Saturday, November 26, 2011

The new domesticity: Fun, empowering or a step back for American women?

Emily Matchar for The Washington Post I’m planning on canning homemade jam this holiday season, swept up in the same do-it-yourself zeitgeist that seems to have carried off half my female friends. I picked and froze the berries this summer, and I’ve been squirreling away flats of Ball jars under my kitchen sink for months. For recipes, I’m poring over my favorite food and homemaking blogs — the ones with pictures of young women in handmade vintage-style aprons and charmingly overexposed photos of steamy pies on windowsills.

“That’s neat,” says my mother, as I babble to her about pectin and jar sterilization. She’s responding in the same tone of benign indifference she would have used had I informed her that I was learning Catalan or taking up emu husbandry.

My baby boomer mother does not can jam. Or bake bread. Or knit. Or sew. Nor did my grandmother, a 1960s housewife of the cigarette-in-one-hand-cocktail-in-the-other variety, who saw convenience food as a liberation from her immigrant mother’s domestic burdens. Her idea of a fancy holiday treat was imported lobster strudel from the gourmet market.

My, how things have changed....

Read the rest at


Blogger Natalie said...

I've wandered the same thing lately, actually... Are we slapping our moms and mom's moms and mom's mom's moms(!) in the face by doing these homemaking activities? Is the homemade movement just a fad that will pass? Or... are we all kind of nesting, preparing for a very possible fail of these conveniences we have become so accustomed to?

Whatever way it goes, I've got my vintage apron at the ready. :)

November 26, 2011 at 1:42 PM  
Blogger jodi said...

I am 51. My mom canned etc, as did my grandmothers. I do the same. Sewed curtains, the boys pjs when they were younger, my own clothes for awhile and now that I have more time am getting back into it. I have cooked from scratch etc. I think that it just got out of fashion for awhile. Now it is back in and hopefully many people will learn that to make things for yourself is actually quite fun.

November 26, 2011 at 1:58 PM  
Blogger Tech_Guy'02 said...

I'm a guy and I'm taking part in this canning, drying, hunkering down making sure I'm taking care of me, my family and if I'm able, through charity my neighbours. I've got female friends who shoot better than I, I've got male friends who do better at the domestic stuff. It's only a "step back" if we allow it.

Someone's got to "do" the stuff, and why should I pay for cheap junk made in China that is $1 or $2 but fails in 6 months needing replaced when I can buy something made here, making sure my neighbours have a bit of extra money. Plus being an hour trip to most stores, and a 3 hour trip to the "big city" for real shopping it saves me money by buying local when I can.

I'd much prefer something hand-crafted than off of a machine with 100,000 identical items.

November 26, 2011 at 2:15 PM  
Blogger Tech_Guy'02 said...

forgot the "buy once, cry once" it's worth paying a premium for a well-made item and having it for life, be it my cast iron pans or the meat-grinder etc.

November 26, 2011 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Rosie said...

I disagree!! I think this depends on where you grew up, amazingly I grew up in southern California in the suburbs and learned all these skills. My grandmother (born 1903) canned and did all the "domestic skills". My mother was an awesome seamstress and canned and froze produce. I can, pickle, sew, knit, crochet, garden and any other obscure skills out there. I am learning to cure meat and make cheese which neither of my ancestors attempted.

I don't think this is a fad. People who are conscience of what they eat see this as a way to insure good food.

The nice thing now is I can get canning supplies easily almost anywhere at almost anytime of the year.

November 26, 2011 at 2:38 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I think it's empowering to people when they make things for themselves. Man or woman, doing for yourself brings power and options.

November 26, 2011 at 2:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mom was a Depression mom and "I" am of the tail end of the Baby Boom...all the things she taught me to do when I was younger (but didn't want to learn) I am now embrassing and she is SO proud of me...especially when we do it together;)

November 26, 2011 at 2:42 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

I'm 54 and have been canning, gardening and sewing since I got married at 23. My mother did none of these things, she wouldn't even sew a button, but she sure loved my homemade applesauce made from apples we picked.

I think people are finally beginning to realize that all the prepackaged, over-processed food we eat is really causing so many health problems. I think taking things back to their natural state and buying food close to home is really the way we were intended to eat.

My adult children are starting to can and preserve food themselves. I don't think its a fad.

November 26, 2011 at 2:48 PM  
Blogger small farm girl said...

I'm 38 yrs. old. I have worked outside of the house from the age of 15. Nothing, I mean nothing makes me feel like I have accomplished more than doing what I do around our farm. That would be canning, milking the goats, baking bread, or just washing laundry. Not one time have I had the feel of that much accomplishment working off the farm. I can be replaced at my "normal" job. It takes someone with skill to do what I do here at home. That feeling is priceless.

November 26, 2011 at 3:11 PM  
Blogger The MO Farmers Daughter said...

Don,t let anyone make u feel bad ,the thing is,its a very small group of people even today that are doing this much work,and by doing it,it still makes u special and intresting to others.

November 26, 2011 at 3:15 PM  
Blogger mdoe37 said...

I do all of those domestic things--knit, sew, can etc. My PGM could cook, my mother could can some, the MGM I don't think really did any of the above. Nobody really sewed. I've added hunting, fishing, ammo reloading as well.

Have we taken a step back? I don't think so. If anything, we've empowered ourselves. Any skills that you have acquired enhance your life and cannot ever be taken away from you. You become more self-reliant.

I'm not sure if its sad or hilarious to watch one of "those" women unable to accomplish something basic when a modern convenience is not accessible.

November 26, 2011 at 3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They say it skips a generation and I guess that's right but it isn't a step back at all I think it's a step forward. I also think that truly being a more self sufficient person is really character building and makes us so much stronger when we can do all these things for ourselves. I don't like the idea that women leave the corporate world to homeschool and can and have a few chickens. I favor the idea that women can have whatever life they want to have and that may include all manner of ancient skills including butchery, canning, animal husbandry, gardening, etc.

November 26, 2011 at 4:17 PM  
Blogger Tina - Our Rustic Roots said...

I don't know.....I do all of these things and I learned from my mother. She learned from her mother, who learned get the idea.

I don't see how anyone in my family would ever consider it an insult, step back or anything except carrying on our traditions and taking care of our family.

I do agree that there aren't that many of us out here doing these things, but more people are getting interested in it for health, preparedness and money reasons and I think that's great.

November 26, 2011 at 4:17 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I walked into my Mom's hair salon this afternoon to pick up the warping board my father made for me this week to go with my new to me loom. My mom introduced me to the customer she was working on as, "my daughter Amanda... little goth on the prairie". :D

It's all sorts of folks who are going back to this way of life. I grew up with most of my family living on farms and doing all of these things. I'm also a bit of an unapologetic subculture weirdo, who spins, kits, weaves, cans, freezes dehydrates, gardens and keeps chickens. I don;t think this is a step back at all, it's taking control.

November 26, 2011 at 4:19 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I was thinking, as I read this, about how I got into all this, and none of my friends were into it, save one. My friend heather was into border collies (before I was), fiddles, fiber, sheep, and hiking and we were roommates for a while in Tennessee.

But neither of us felt trendy! we felt like outsiders!

November 26, 2011 at 4:23 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

I am a bonafide boomer originally from upstate NY not far from Jenna's. My Mom gardened and canned. She also bought retiring layers and we got to process them to the freezer. Often there was a beef critter purchased from some farmer processed for the freezer. I am following but expanding upon what I was taught. I have laying hens, have processed 50 meat chickens this year, 2 turkeys went to slaughter and 2 hopefully will produce young next spring, and I'll be processing 6 Silver Fox rabbits this week. I have lots of veggies in the freezer plus root veggies in a cool place. Most of my friends are doing the same but some are "back to the landers" who were taught by the Nearings.
I don't think any of this is a step back for American women. If anything it is a step forward towards independence from the factory food production and the bad boys of the industry.
Since I began my farmette, I feel so much better about who I am and what I'm eating.

November 26, 2011 at 5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mom and both grandmothers were all good cooks, but nobody canned, my mom sewed a little. None of them did as much as I am currently doing (at age 60 and still working full time) in a "hand-made" way.

I think those 60's women would not have embraced those convenience foods so much if they'd known how bad they were nutritionally and how much worse the processed foods were going to get. I guess I'm a bit of a "throwback" but I don't care. I think were are preparing ourselves for a different world, and the more of us the better.

I have three grown children. My son does a lot of energy efficency things in his life, but not really home cooking, canning and such. My girls do very little cooking and NO sewing, preserving, gardening, crocheting or knitting. I wish, for their sakes (and their future families) that they would develop an interest in some of this. I worry for their futures.

I dont really care what someone at the Washington Post thinks about what I you?

November 26, 2011 at 5:51 PM  
Blogger Goat Song said...

I think there is a little bit of something to the "generation skip" thing. My mom cans, sews, cooks, etc. And I do even more of all that, but my grandparents look upon us with skepticism. My great grandmother abhors the fact that we are doing what she hated to do so much when she was growing up in the depression era. I dunno'... I think it has something to do with how we grew up. Most of us have grown up with technology this and that, take out foods, and convenience stores. Now we're getting tired of it, and simplifying our lives. Whereas our grandparents/great grandparents, grew up in eras where you HAD to grow a garden, sew your own clothes, and preserve all your food. To them, modern day tech stuff is wonderful!

But in the end, I agree with chickadeeworkshop. Who cares what Washington Post thinks? As long as we enjoy what we're doing, then it doesn't really matter what others think!

November 26, 2011 at 6:22 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Hi Jenna.
One of our local papers here in Maine picked up on the Washington Post article and put in on their website. Here is the link with the comments being made up this way:

Lisa in Maine

November 26, 2011 at 6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with lots of the commenters and those were some interesting additional ones on the Bangor Maine article. What I do, I do out of choice, because these are my priorities. I do what I can make time and energy for while I still work full time. When I was younger (30's and 40's), I still had kids at home and worked and there is no way that I could do all the homemade things I do now. That is why many women now elect to stay home with their children, homeschooling and making sure that their children have good, wholesome food.

Before I went back to work, I was home with my youngest two (had one older and two teenaged stepchildren, also, at the time) and I made a lot of "from scratch" foods, leaving most processed foods in the store. We had tons of homemade soups, stews, beans and fresh bread. I had to give up a lot of that when I went to work full time because there are only so many hours in a day. There was homework to see to, laundry and errands and dinner at home each night. There was no way to do it all. So everyone has to make a choice for themselves and their families, each according to their needs and priorities at any given time. It changes with your circumstances. It always will.

November 26, 2011 at 9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, I need to have a hand in the creation of my life. My life does not seem to have as much meaning if I buy everything I need from the store. I think that's probably true for a lot of people, even if they don't realize it.

November 26, 2011 at 10:41 PM  
Blogger Glyndalyn said...

Enjoyed the article. My mother and grandmother (especially my grandmother)were skilled in many areas. They were also teachers. Cooking, canning, sewing and so many more skills were (and is) the norm in our rural area. Getting an education was also stressed. There are young people who kill hogs the old fashion way, a skill that is dead in other areas. They learned from their grandparents. Doing things for oneself and having some independence is fun.

November 26, 2011 at 11:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's all about choices. We can work in formerly "male" occupations, or do the domestic thing. This thanks to the pioneering '60s generation and the following '70s women (this would include me). The difficulty is we cannot have it all - at the same time that is. I'm wrapping up a career as an engineer. Next phase I'm going to learn organic gardening.

Each of us can make her own choice. That's what liberty is all about.

November 27, 2011 at 10:59 AM  
Blogger Jasmine said...

Looking beyond the gendered-ness of certain domestic work (though believe me, I could go off on the far reaching and initmate ramifications of 'gendered domesticity' for a long long essay); I think so much of the real issue at stake here is the definition of value.
Currently as a culture, we place value on money, and only value time and product as it equates to money. The real radical shift at stake here is assigning an intrisic value to time and skill and effort. And health, both personal and global.
The supermarket says one $14.95 chicken is equal to three $5.00 chickens. And either option is equal to one (or two) (or one half)-depending on your wage- an hour of your time.

Pardon my language, but there is something f#$#*ed in that equation.

As far as feminism and its intersection with "domestic" work goes; I call myself a feminist. I have ever since I grasped what the word meant, at like age 7. I have a college education and am considering grad school. And my goal in life is to stay home, raise kids and animals and vegetables. I can, knit, weave, garden, freeze, sew, cook from scratch, chop wood, and until a few months ago, hauled my own water.
I grew up with a mother who did all of the above, though neither of my grandmothers did (one quilted). We thrived WAY below the poverty level because of her work. Then she went to college and now makes $100 K a year catching babies.
Both the staying home, and the career were her choices. And she made them and thrived with them. How is that not a feminist lifestyle?

November 28, 2011 at 6:12 PM  
Blogger The High Desert Chronicles said...

I just finished writing my response to Matchar's article. It made me angry enough to have to step away from the computer for a while. LOL

November 29, 2011 at 1:59 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I don't think the author was trying to say this is worthless work, or anything negative. Sure, there are some problematic aspects to her analysis, but I see her broader point that we need to stay mindful of why we make these choices. If, as Jenna writes about so well, we chose hobbies or lives of craftmanship because it brings us joy, because we value the knowledge and skills, and because we feel rewarded for our contributions, then it's a great thing. If we start feeling like we must can tomatoes or we are bad mothers, or if we feel raising chickens is necessary to be a responsible adult, then we're losing that important right to choose a life that suits us, as some of the posters here mention.

I grew up in an 80s home where my dad stayed home, did the cooking, and sewed on all our buttons. My mother got the wood stove fired up every morning and then took her PhD self off to teach university. Now I am getting a PhD, and I do the cooking and canning and sewing out of love for the tasks. I learned from them both.

I think the article's author was just pointing out that we need to continue to have a dialogue about why we do what we do. That way our children can be thoughtful about why mummy does dishes and daddy cuts grass, or why mummy makes homemade christmas presents. It's not that it's unimportant for men to be involved, but sorry guys, but it's even more important for women to be reflexive about this stuff because gender discrimination, and lousy female stereotypes and expectations still bombard us from day one. One thing I think is so great about the farm life is that there is more gender equity because of necessity. If everyone doesn't help with everything, the farm can't succeed. That's a good lesson no matter what your gender.

November 29, 2011 at 10:59 AM  
Blogger The High Desert Chronicles said...

@Sarah, I have a hard time swallowing that she had good intentions. She was even condescending in her tone about the multi-generational women in her own family.
The mere fact that she's posing questions about what men and women do allows me to see that she is way behind in the dynamics of modern family life. Every family I know and communicate with have family roles where the mother may be doing intense hard labor and the father is cooking, sewing and so forth. She speaks nothing of strengths in both, and instead leads one to believe that domesticity may be the gateway back to the 1950's in some way. That's absurd, and such a stretch. Women have come a long way, and if they choose to want to stay home, cooking, cleaning, canning, homeschooling and so on, its not a flashback to olden days...its the choice of an empowered woman, completely liberated. I take offense to her labeling people like me. She doesn't get the privilege of telling me who I am. If others are okay with that, peace to you. I however am not okay with it.

November 29, 2011 at 11:21 AM  

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