Not 'That' Kind of Housework
Matchar offers an incisive look at this cultural phenomenon. In researching the book, she's talked with hundreds of people—educated women and men who've opted out of what we think of as typical employment to live as homesteaders both urban and rural. Noting that many of the most popular "lifestyle" blogs aimed at women seemed to have a decidedly retro aesthetic—overexposed, vintage-filtered photographs of pies cooling on windowsills next to Mason jars of wildflowers; a mania for cute aprons and retro-feminine dresses (see ModCloth.com or the Soulemama.com blog)—Matchar began to realize that the New Domesticity "was about far more than hobbies or a love for retro fashion." In many ways, she noted, this return to domesticity "has become an "out" for the casualties of an exploded economy." When work hasn't "worked" for people, they've increasingly made a business of turning toward home.
Matchar notes that many New Domestics insist that their move toward home is in fact a feminist decision. But she also points out that the turn toward domesticity can have a particular appeal for "for conservative Christian women," by which she means those coming from traditions in which women's employment outside the home is discouraged. "New Domesticity can be a way of reconciling traditional lifestyles with the need for independence and creativity," she writes. "For them, New Domesticity provides the perfect blend of the traditional and the modern." Likewise, she notes, a high concentration of artisans selling their work through the Brooklyn-based online marketplace of handcrafts, Etsy, are Mormon women living in and around Utah.
My husband's grandmother—also named Charlotte—was the precise opposite of my grandmother in so many ways. She was sensible rather than stylish, and lived on a ranch where she slaughtered chickens, raised vegetables, preserved fruits, milked cows, hand-cranked ice cream, and sewed her own clothes and most of her family's, too. Yet she differed from nearly all the New Domestics that Matchar describes in Homeward Bound in one significant way: She wrote about her life and doings only in the pages of the journals her children have described unequivocally as "boring." By contrast, many New Domestics have found ways to make their pursuits pay—and, in a very few cases, to pay extremely well—by writing and blogging about them. Popular bloggers like The Pioneer Woman and SouleMama "trade on their 'just folks' identities while actually making lots of money and receiving celebrity-like levels of external validation," Matchar notes. Would it be as much fun to stay home and raise chickens and cook from scratch "if she weren't making hundreds of thousands of dollars in ad revenue and book sales, and interacting with thousands of appreciative readers?"