Monday, January 20, 2014

Book Review: Homeward Bound by Emily Matchar

A few months ago, I was contacted by Simon and Schuster to review their new book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity by Emily Matchar. It has taken me a long while to put this together (months!)  because well, I just could not finish the book. Have you ever continued to read a book even after it had started to feel like a chore and it was not a required school assignment? NO, right? You would just return it to the library or pass it on to a friend? Well, since I had said I would review the book, doing that did not feel like an option. I kept trying to reengage my interest in it. I brought it to work every day so I could read some at lunch. However, I just could not do it. The book is not badly written, I just did not agree with some of the premise and the conclusions inside.

The book chronicles the wave of young domestic DIY-ers and those returning to the love of land and family by stepping back from the corporate and somewhat impersonal digital world by becoming involved in growing their own food, raising livestock, baking bread, sewing their family's clothing, educating the children at home, and attachment parenting. I had a problem with the book talking about the benefits of the above, such as the growth of home schooling, without acknowledging that the practice is a privilege and not available to everyone. It is especially not available to families dependent on both parents working. This movement, Ms. Matchar describes is not inclusive, instead its members are limited in age, education, and financial background. It is quite ironic that this return to the "simple" life is more accessible to those who have the money to test out the lifestyle and then choose to take or leave it.

Ms. Matchar interviews highly educated men and women who had quit prestigious jobs to stay home with their children. Of course, every person has a right to do this if they choose; however, the author states repeatedly that their reason for why they did is that corporate culture was not appreciative or helpful to working parents. A lot of that corporate thinking stems from the belief that women will not be as productive or dedicated to their jobs when they have children at home, or that many will quit once they become pregnant. Opting out should not be the best solution. On page 178, I found a few pages on the media fairytale of opting out versus fighting the problems of the working woman but this was more than halfway through the book and only three pages long. I felt it was too little and too late to provide a balanced view of this important issue.

A problem with the growth of this movement (the way that Ms. Matchar describes it) is that women have not yet met all the goals toward parity with men. We should be posing that as the solution to the corporate problem. Feminism and workplace reform are where the emphasis needs to continue because that movement is not over. Women are still only making 75% of what a man makes for a similar job, have inadequate maternity leave, no job security when out on the leave they do receive, and there is still a bias towards working mothers. How will we improve these conditions if women in the professional arena do not champion for these changes before they personally need them. We should try to fix the problem instead of giving up on it. The goal should be for a future society where either path is an equal option with comparable benefits.

Of course, this is just my personal take on the book. Obviously, it affected me strongly. When initially contacted I expected to enjoy this book, I felt it might describe the things I am involved with and express how I thought about the return of the old arts and skills. Unfortunately, I did not feel this book represented me at all. Perhaps, it was because of my age, being a decade older than the people who were interviewed. Or maybe because during my childhood I had a mom who was gifted and involved in sewing, crafting, gardening, and cooking. She and I were always trying some new skill, appliqué, crewelwork, quilting, doll making, even once making fortune cookies. At the same time, my father was into woodworking, paper mache, macramé, and landscaping. Therefore, I have a hard time seeing this as "the new thing", as a fad to be marketed. I feel that cheapens it and believe that the most basic of these skills should be a given in the average person’s skills.

However, I suggest you read the book for yourself and form your own decision. Here is a link to her blog New Domesticity. Feel free to come back and let me know your thoughts.

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