This is a highly confused article on the turn, particularly among women, to forms of “new domesticity.”  Its author, Emily Matchar, appears eager to deny that there is anything good to being “conservative,” yet comes close to admiring, if admitting cognitive confusion, over the return to domesticity among many “progressives.”  She is so dedicated to her labels that she can’t get her head around the fact that there may be something more fundamentally coherent about “new domestics” that transcends and rejects current political categories.

It’s in the closing lines that Matchar really tips her hand:

“Both sides of the political spectrum turn to domesticity for many of the same reasons: distrust in government and institutions from the EPA to the public schools to hospital maternity wards, worries about the safety of the food supply, disappointment with the working world, the desire to connect with a simpler, less consumerist way of life.

The fact that domesticity is so appealing speaks to the failure of these systems. Until these things are fixed, I predict we’ll see an increasing number of people from all parts of the political spectrum deciding to go the DIY route with their food, their homes, their children. ”

Matchar doesn’t acknowledge the possibility that these “systems” can’t be “fixed” short of downsizing, re-localizing, and by becoming more personally and communally-invested in all these practices.  That is, what she can’t bring herself to acknowledge is that the “new domesticity” is a better and truer way than these “systems.” No, she wants them to be “fixed,” and I have a pretty good idea who and what will do the fixing.

17 COMMENTS

  1. That is the fundamental problem conservatives face in fighting liberalism: liberals always believe that the system can be fixed and should be fixed. Conservatives are never able to convince Americans that we shouldn’t fix the program, but instead end it.

    In this article, Matchar seems to suggest that there is something wrong with domesticity. The first impulse is that we need to have other people do this work so that women won’t have to do it. But, maybe they enjoy doing it.

  2. The article quotes Elisabeth Badinter: “[T]roops of this [new domestic] movement intend to persuade women to return to nature, which means reverting to fundamental values.”

    I would honestly love to hear a progressive debate on this sentence. Does the movement intend to persuade women to return to nature? Does it persuade even if it does not intend to? Does a return to nature necessarily mean reverting to “fundamental” values?

  3. I think you’re being much too harsh on this short piece, Patrick; the author is just dealing with the same sort of confusion which those of us who hang around the Porch have seen for years, ever since Jonah Goldberg and the National Review crowd started sputtering incoherently at Rod Dreher taking conservatism into neighborhood co-ops and CSAs. I wouldn’t read too much into her final comment about “fixing things”; yes, the odds are good that she’s a typically progressive liberal who doesn’t relate to the values of domesticity and community–but then again, I agree with her that it’d be a delight to see Rush Limbaugh showing up at farmers markets, and getting lectured on the proper way to cultivate his garden.

  4. Russell, given that you conclude (correctly, I’d surmise) that she is a “typically progressive liberal,” I’m surprised you think it’s possible for me to be “too harsh.” If anything, I was far too kind…

  5. Last month I took a day off work to attend a workshop on handsaw sharpening at Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School. Because if you work wood with hand tools — which is the blast-the-institution, fight-the-power, progressive-cum-conservative way to work wood, you can’t find anybody to sharpen your hand saws for you anymore. And while these workshops are attended mostly by hobbyists, there are always a few of us with an openly counter-cultural bent. We do this stuff because, dang it, we’re men, and we’re going to furnish our houses with things we made with our hands out of trees and steel, and if we didn’t make our own tools (yet) we will at least use them with our own hands and brains, understand how they work, and take care of them ourselves. Chris Schwarz, a great woodworking writer and teacher, titled a recent book (on building and stocking a literal tool chest) The Anarchist’s Tool Chest to capture that sentiment — that by building things by hand by time-honored methods we can recapture our humanity and gain some spiritual and practical independence.

    Now that is, I think, the masculine version of the “new domesticity.” So I wonder, if a guy embraces that vision, learns traditional crafts, organizes his work life around the ability to practice them and teach them to his kid — in short, tries to take up the traditionally masculine half of the preindustrial domestic arrangement, does that threaten anybody’s agenda? Does it make him a progressive because he seems in those acts to be rejecting corporate products more than government programs? Does it change the answer if he also bakes cookies and sews skirts for his daughter?

    It would probably be a good topic for a graduate seminar paper. One that, praise the Lord, I will not have to write.

  6. From the post:

    ‘Matchar doesn’t acknowledge the possibility that these “systems” can’t be “fixed” short of downsizing, re-localizing, and by becoming more personally and communally-invested in all these practices. That is, what she can’t bring herself to acknowledge is that the “new domesticity” is a better and truer way than these “systems.” No, she wants them to be “fixed,” and I have a pretty good idea who and what will do the fixing.’

    I think the disagreement is, as a fellow porcher might say, really about stories.

    To the progressive modernist this trend flies in the face of reason. Women, the story goes, have been perpetually oppressed and only now started to emerge from the chrysalis of domesticity and now are running back in. How dare women throw off the gifts of the feminists of a corporate job, money of their own, regardless of the costs! Hillary Clinton recently showed her colors in this view by saying that stay-at-home wives cost the economy lots of money. To this view, many people see this as a bad choice which erodes the progress of recent decades.

    However, I think for those of us who have studied history, the fact is that we know that historically the family home was the center not only of economic consumption of the family but of production as well, and that traditionally women contributed economically at least as much as they do today. In fact I would go further and say that modern feminism was a reaction to a temporary historical imbalance, brought about by economic centralization. From this perspective a return to the home for women represents the first step in relocalizing the economy and having family businesses run from home as the norm again. I wonder what Gilbert Chesterton would have thought of Etsy.

  7. I had to laugh. Matchar evidently didn’t get to know these people very well, or she’d have had no trouble telling how the leftie homesteaders differ from the real traditionalists.

    – Solstice ritual on the 21st (ancient diety names optional), then to the grandparents’ for Christmas.
    – Packing the family’s congra drums (in their covers of either African kente cloth or tie-dye) into the minivan for the monthly drum circle.
    – The man around the house is described as the homemaker’s partner, not husband, and there may be more than one of him, or he may be a she.
    – After the kids are in bed, the bong comes out.

  8. I’ve never been on this site before, but stumbled on it by accident. My husband and I aren’t really of a liberal disposition, but we do, in fact, want to live more simply. I was born in the 80s, and as such, have never lived in a world where I wasn’t told constantly that I could be anything I wanted (except for a housewife, because despite that being exactly what my mother was, it was always made clear that this life-choice was simply not an option for me or my sisters) and that I should study hard so that I could have a sucessful professional life, and never need to depend on a man. Fast forward to 2009, I’m married now to an awesome Welshman, and we’re planning to move to Wales and buy a bit of land for our own. I’ve done everything my mother taught me not to. I’m married, I have a baby on the way (gasp! you’re much to young for a family!) and I’m moving to the other side of the Atlantic to hang out on a farm. I can veggies and make jam, I garden, I sew, I cook, I bake bread everyday, I knit, I teach my baby the basics (but she goes to Welsh School now.) I embroider, and you know what, I love every second of it. I’m not stupid, I read extensively, and I don’t feel like I’m short-changing myself just because I’m not out working for a company who doesn’t give two straws about me or my well being. I didn’t choose this life to be rebellious and do what I was told not to, I did it because my family is more important to me than some nameless faceless company that wouldn’t give two straws about me. I don’t hate business, business is important. But I feel that I’m doing more good in my home. My business is my family and it’s my job to make sure that I raise healthy, happy, moral children, and dare I say it….to take care of my husband and ensure that he has a good, happy life. I do it becuase I care, and because I love those that I share a life with. With that being said, I don’t consider myself a hippy or anything of the sort, I’m just trying to live my life and have a bit of peace because there’s a great big world out there, and it’s loud, scary, and often brutal. This is my way of making it a little less horrible.

  9. @ Christina
    Good on you!
    Wales is always in need of more enthusiastic citizens – please make sure your daughter speaks the language fluently (says the man who can only just manage to mumble about five words of the Our Father in the language). Also, try and learn it yourself – we can’t give the English more advantages than they already have (pro-tip – complaining about the English is a favored Welsh pastime.)
    Enjoy our wonderful country! Except Newport. Don’t go there without an armed detail.
    Everywhere else is beautiful though.

  10. @Harry Piper,
    It’s funny you should mention Newport, as this is where my husband’s family is from, and as such, when were dating, was the only part of Wales I got to see. But now, we live in a rural area, which I love. I’ve heard that Newport is meant to be quite dangerous, but coming from America, I always thought it rather nice, and safe. With that being said, I much perfer the countryside, and don’t worry, now that my daughter is in Welsh School, I go to Welsh lessons myself, so that I can help her with her homework as she gets older. Being bi-lingual myself already, and really appreciating my adopted country, I shall make every endevour to have her and any future children learn to speak the native language. With that being said, and of course, meaning no offence….Welsh is proving to be VERY difficult to learn! But, it’s such a pleasure to be here, that I don’t mind it, really.

  11. I admire moms like Christina, but I also worry about them. If she ever has to become the sole financial support for her kids, will she have any job skills or education that will allow her to re-enter the workforce? My husband and I lived on one income for a few years while our kids were very young, but currently we need two incomes to make ends meet. Most mothers I have known have always skimmed in and out of employment as it becomes necessary. Christina is absolutely correct: Corporations don’t give two straws about their employees or their employees’ kids. Wise moms use their time while employed to gain skills that are transferable to other workplaces — thus building a resume in preparation to cut and run to a less-horrible job. You don’t owe your employer any loyalty at all. It is in the kids’ best interest to have one parent at home whenever possible. Christina’s life sounds wonderful, I hope that her family is always able to live with such contentment.

  12. @Joan:

    Do you have a problem with Neopagans like myself? There is a strong neodomesticity movement among what I call the “right-wing” of the Neopagan movement (this bird is going a different direction than the country though so right and left are relative, but to contrast, wicca is internationalist, anti-traditionalist, and left-wing, while Asatru, Celtic Recon, Roman Recon, etc, are nationalist, traditionalist, centered on space and time, and traditionalist, and therefore I call them right-wing).

    Surely those of us who put ourselves in a stream of traditions going back to the early bronze age have at least as much of a claim to call ourselves as “traditionalists” as those who follow the teachings of teachers a mere two thousand years ago, do we not?

    • @Chris Travers

      I have no problem with Neopaganism for those who are truly called to it and not just attracted to its current “cool” status in countercultural circles, but I do with that word “mere”. The attitude of superiority implicit in that choice of word shows that you have fallen for the temptation to elitism common to small groups united by a set of unconventional values about which C. S. Lewis wrote so ably in The Screwtape Letters, a book I cannot recommend highly enough both for its sharp insight into human fallibility and its sheer entertainment value. Humility might not be a virtue in whatever sect you adhere to, but a pretense of it goes a long way toward keeping the dialog civil on an interfaith site like this one.

  13. @Christina, way to go. It sounds to me like you are doing everything right (a family business, being a farm, with your husband). I think the model of the future means going back to the past where household businesses were the norm. This is a form of domesticity which doesn’t mean not participating in economic life or living a creative life, but it is also more traditional, the way things were for much of our history as a species. My wife and I both work from home most of the time and it is good (she is not doing so exclusively right now because she is trying to preserve her place in her mother’s business but that’s still a case where family and business are not separate, and that’s the key IMO).

    @Nimbly: I don’t know. If a couple runs a household business together, whether a farm or something else, this gives options for women that don’t exist in the corporate workplace. A major part of the problem is that corporations not only don’t care about the welfare of the employees, but they also define success as a man’s game where children are baggage. This is a major problem and it is solved not by turning away from economic participation but by merging home and business such that the household succeeds or fails together. If one spouse dies, the other can continue on, but divorce is possibly ruinous to both. I have watched my mother-in-law keep her late husband’s businesses going (and eventually closing one of them which wasn’t doing well even before his death) and this has provided continuous income and stability that would not have existed if thy both worked for corporations.

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