matchar could have spoken. I was frustrated with the number of people who talked about New Domesticity as a reaction to feminism, saying how feminism went too far and so they were making the choice to return to earlier times. That option to make a choice, it would seem to me, is a direct outcome of the feminist movement. (In her final chapter, Matchar alludes to having similar feelings of frustration.) Finally, many, many of the women interviewed talked at length about how important it was for their families to make the move to simple living, without acknowledging that the move was only possible because either they came from some means and / or their spouse or partner worked outside of the home in a tradition career. To me, it painted an unrealistic picture about what is possible and didn’t acknowledge that not everyone can drop everything and start making their own soap. (Matchar also touches on this point in her closing comments.

Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity is a good read that gives insight into a very real, current phenomenon. When I first started the book, I thought I was reading someone’s doctoral dissertation because it was so fact-packed and read more like investigative journalism than most non-fiction books I read. Matchar’s background in journalism likely explains this. While Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity might not be a book you’ll fly through at the gym, it will stick with you and might inspire you to knit, make your own cleaning products or can your own jam. Or, it might motivate you to visit Etsy or other craft sites and take advantage of the fact that lots of people are already doing those things and selling their wares online.

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