A Review of Homeward Bound: Does Domesticity Kill Political Activism?

Review of Homeward Bound

Review of Homeward Bound

If you’re hyper-vigilant about eating only locally-grown, organic foods, do you care about the passage of food safety laws for factory-made canned goods?

If you homeschool your children, do you care about who sits on your local school board?

If your primary work is homemaking, do you care about Social Security?

Author Emily Matchar, in her book Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity, figures that you probably don’t care about any of those things, and that sucks.

Matchar wants to make a couple of claims in Homeward Bound: 1) that lifestyle choices intended to result in a more “natural,” simpler life are no better than the lifestyles that outsource much food preparation, child care, and other homemaking tasks and fund it all with a full-time career; and 2) that those who do choose a home-based lifestyle of domesticity fail to work for a higher quality of life for society in general.

In some ways, it’s easy to dispute Matchar’s first claim. It seems pretty obvious, although I’m sure you could back it up with lots of research if you wanted to spend your afternoon on EBSCO (I don’t!), that eight hours gardening is healthier for your body than eight hours entering the data from mortgage applications into spreadsheets. For one thing, I temped doing the latter one summer, and by the end of Day #2, I had already taken to hiding in the bathroom and fantasizing about running away to live in the woods, My Side of the Mountain-style. So in that way, domesticity IS “better” than the workforce, perhaps–more exercise, less stress, more time with family, etc.

However, Matchar also notes that most of the people who are making the lifestyle choice of full-time domesticity are female, and that in heterosexual relationships, even those in which both parties subscribe to this “natural” lifestyle, men still tend to have full-time jobs while it is the women who fully commit to full-time homemaking. As this puts the majority of manual labor on the backs of these women, while denying them equal financial ownership, then this could certainly fall apart in a way that the lifestyle of a two-career family can’t–what if the sole wage earner dies, Matchar asks. What if the couple divorces, and the homemaker hasn’t worked in an outside career for twenty years? All of a sudden, it’s 1950 again, and it’s as if gender equality never happened.

About this claim, I say…. maaaaaybe. I mean, maybe I don’t have a lot of room to talk, because you all well know that I earn a small pittance through freelance writing and, yes, etsy selling, while staying at home to homeschool my kids, sew stuff, and not really actually cook or clean much because I don’t like to. However, because of that, I know first-hand that choosing a lifestyle that keeps you out of the workforce doesn’t have to mean that you’re going to have to live on cat food if your spouse leaves you. Keep up your marketable skills, my Friends! Fully fund your Roth IRAs!

It’s the second claim in Homeward Bound that I find more valid. I 100% know of fellow homeschoolers who have actively lobbied against universal free preschool because they think that young children do better at home than in preschools. I 100% know people who actively lobby against universal vaccination programs because they don’t want their own children vaccinated. I know people who are against the regulation of raw milk because they like to drink it, who are against the regulation of children’s toys because they sell homemade ones on etsy, and who voted against raising property taxes to support public schools because their children don’t attend them.

So here, if you’re a crafter, a homesteader, a homeschooler, or a DIYer of any type, is where you have to watch yourself: as an individual, you’re making the best lifestyle choice for YOU, for sure, but as a citizen, are you working for the best quality of life for everyone who’s not you? You have to ask yourself hard questions, such as “Are there still crappy chemicals in food because the people who should be working to force companies to change are instead shopping at Whole Foods and buying meat shares from the local farm and keeping a very pampered backyard garden?”

“Are there still sweatshops because the people who should be forcing companies to change are instead spending their time hitting the thrift stores, sewing their kids clothes using organic cotton, and buying boutique-style outfits off of etsy?”

To that I say again… maybe?

Photo credit: woman with cupcake image via Shutterstock

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