Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Book Review: Homeward Bound by Emily Matchar

Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity was an engaging exploration of today’s social fascination with and privileging of all things domestic. So many times while reading this book, I found myself nodding my head and wanting to sit up and tell anyone near me this is so TRUE or alternatively, this is so ME. I also found myself wishing it had existed when I was in graduate school, because it would have made an interesting book to add to my resource lists for my women’s and gender studies certificate (and also a great book club pick).

Matchar discusses a whole host of topics under the umbrella of this “new domesticity” – why increasing numbers of women are leaving the workforce to stay at home (primarily with children), why attachment parenting is on the rise, the striking similarities between the far right and the far left on many of these issues, and the insecurities and fears that are producing a drive toward the domestic as a safe place. With a shaky economy, lack of trust in the safety of our food and where it comes from, disillusionment with public education and decreasing (or non-existent) benefits for workers, it’s not surprising that people have turned toward areas of their lives they can control.

It’s increasingly seductive to consider leaving your 9-5 desk job and your hellish commute for a life of tomato growing and soap making, with an Etsy shop and a blog to boot. I don’t think there’s a person I know, let alone a woman, who hasn’t had some version of that daydream. Women of my generation were promised a life of fulfillment through a career and were encouraged that we could have it all if we just kept working hard – a family and home life as well as a job outside of the home. But more and more women are realizing that having it all is easier said than done – if it’s possible at all. Corporate America isn't really friendly to work-life balance in general, not just people with kids. And it’s great that more and more women are expressing themselves and connecting to online community by blogging and opening Etsy businesses, but it remains that only a tiny fraction of people can pay a mortgage and support a family on a blog or an Etsy shop.

Perhaps the most compelling idea that this book raised was a consideration of what happens when those with the most resources turn inward and focus on the individual good instead of the collective good. Historically, movements of great social change were accomplished with support from across class lines. Who is left to fight for better maternity and paternity leave policies, workplace conditions that better support work/life balance, affordable, quality daycare and access to safe, healthy foods, when those with the most resources turn away from the collective and focus only on their own home? It’s definitely an interesting question to consider.

I had no idea when I picked this book up if the author would come to the conclusion that “new domestics” are hippie wack-jobs or enlightened visionaries. And I’m glad she didn’t come to either conclusion – her final analysis and takeaway points were very carefully considered. She details many interactions with people across the entire spectrum of this movement and the book is very fair, sincere and respectful of these people and their beliefs. It certainly gave me much to think about – where do I fit in on the spectrum? 

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