The New Domesticity: Women Who Trade Careers for Crochet

The New Domesticity: Women Who Trade Careers for Crochet

homeward boundAccording to Emily Matchar, author of the new book "Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity," Sex and the City and its plot lines may as well have played out on a different planet Earth.

Today, she argues, the men and women of Gen Y are disdaining Manolos and Big Careers—and instead embracing a return to home and hearth. Often, literally.

And if you live in certain pockets of America today, you know the generation of which she speaks: They're those attachment parents frequenting the farmer's market. You might befriend them at a weekend workshop on crocheting/beekeeping/canning yams. Or you may well be one of them.

If so, you're part of a quaint scene Matchar calls the new domesticity. However, she says, it's not just a fervent love of retro hobbies, but a deeper desire that's driving the movement—in some cases, even a distrust of society as we know it.

LearnVest spoke to Matchar to get a sense of how followers of the new domesticity feel about the movement's 2.0 approach to balancing work, money and family ... and not necessarily in that order.

LearnVest: How did you first stumble on the idea of the new domesticity?

emily matcharEmily Matchar (shown right): As a writer I covered a lot of stuff relating to food and women’s issues. I kept meeting people over and over again who were really into canning and urban homesteading, or mothers who were doing attachment parenting. I was meeting them for different stories, and it started to form a bigger picture.

RELATED: Why Old-Fashioned Homesteading Is the New Feminist Career 

How do you define the new domesticity?

It's the embrace of old-fashioned domestic skills and practices, and the embracing of a more home-focused lifestyle by people who have the means and the education to do otherwise.

I’m not talking about people who have to stay at home and make jam because they can’t afford to buy it. I’m talking about people who are making these lifestyle choices—they're middle class, not super-privileged housewives living off their banker husbands.

You say that these denizens are fed up with "modern" life. What do you mean?

There are several things that a lot of the people I interviewed were fed up with. One was the workplace and its culture. And the other was the recession. They were working jobs that they didn’t like. Some had been laid off from jobs, period.

They were frustrated with this sort of “do more with less” attitude, and the recession was helping them question whether certain sacrifices were worth it. They didn’t see putting your all into a job as a stable lifestyle choice … but they did see that you could lose a job really easily.

You also talked about people with interesting careers—stockbrokers, pastry chefs, lawyers—leaving their jobs to become sort of neo-homemakers.

It was a minority of people who were leaving their jobs. Most were really refocusing their priorities. When it comes to the whole hog embrace of domesticity, I see it coming from women with children who are feeling like full investment in the workplace wasn’t really working for them.

A lot of the people I talked to are in their twenties and thirties, and they had been raised with a certain idea that it’s important to follow their passion. Often what that played out to mean was that if their job wasn’t satisfying in the moment, a lot of people were really invested in the idea of following their dreams—and, for young mothers, that passion was home-focused, which they may or may not regret from a financial perspective.

Did you get a sense that the women you talked to were struggling with money?

Most of the people were actually pretty thoughtful and open about the choices that made their lives harder from a financial perspective. A lot would say that they were giving up bigger things—two cars, a bigger house, vacations—in order to have a more home-focused life.

The recession sort of added fuel to the belief that throwing your life into your work wasn’t a guarantee of anything. They were saying, “Well, screw that, it’s not going to be a guarantee of stability, anyway.” I don’t know that an economist or a personal finance expert would agree with their choices though.

We saw our parents throwing themselves into their careers, and a lot of them got laid off at 50 or 60. So we thought, "Maybe I should have a different path."

You make a point that a lot of the movement's blogs read like lifestyle porn: mothers baking their own multigrain bread and running in fields with cherubic toddlers who never have tantrums. Who are these women we're idolizing?

I think that lifestyle porn is a good way to put it. Some are more porn-tastic than others … some are more honest. One who kept coming up over and over again is Soule Mama, a very crunchy domestic goddess in rural Maine with four or five kids. There’s also The Pioneer Woman, who’s popular among a slightly less hip demographic, and Girl's Gone Child, a tattooed L.A. hipster with four kids by the age of 29 or 30.

And some are trying to make side income from it too. In fact, you call the new domesticity “21st-century 'egg money.' ” Can you define that?

For those of us who didn’t grow up on farms, it's an old-fashioned term for the money that farm wives used to make selling eggs on the side of the road, so they could buy whatever they needed or wanted.

I was in Asheville, N.C., and I went into a sewing store that was catering to a younger, hipper generation. There were cooler, more modern fabrics for sale, and the shoppers were women with pink hair. I said, "Who attends these sewing classes?" The owner said, “It’s a lot of young women hoping to make ‘egg money.’”

RELATED: 9 Ways to Make Income on the Side

So is it a good source of extra income?

There's a persistent belief that this new domestic stuff is going to earn women a little money on the side. They say, “Oh, hey, I can sell stuff on Etsy. I can blog about homemaking. I can write a cookbook!” That sort of thing. And there are a few women who are making good money. But I think the important thing to remember is that, while it is appealing, almost nobody makes money off Etsy or blogging.

We’ve seen a return to domesticity before. It often follows in the wake of a recession. How is this one different?

Historically, in recession times, we tend to idolize thrifty homemaking. During the Great Depression, the media was celebrating the "noble, thrifty housewife" who was making do and darning socks. In the 1930s, women felt more satisfied with their work as housewives because it felt more important.

Right now, people are feeling like there’s a moral weight being put behind homemaking—it’s more frugal to make do rather than buy new crap at Target. And, from an environmental perspective, it’s better to grow your own veggies and spend time going to the farmer’s market.

RELATED: Are Organic Groceries a Waste of Your Money?

Is this a societal shift—the return of women not working?

I don’t think this movement is about women quitting their jobs or dropping out of the workforce—that they’re all going back to the home to become Betty Draper. But I do see a gendered pulling back from the workplace. And I worry that we might not be making enough progress. If ambitious woman abandon the push for workplace equality, or decide that it’s not really worth it, then our daughters are still going to have the same problems. I hope that men and women solve some of the things that make work-life balance so hard—rather than collectively decide that it’s not worth it.

RELATED: 7 Ways You Could Be Holding Your Daughter Back

So where do you fall on the new domesticity spectrum?

I’m lucky that I have a job that is usually creatively fulfilling, but I find that my interest in the home-based projects waxes and wanes, depending on how satisfied I am with my job. When I’m bang bang writing, I’m not that interested in cooking. But when I’m feeling blocked or bored, I’m much more interested in learning to crochet.


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