Monday, January 21, 2013

New Domesticity?

I really like listening to podcasts. I originally got into them this summer when I was looking for a free option to audiobooks (damn, those get pricey!) to listen to during car trips. Now I listen to them when I exercise, cook, and clean my house. I love the broad variety of information, opinions, and entertainment that podcasts offer.

One of my favorite podcasts is Stuff Mom Never Told You from This podcast offers an examination of different pop culture, historical, and everyday issues from a feminist perspective.

Recently, Stuff Mom Never Told You featured an episode about something called "New Domesticity," which is the recent resurrection (fueled by the internet and social media) in traditional homemaking, handicrafts, family styles, and child-rearing activities that are so prominently featured on online sources like Pinterest, personal living blogs, Instagram, etc. "New Domesticity" includes a broad range of activities: knitting, sewing, cleaning, cooking from scratch, bread making, canning, preserving, crafting, attachment-style parents, raising chickens, homeschooling-the list goes on and on. If you've been on Pinterest, you know what I am talking about.

In the podcast, Cristen, one of the hosts of Stuff Mom Never Told You, interviewed Emily Matchar, who has a blog on the subject and a book (Homeward Bound) coming out in May.

The entire interview was very thought-provoking for me because I had never considered the things I like to do and learn about (creating my new home, cooking, and baking) as a "new" concept. I also had never really considered them a feminist concept. I love cooking food, so does my mother, so too does Mark Bittman. I like creating my new home, but my father also strives to do this too. I have always considered creating a home, cooking in it, and cleaning it not as an issue of feminism, but just as one of those things that grownups do. I've never looked at my role as a woman cooking and cleaning, just as a person.

Likewise, there was another aspect of the episode that has had me thinking for the past couple days. This was one piece that I have really been pondering because it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. In the interview, Cristen asked Emily if she noticed a trend in the type of women who embraced this new domesticity and who avidly shared it on social media. Emily replied that she did notice some common aspects of these women: (1) they were intelligent, creative, and highly educated and (2) they did not have careers that challenged them creatively (either because they had forgone their careers for motherhood, were underemployed, or were not in jobs that challenged their creative minds).

Here is what has really been bothering me about this: I don't like the implication that domestic tasks are something women seek only when their careers don't work out for them. I don't embrace the concept that domesticity is a fall-back activity. I think this mindset perpetuates the feminist claim that domestic tasks, those traditionally done by women, are less valued. Do women seek out these traditional "women's work" activities only when they have exhausted the superior employment of building a professional career? Is this causation, or just correlation?

On this subject, I am going with another interpretation. New domesticity is not the refuge of a failed career, it is just another creative outlet that allows women and men to be constructive in their immediate surroundings that is just as important as career-world work. I do not see it as a transfer of energy from career to home, from the outside world to the inside world, that happens when things don't go so well professionally. Instead, it is just another outlet for creative energy to thrive in a very palpable (and palatable if cooking is your thing), observable way that many people, men or women, find intrinsically satisfying and comforting. New domesticity isn't something you retreat to as a second choice, it is just another medium for expression that is just as valuable and enjoyable as heading off to work Melanie Griffith style.

I don't think that I like to refinish furniture, find interesting ways of including more kale in my diet, or more natural cleaning alternatives because I don't like my job. I believe that I am creative in my career and at home, that these two separate factions in my life just call for different kinds of creativity-both of which are equally important.

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