Book Review: Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity by Emily Matchar

My head is still reeling a little from this book. I expected it, like all books about the current revival of homesteading (or self-sufficiency or hobby farming or whatever you want to call this movement), to be relentlessly cheerful. Not so. Matchar is a true journalist. Homeward Bound reads like an extended newspaper or magazine article, from the single-sentence summaries of appearance that accompany the introduction of each new interviewee (“Jenna, a forthright sparkplug of a woman in a plaid shirt and square-framed glasses, is fairly new at this too.”), to the psychological and social analysis of action, word, motive, and repercussion.The title – and cover image – gave me this impression: This book is going to be about women taking back the kitchen and crafts (and all the things once called “women’s work”) and are refusing to be told that they are anti-feminist or backward-thinking for doing so. They are reclaiming the word “domestic” from its status as a slur.

Yes . . . but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Matchar explains that that is what we think we’re doing (there’s the motive) but what we’re really accomplishing, if we truly believe ourselves to be feminists, might be shooting ourselves in the feet (there’s those repercussions).

Before I can go any further here I have to derail the thought train and add this crucial fact: despite what you, like me, may have been told by society at large, feminism is not misandry (the opposite of misogyny) but an equality movement.

OK, back on track. So, one of the author’s most oft-reiterated points is this: we can all agree that the workplace, by and large, sucks for both men and women. But it can be particularly frustrating for women, who are still paid, on average, just 70% of their equally-educated male peers, who often have little or no maternity or child care leave, and who are passed up frequently for managerial positions – especially if the person doing the hiring knows they have children. Women in general are seen as unstable and unreliable in the workforce, and doubly so if they have children they might think are more important than the minutae of their jobs.

Some women who are quitting their jobs to bake bread and grow veggies and homeschool their kids are saying, as I did, when I dropped out of the workforce, “Work sucks and it ain’t getting any better. Screw the middleman. I’m my boss now and my job is to feed my family.” As noble as this seems (and, yeah, I was getting a bit of a head), Matchar thinks that we have jumped off a ship that isn’t sinking, as we thought, but is, in fact, still struggling to get out of the harbor. Feminism hasn’t failed – it just isn’t done yet. Just as we don’t have total racial equality even though we have laudable civil rights laws, we don’t have equality between the sexes, either – not in employment or anywhere else. To use another metaphor, our mothers didn’t fail to win, they just started the fight. They tagged us in and we’ve walked away.

So the repercussion we didn’t anticipate when we dropped out is that with fewer women in the workplace agitating for equality in pay and better benefits fewer advances will be made. In fact, there’s the distinct danger that policies will backslide. I think this all might lose something being out of context, but I found it kind of terrifying.

A very thought-provoking read.

— Amanda


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