That knit in progress is the Chromatic Cowl, which is a kit from Knit Circus! I’ll blog more about it soon, but in the mean time, you can check out the kit here.
Have you read Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity by Emily Matchar? It was recommended to me by a friend, and I’m so glad that she did– anyone who has been fantasizing about ditching their day job and moving to the country for a happy homestead should give it a read. Any time someone reads a book, they will inevitably read it through the lens of their own presets– this means that while I tried to come to this book with an open mind, I also came with my personal preference to always make my own money, and I self identify as a feminist.
My personal definition of feminism is a belief that women and men deserve equal freedoms, opportunities, and wages. I believe that men and women should share household chores equally, and share the raising of children equally. I do not believe that nurturing is a uniquely feminine trait. But I too have also been hearing our modern-day siren song of the new domesticity- where women can stay home if they want, blog about their crafting adventures and their vegetables gardens and goats.
The fact that I have thought about this at any length says something about the crafting culture that I move in, given I’m quite possibly the least likely person to ever move to the country. I love city living- I find it exciting, invigorating, intellectually stimulating, challenging, and awash in fantastic cafes and restaurants catering to every imaginable taste. But loving city living doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to bend the new domesticity ideal to suit my urban ways; I too have dreamed about how great it would be if someone supported me financially (hello, lottery ticket!) while I stayed home and wrote brilliant novels (because in my domestic fantasy, I’m a brilliant writer), baked fresh bread from scratch, knitted, and blogged about other domestic and crafty pursuits.
That is, until I read this book and suddenly saw the bigger picture. Matchar does a good job of giving an historical context to the new domesticity, pointing out that while the reasons are all there –we distrust the mass-produced food system, the school systems, the 9 to 5 jobs are not as fulfilling as we thought they were going to be– that in previous generations, many women would have taken that anger and distrust and lobbied to affect change in their communities: lobbying government to improve education, support smaller and healthier farming practices; activities that ultimately would better everyone regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances. But fewer and fewer of us are doing that. Now, the people most disillusioned with the current systems blog about how it would be better to up sticks and move to the country to try to live as much off the grid as they can, to have more control over their food, their children’s education, and the quality of life. And they aren’t wrong.
The only problem is most of the people doing this are white and middle class, meaning they can afford to do it. And those that can’t, well, they are stuck with the same old system and even fewer opportunities to change it. And I guess it says some uncomfortable things about me, that I never thought of that at all until I read it in this book. It just never occurred to me.
Matchar focuses her research and interviews on Americans, but I think the trends are likely very applicable in other countries, especially Canada, and is careful to show how this new movement and our craving for a simpler life is also related uncomfortably with issues of gender essentialism, class, race, and male disenfranchisement. I was particularly squeamish about some of the quotes from mothers she interviewed who stated quite clearly that they feel women are nature’s nurturers, and that they are fulfilling their biological destiny by choosing to focus on their children.
I personally have a difficult time with that viewpoint, because having my daughter brought out the opposite reaction in me- I felt a renewed energy and ferocity to set an example for my daughter that women can do anything that they set their minds to, that having a career does not have to be at odds with having a family, and that being a woman is not limited to the domestic sphere; that she is just as capable of a intensive, fulfilling career as any man (Don’t even get me started on the ‘having it all’ mentality, I think it’s a joke and no one ‘has it all’, not men or women. We pick and choose our priorities at any given moment.).
I believe there is more than one way to have a loving home. There is more than one way to be a woman, there is more than one way to be a mother, there is more than one way to have a calling or a career. Again, these are my presets. And everyone is trying to live their lives in the way that best agrees with their world view.
Reading through the lens of my own experience, my full time day job is for a charity and much of professional background is all within the nonprofit sector, so I guess I don’t feel that my work is meaningless in the same way. Of course some days suck and I want to quit, that’s everyone’s life sometimes no matter where you live, or if you bake your own bread or not. But most of the time I feel what I do contributes to the greater good. I also suspect that the disillusionment with careers has to do with how few women are in management roles, and how so many companies are not family-friendly enough to offer time shifting or flexible hours to accommodate school pick ups. If we knew that we could pull together to campaign government and big companies for legislated flexible time that would benefit a more balanced and family-friendly approach to work, wouldn’t we ultimately want something that was better for everyone, not just ourselves? Do we not do that because it seems like another big, exhausting chore on an already massive to do list we already have running through our heads?
I dislike Matchar’s description of people or things as being ‘crunchy’ or ‘crafty’ when it’s not always applicable, and seems to create a bias of judgement when really I think that new domesticity just needs to be more carefully viewed in a larger context of the middle class privilege that can afford that lifestyle choice. It’s a new form of luxury, choosing to live a little off the grid, choosing to reduce your household income for greater personal fulfillment.
There is a part in Amy Poehler’s Yes Please (another book that I really recommend reading) where she talks about how we have to learn to say “Good for her; not for me” when we see someone choosing to do something that works for them, but is not what we would personally choose. It’s so easy to do, especially in the internet age where you can spend hours looking at blogs and reading ideas and articles that already reinforce our own view of the world; that people can choose to think and live differently and that is completely fine- in fact, it’s good for them.
Anyway, I clearly have a lot to say about this (I could keep going, believe me!). I always love it when I read a book that challenges my default thinking has me looking at things in a new light- have any of you read this book? What are your thoughts on the current lifestyle trend of moving towards a more rural, self-sufficient and craft-oriented way of life?