29 October 2013

Everything Old is New Again

Simon & Schuster 2013
I recently read a newly published work entitled Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity (Emily Matchar, Simon & Schuster 2013).  It concerns the phenomenon of young women 'rediscovering' domesticity and 're-skilling' themselves in the old domestic arts.  This so-called 'unusual rebellion' has resulted in knitting clubs, reading clubs, foodies, bloggers who share decorating or cooking tips, crafters who augment their incomes with hand-wrought items, urban farmers who feed their families and sell the rest at markets in town, and a plethora of television programs reflecting this 'new' domestic lifestyle.

I have always been something of a domestic mouse, feeling slightly out of step with those who wanted a career with a capital "C", but not enough out of step to prevent me from centering my energies and enjoyment on the skills that resonated with me, though some might consider them old-fashioned.  I reasoned that there are those who feel validated when they accomplish things in the world of business, medicine, law, education, retail—and I sincerely admire their energy, drive, and focus—and there are those like me whose hearts sing when they embroider, knit, read, bake, garden, quilt, paint, or sew. And the focus and energy a person brings to those tasks is no less important or satisfying to them.

According to the author of Homeward Bound, folks are 'returning' to skills that were supposedly lost amidst the Mad Men ennui of the 50s or the anger and frustration of the liberation movement in the 60s.  But were they actually lost, or were the people who indulged and enjoyed those activities merely the victims of a low profile? 

Certainly that profile has unintentionally blossomed thanks to the dawn of the internet.  Blogs have made it possible to realize that we are not alone in the way we might feel or think about domesticity, or in the things we enjoy doing in our homes.  Ever since I was in my twenties I have been blessed by a small coterie of friends who enjoy many of the same things I do: a woman who is a wonderful artist, one who is a prolific gardener, another who does exquisite embroidery, knitting, hearth-cooking and weaving, and another who is excellent seamstress. At the time we felt like a bit like a coven, plying our voodoo domestic joys rather than pursuing mainstream corporate rewards. But in those pre-media days what we could not know was that there were countless woman just like us, all across the country, who enjoyed many of the same pastimes as we did, and pursued them with the same passion. They had made a choice: the hearth instead of a time clock.

So I'm not entirely convinced that people are particularly new to this  game or discovering anything... rather, they are merely coming to light and we are able to know one another more easily.

Certainly there were women who grew up differently than I, in families where needlework, home cooking, gardening, and other 'old' domestic chores might not have been indulged, either because there was no time or little interest. And that's okay. After all, if anything good came of the 'liberation' movement, it was that people (men and women both) should be able to spend their lives doing whatever brings them the most pleasure. And if that meant working your way up a corporate ladder, or spinning your own wool—or both!—then go for it, and make no excuses.

And yes, I'm sure there are people who, not having grown up in a household where these skills were taken for granted, are entirely new to the domestic chores mentioned above, thanks to social media, television shows, and word of mouth, and are enjoying the opportunity to learn about and engage in them. Again, this is wonderful!

But to imply that these pastimes were dead throughout the latter half of the 20th c. and no women pursued them—or, if they did, they did it out of a sense of wifely/motherly duty and didn't enjoy them—is simply not true.  Perhap those of us who came of age in the 60s and were unapologetic about needlework, cooking, and gardening were the exception, although I truly doubt this. I'm sure there were many more of us. But because there was no electronic method for touting our interests, and because it wasn't a 'movement' and didn't fall under the ubiquitous heading of 'cottage lifestyle', we simply took it all for granted and went happily on our way.

To those who are just discovering the pleasure and plentitude and economy of those skills?  Welcome aboard!  And to those who have always had a berth on the ship of domesticity, it's been an honor to be on the voyage with you, even if we didn't know we were sharing it at the time.

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