Monday, March 3, 2014

In My Studio: Book Review of Homeward Bound


Why Are Women Embracing the New Domesticity

by Emily Matchar

Browsing through my local Woodstock library the other day I came across this new little gem. The cover immediately appealed with the illustration of a hip, youngish woman knitting, surrounded by kitchen and crafting equipment. It could be me I thought and indeed on reading the book I am fascinated by the numbers of women who are turning their backs on the 9-5 drudge, like myself  and getting back to homemaking.

These smart, highly educated young people are turning their backs on corporate life and embracing the labor-intensive domestic tasks their mothers and grandmothers eagerly shrugged off. Some are becoming homesteaders, raising their own livestock and growing their own food. Some are joining the new wave of lifestyle/ parenting bloggers. Some throw themselves into DIY parenting which entails attachment parenting, homeschooling and making all their food from scratch and some like myself are becoming home-preneurs starting their own kitchen table business selling crafts on Etsy or jams at the local farmers market. This book explores all the ways in which today's young people are getting back to basics for the health and well being of themselves, the environment and their family.

The author Emily Matchar skillfully tackles each subject interviewing real life women (and the odd man) sharing with us their fascinating stories of corporate lawyer turned pig farmer, or sales rep to highly successful mom blogger, web designer to bee keeper and so on. She not only picks characters who whole heartily celebrate all things crunchy but also some who tried, failed and struck up a happy medium with their own domesticity.   

The reasons Matchar proposes for this shift back to the home include: dissatisfaction in the workplace, a growing sense of distrust towards the government, corporations and the food system, concern for the environment, the draw to hands on work in a technology driven world and an increasing intensive standard of parenting. Added to this are the current hostile work practices of corporate America towards working mothers such as  no  paid maternity or family leave that gives women no choice but to give up work and turn towards a more home-centric  lifestyle.

The chapter entitled 'Knit Your Own Job: Etsy and the New Handmade Culture' was of special interest to me as I have opened my own Etsy shop called So Handmade and have been predominantly selling Christmas Tree Skirts that I make all year round. The chapter looks at the success of Etsy from its humble beginnings in 2005 making just $170,000 to earning in 2011 of $525.6 million. The author interviews both makers who have been able to start and maintain highly successful Etsy shops and ones who have struggled to make any sales despite having quality wares. She concludes the chapter by saying that:
"Despite the optimism surrounding the new artisan economy, a very fundamental thing remains true: selling handmade goods is still an incredibly difficult way to make money" These sentiments ring true for myself as I am sure they do with many other readers.

In the conclusion to the book Emily Matchar points out the lessons she has learned on her domestic odyssey. She admits that:

"So many of the values of New Domesticity are wonderful: an emphasis on the family, a DIY spirit, a concern for the environment, an unwillingness to beholden to corporations."

But she goes on to look at the dark side she has discovered including the exclusion of those people who don't have the time or money to DIY it. A privilege of individual rights over group goods, the disenfranchise of men and the demonizing of the workplace. She believes there is a happy place which exists somewhere in the middle, whereby we can eat store bought produce and not feel guilty about it, learn to knit in our spare time and aspire to career achievements and financial independence.

I highly recommend this thought provoking and intelligently written book that has perfectly captured today's zeitgeist.

Sarah Omura - So Handmade

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