As Emily Matchar pointed out in her book “Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity,” a growing number of women have been taking up old-school activities like canning, baking, sewing and whatever else their mothers used to pay people to do.
This D.I.Y. boom is seen as a feminist move by many of its champions. They believe they are reclaiming traditional women’s activities on their own terms, and saving some money and the environment while they are at it.
Others see this return to labor-intensive domestic tasks as a step-backwards for women. Some even read it as a sign that women have been pushed back into the home because of the failure of public institutions and workplaces to adequately support their non-domestic ambitions.
No matter what side you fall on, I doubt there is one woman out there who hasn’t, at least once, been made to feel inadequate by a crazy D.I.Y. friend. You know the one who baked her daughter a beautiful birthday cake, or sewed her son a non-brand superhero costume instead of grabbing that plastic Spiderman get-up from the rack at Rite Aid, and then posted pictures of it on Facebook.
Well good news for all us birthday cake and Halloween costume buyers out there. It turns out that while doing-it-yourself might be fun and tasty, it is not always the wisest move for those of us looking to make the most of our personal and professional lives.
As Catherine Rampell explains in the New York Times magazine:
Embracing the D.I.Y. ethos is (wrongly) perceived as evidence of thrift or even moral virtue. A personal chef is the sort of luxury people associate with hedge-funders, Europeans with several surnames and oil sheikhs. Still, you need not be an heiress to benefit from paying for a personal assistant or gofer of some kind. From an economist’s perspective, it’s similar to taking out student loans: an investment in your future earning potential. Yet few outside the field see it that way.
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.
Pickling cucumbers, cultivating yeast for Challah, sewing tallit … these hebraic homesteading projects are certainly not for everyone. But most Jews would agree that plenty of our traditions instill a cool-before-it-was-cool “Do It Yourself” aesthetic. This is a culture that often made do with very little and did it all behind closed doors, or within a tight-knit community. Historically, the center of Jewish life was the home, not the synagogue. And so we present to you a list of eight reasonably simple Jewish DIY projects. You can totally do this stuff. I promise.
1. Make a Family Tree
What Jewish family hasn’t played at least one round of Jewish Genealogy? You can go two routes: decorative or academic. If you’re only going to go a couple of generations back, you can fit you findings on a beautiful piece of art to hang in the home.
But if you’re willing to do some digging — uncovering Ellis Island papers, Shtetl Yizkor books and other primary sources of your family’s story — I guarantee that other members of your family would like to be involved in your findings. The venerable JewishGen is a good place to start. Once you’ve got some basic data, consider entering it to an online or printable template (reputable template sites include MyHeritage.com, Wikitree.com and Geni.com), so that it can be safely stored and shared. Be careful of sharing sensitive personal information on these sites, however, and take advantage of relevant privacy controls.
2. Create your own Chuppah
It can cost up to $1,000 to rent a decorated freestanding Chuppah from a wedding planner or florist. If you decide to make your own, it won’t be free, but it won’t cost nearly that much. For inspiration, head to the photo-sharing social network of choice for dreamy brides: Pinterest. Then check out this set of instructions for a simple, freestanding Chuppah. And here are instructions for an equally attractive version that’s designed to be held aloft by four friends.
If you’re into chopping down your own branches, this one is for you.
I recently discovered, and promptly became obsessed with, Emily Matchar’s blog New Domesticity. On the blog and in her upcoming book due out next year, Matchar explores the recent-ish explosion of “lost” domestic arts like bread-baking, bee-keeping and serious DIY laundry (handmade washboard, anyone?). I’d been noticing the popularity of this return to the ways of yore for quite a while — in the steady stream of beautiful food blogs and online crafting tutorials and magazine articles about topics like urban gardening. When I belatedly acquired a Pinterest account, I saw that millions of people were spending their waking hours on virtual bulletin boards, collecting recipes and home improvement projects.
As any woman with an Internet connection has probably noticed, for every lovingly photographed artisanal cupcake, there’s an equal and opposite critique. Some of the criticism (on Matchar’s blog and elsewhere) has to do with the humblebragging nature of all this creating and photographing, not to mention the implied pressure to measure up. Some comes from a more straightforward feminist perspective: Our forebears had to wash clothes by hand and would have killed for a washing machine that enabled them to work an office job — you want to go back to that?!
And then there’s what I think of as “the rich white lady thing.” I mean, who can even afford to stay home knitting scarves, growing heirloom tomatoes, making baby food and photographing it all with a shiny new DSLR? It’s not hard to see that these women — and their exquisite creations — tend to look very much alike. Of all the reasons to be wary of the new avalanche of craftiness, this posh sameness is probably the one that resonates with me the most. But it also makes me laugh. Because take out the aesthetically pleasing documentation and you’ve got my working class Jewish ancestors.