DIY – The New Domesticity?

by Alicia on November 28, 2011

Then I was in St. Paul at BlogHer Handmade/The Creative Connection I met writer Emily Matchar who is working on a book about ‘the new domesticity.’ A few weeks ago she interviewed me and then a few days ago I ran across her recent piece in The Washington Post.

I find the whole discussion so interesting. I’ve always been crafty and I grew up in a home where my family was very hands-on with everything from building a deck and sewing clothes to repairing cars and cooking meals. So naturally, although I enjoyed these things, I aspired to get a job, live in a big city highrise with a doorman and live off of takeout and Lean Cuisine. And I did, and it was mostly amazing.

But ugh, Lean Cuisine is terrible! Today I’m far from a perfect eater but I know that I much prefer to eat real, fresh food. Most surprisingly I found that I like to cook it, too. And sometimes even grow it! I also like to make my own jewelry, decorate my own home and, basically, design my own life. I don’t see these things as my responsibility as a woman nor do I think I ought to avoid them simply because they were traditionally women’s work. They are just some of the many things I enjoy along with being the resident IT wizard, running a business and changing all the lightbulbs (my husband hates heights, hehe). For me knowing how to do something myself, no matter the subject,  is empowering. Later I can decide if that’s how I want to spend my time. It drives me crazy when I hire a professional only to discover that the job was simple enough to do myself…and it’s happened twice this month!

What do you think about ‘the new domesticity?’

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Jillian November 28, 2011 at 5:28 pm

I’m so glad you posted the link to this. I found the piece really interesting and thought provoking. My mother is an attorney and worked out of the home during my entire childhood – often traveling as well. She had little time for any type of domestic activities, and we had a housekeeper. Sometimes I found that upsetting and would have preferred she were home, while my sister saw her career as something to which we should aspire. My grandmother also worked outside the home in a dress factory, and while she could crochet and cook delicious food, I never saw her make jam or sew clothing (ironic!).

My cousin has four children, and his wife stays home with them. We’ve discussed that maybe traditional roles make for a happier marriage – both parties have very distinct roles and thus the wife isn’t burdened with all of the domestic duties plus working a full time job. The very idea of doing both actually makes me consider never even having children, because I’m sure I would resent them and wind up divorced. I believe very strongly that I would *need* to do these extra domestic activities in order to feel like I was doing my job as a mother well. I don’t know where I came up with that idea, especially based on my upbringing, but it’s a feeling I just can’t seem to shake (my sister thinks I’m insane, by the way).

The article touched on so many of my motivations for cooking my own food – from scratch – and making all of my Christmas gifts, including a crochet afghan for my mother and chocolate truffles for my father. But, mostly it feels so much more authentic than going to Costco for a packaged frozen meal or buying a bunch of gifts made in China at the mall.

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Alicia November 28, 2011 at 6:39 pm

It’s so interesting that you and your sister have such different views. I guess it just proves that there is no right way to do it and everyone has to work it out for themselves. But I know how you feel because I don’t want to choose one or the other but instead try to do both. Which is basically impossible, of course.

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Alicia November 28, 2011 at 6:44 pm

The other thing is that maybe people like you and I get sucked in too far. It starts off normal like baking and turns into having to make homemade gifts for everyone in the family. For example I’ll brew my own beer and then it turns into kegging systems, custom designed labels, printed bottle caps, growing hops, etc. (Note: I have not done all of this yet, but think about it!) I never know when to say enough.

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Shanon November 28, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Interesting article, thanks for sharing this! I agree with the quote from Erin Bried – I don’t find it empowering to have to depend on corporations for my basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. It’s great that women today have choices. But if we all forget how to cook and create things with our hands like we did in previous generations, then we no longer have choices.

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Alicia November 28, 2011 at 9:00 pm

“But if we all forget how to cook and create things with our hands like we did in previous generations, then we no longer have choices.” Well said. I totally agree.

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Carla November 28, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Emily interviewed me too and it was one of the most interest discussions I’ve had in a while. I feel totally empowered by my DIY attitude but I fear other women, moms especially, will feel that canning, sewing, jewelry making are just more things to add to their list of to-dos. I hope this new domesticity inspires women to approach homemaking in a fun, empowering, grounded kind of way. One that says let’s grow our own food when we can and buy (guilt free from a farmer or even the supermarket) when we can’t.

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Alicia November 28, 2011 at 9:02 pm

I feel both empowered and overwhelmed at times. And yet, when I teach or post DIY projects I’m constantly encouraging people to just have fun with it and not be so hard on themselves. I suppose I should tell myself the same thing :)

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Angela November 29, 2011 at 10:43 am

I take offense to the word domesticity. I was angered by her article and wrote a rebuttal. The word used as she describes the movement is condescending at best. Here’s my article if anyone would like to read it:

http://www.highdesertchronicles.com/2011/11/the-new-domesticity-a-rebuttal/

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Alicia November 29, 2011 at 11:56 am

Wow, that is indeed a passionate response! I can tell you feel strongly about the issue but I’m not sure I completely understand your outrage. You were upset from the start by the title- why do you find the word domesticity so offensive? The dictionary says it means ‘home and family life’ but you think it means ‘mindless activities at home where women are now door mats once again, bowing down to their drunk abusive husbands.’ Wow, that is certainly not what I think and while I can’t speak for Emily I have talked with her enough to know that it’s not what she thinks either.
I know you said that you found her tone condescending but I wish your piece were a bit more respectful. You don’t have to agree with what she’s written but we are all entitled to our own unique opinions and points of view. I actually think we have a lot in common and hate to see things get all adversarial over semantics and perceived offenses.

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