Why more women are turning to domesticity for happiness

We chat with author and journalist Emily Matchar about the new generation that's returning to a simpler life -- when work weeks were shorter and people spent more time at home.

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Journalist Emily Matchar kept meeting women who were raising chickens, canning jam and starting knitting circles. It seemed like a whole generation of ladies decided to use their leisure time to make cheese and sit at a loom for hours a day, in spite of living in the age of optimum convenience.

In her new book, Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity, Matchar writes about this movement, which she says has “a common philosophy of slowing down, living more authentically and having more sustainable lives.” Here, I asked Matchar why she thinks women are embracing the DIY movement, and what it says about our contemporary role in society.

Q: Why do you think women are turning to these activities?
A: Some of it has to do with the economy, and people looking for forms of satisfaction beyond their jobs. A lot of it has to do with environmentalism and living more sustainably and not relying on commercial production. We’re living in a very high-tech world, and some people are missing that very hands-on tactile work with a tangible outcome — which is not something you get when you’re at the computer all day.

Q: Are there any downsides?
A: As a way of solving larger social issues, it’s pretty lacking. It’s very individualistic. If we’re worried about our food supply, we need to make larger, structural changes and this can be a bit of a retreat from the public sphere. It can also be quite gendered, and a lot more women seem to be involved in this.

Q: The individualist argument is really interesting. I guess this movement could be read as “screw you guys, I’m going to make my own cheese” instead of working towards the reform of the entire dairy industry.
A: A lot of people are unhappy with what they’re getting, so they start growing their own vegetables. But that’s a short-term solution, and only for you.

Q: What does this movement say about the contemporary role for women in society?
A: I think it demonstrates the frustration people have with a lack of work-life balance, and with the status quo. Younger people, in particular, are looking at the baby boomers and how hard they worked, and they want to reshape the definition of success and “having it all.” It might mean that you’re not working 60 hours a week, but that you’re connected to some slower way of living.

Q: I am a person who has both raised chickens and who regularly bakes my own bread. But it’s actually a lot more work than just going to the supermarket and putting eggs and bread in my cart. I’m not sure that it makes things any easier — even if it is pleasurable work.
A: The key to this is to take what you actually enjoy and do that, and not feel obligated to do the rest. You can take advantage of our contemporary world to make your life more convenient. If you hate gardening, you’re not required to grow your own vegetables. This DIY movement can be kind of moralizing about what is the right thing to do, but it’s really up to you.

Q: There does seem to be a strong element of choice in this. After all, I’m sure there was a generation of women who were thrilled they didn’t have to make their own jam any more.
A: It’s true. We can’t forget that people weren’t so happy to do this stuff when it was an obligation.

Tell us in the comment section below: have you gone back to making any of your own products at home?