Sisterhood Blog

Is the New Domesticity Hurting Women?

By Elissa Strauss

  • Print
  • Share Share
Simon & Schuster

Been wondering what’s behind all those artisanal chocolate bars cluttering check-out lanes and tattooed women knitting booties for the babies permanently strapped to their chests? Or, as the show “Portlandia” so acutely captured in one of its most hilarious skits, the undeniable urge that crafty young folks have to put a bird on it?

So has journalist Emily Matchar.

In her new book “Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity,” Matchar examines why women in their 20s and 30s are increasingly passing up the corner office and even the corner bar, à la Carrie Bradshaw, for all things domestic. She investigates the rise of do-it-yourself everything — things like attachment parenting, crafting, homeschooling and raising chickens in the backyard — and how it is a symptom of the disillusionment young people, mostly women, feel with the institutions that they had once hoped to rely on. These institutions include workplaces that fail to be family friendly, public schools that fail to educate our children and a food system that fails to provide us with affordable, healthy and sustainable food.

The Sisterhood spoke with Matchar about who is embracing the New Domesticity, the ways in which it helps and hurts women, and how it is bringing radical queers and Mormons to the same side of the table.

THE SISTERHOOD: So what exactly is the New Domesticity?

EMILY MATCHAR: New Domesticity is the embrace of old-fashioned domesticity — crafting, cooking from scratch, gardening, making your own cleaning supplies, cloth diapering your children, etc. — by people who have the education and the means to reject these things if they wanted to.

What types of men and women tend to embrace it and why?

Generally, those who embrace New Domesticity are people who are concerned with the environment, with where food comes from and with living more fulfilling, more “authentic” lifestyles that don’t necessarily revolve around conventional definitions of success (though plenty are conventionally successful in their careers).

In what ways is it good for women?

It’s great that we’re finally seeing respect for what’s traditionally been considered lowly “women’s work” — crafting, cooking, baking. People — men and women — are finally able to say that these things are wonderful and worthwhile.

Okay, in what ways does it hurt women?

The mania for DIY domesticity can raise the bar on what’s considered good housekeeping and good mothering. Many women feel judged these days for not cooking enough, or for not cooking the “right” foods — organic, local, seasonal, or for not being involved enough mothers. In an era of attachment parenting and make-your-own baby food, the standard for good motherhood seems to rise ever higher. It’s unfair that in 2013, women are still the ones held largely responsible for cooking, housekeeping and childrearing, and I do worry that this New Domesticity can make more work for already stressed and stretched women.

One thing I find curious, after reading your book and the recent story on feminist housewives in New York Magazine, is why these women seem hell-bent on contextualizing this as feminist, instead of just making it about the environment or parenting. Why do you think this is the case?

Good question. I think we all feel a need to justify our choices, and to feel that we’re making these choices from a position of power.

Also, in the book you point out how the New Domesticity appeals to liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and atheists, radical queers and Mormons. What is going on there?

The same things that appeal to one group often appeal to an opposite group for a very different reason. Ultra-liberal mothers may want to do homebirth and exclusive breastfeeding because it’s “natural,” while an evangelical woman wants to do the same things because “that’s why God made women this way.” Secular Berkeley types might want to grow organic gardens for environmentalist reasons, while conservative Nevadans grow the same gardens because they don’t want to rely on “big government” for their food.

Do you see a way in which men and women can engage with this homesteader spirit without it interfering with their professional ambitions? Or, perhaps more clearly, do you see much of a middle ground out there? For how many is the New Domesticity a weekend hobby and for how many is it an orthodox lifestyle?

There’s absolutely a middle ground. I think New Domesticity is a clear cry for reform to our corporate culture — people simply don’t want to give their entire lives to their jobs. But most people DO want jobs — satisfying, flexible jobs. If we changed the corporate culture to allow for more work-life balance, then more men AND women would be able to embrace domesticity without having to give up their ambitions.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: homemaking, feminism, domesticity, Sisterhood, Jewish Women, Emily Matchar, DIY

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.