Hop on the internet and it is easy to see that more and more people are re-embracing things like crafting, cooking, and frugal living. You only have to visit Etsy, Pinterest, or any number of DIY blogs and it is easy to see there is something undeniably appealing about all these homemade, vintage, and domestic items, pictures, and stories these websites portray, with ideas of a simpler, more home-centric way of life. This cultural critique of what Matchar describes as “New Domesticity” will identify the ways that class, gender, and femininity function in this U.S. popular culture movement. In Emily Matchar’s book Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity she examines the rise of this DIY culture and defines that this new domesticity, that is certainly not limited to just women, rests heavily on female shoulders.
With the size of the middle class expanding at an astronomical rate, members of the middle class have found a way to differentiate themselves from the white color, blue collar, monotonous suburban majority and have broken away from the rat race to find their own greener pastures. Malvia Reynolds explores the monotony of the middle class in her song “little boxes”. The boxes not only refer to the similar appearance of all of the houses in a suburb, but also and more importantly to the metaphorical boxes that members of the middle class put themselves into. With little signs of the economy recovering, uncertainties in health-care, and the recent government shutdown some people are on edge and taking things into their own hands in hope of change. These people are progressive educated middle class individuals in their twenties to thirties who are shifting away from a dissatisfied corporate culture and embracing a “eco-conscious, family centric, DIY lifestyle that has a potential to change the American cultural and political landscape” (Matchar, 12). The people of this demographic may be in part driven by economic necessity. With neoliberalism upwardly redistributing wealth to a select few, the American Dream has become harder to achieve. “In this culture of anxiety, it’s no wonder so many young people are looking to domesticity in search of a simpler, more sustainable, more meaningful way of life”(Matchar, 12).
However, women are enjoying domestic projects again in large part because they’re no longer a duty but a choice. “Notions of choice, of ‘being oneself’ and ‘pleasing oneself’, are cultural to postfeminist sensibility that suffuses contemporary western media culture” (Gill, 153). Things that were once the necessities of the poor are now hobbies of the educated middle-class. A handmade pair of socks used to indicate that one didn’t have enough money to buy a pair from the store, while today a handmade pair of socks means one has enough leisure time to knit. Technology is playing a key role in who is participating in this new domesticity movement as well. The space in which this new domesticity is being expressed is often online in the form of blogs, forums, and websites. Online communities can be exclusive and reinforce the feeling of inadequacy for those who cannot find the time or money to participate.
Upon searching for handmade socks on Pinterest, many pairs came up and almost all posted were pinned by women and up for sale. BUT, What is a pair of handmade socks? It is an object that you pine over in this picture perfect image or actually buy to fill your sock drawer? What makes someone buy a 50 dollar pair of handmade socks, the intrinsic value of the socks themselves? Or are the socks a symbol of something more, a window into a utopian world that is unattainable? This pair of handmade socks, along with many other products on Pinterest and Etsy is an example of how only people of a certain class are able to partake in this new domesticity as either a producer or consumer. Many people are not able to drop out of their job and pursue domestic roles. They are stuck economically in a suburban middle class “box” and it is only by buying into the idea of the perfect family that you find respite in your eco-chic home spun artisanal socks. As Wilson and Yochim describe in Pinning Happiness, websites like Pinterest and Etsy are sites of “social and cultural privilege: its happiness is reserved for those who are already invested in a particular raced, gendered, and classed conception of the good life” (Wilson and Yochim, 21). The women selling the socks aren’t making millions selling socks by the masses, every sock they sell is because they sold someone on the idea of the “domestic bliss” in the idea of the American Dream. Even the image that is used to sell the socks portrays so much more than just something to put on your feet; notice the way comfortable familial items like jam and bread are used to elicit connection and an emotional response from the viewer. We aren’t just selling socks here; we are selling a connection to our past and to a future dream.
This capitalizing on the American dream goes far beyond socks however, take neo-homesteading blogs and mommy blogs like the Elliot Homestead pictured above. These have become so popular in the blogosphere in part because of the fantasy of having a perfect family, the deprived job market, the lack of maternity benefits, and an increased dissatisfaction with the workplace. Social media sites “allow happy family objects to be regularly displayed and readily accessed, priming the promise of happiness to materialize” (Wilson & Yochim, 19). Blogs have become an outlet for bloggers to potentially be paid and give value to housework that has historically been invisible and under-appreciated. These blogs also enable readers to see into the lives of picturesque perfect mothers, wives, and woman whose lives differ from their own. These blogs and curated pictures romanticize domestic life; with young women giving up their jobs and hectic lives in favor of simpler lives filled with canning vegetables, raising goats, and homeschooling children. Menial domestic tasks have become beautified domestic labor. This picture of the Elliot family beautifies and elevates expectations for basic tasks around the home. The more that women in these blogs direct their attention away from progression in their professional lives and into their domestic pursuits and selling goods from their home, the more they raise expectations of cooking, housekeeping, and child education for everyone. Thus, making it seem that much harder to balance home and a career life. These women set the bar so high for what is expected of females that is not simple to obtain. The illusion of simplicity created in these blogs must be in part a facade because no people can surely to do it all and it takes a lot of effort to make something look so simple. The staging behind making the pair of socks look so cozy, and this family so chic, involves a great deal of effort. For more commentary on the gendered disparity that accompanies the domestic chic realm visit this article which questions Why Are Women DIY Entrepreneurs Called ‘Hobbyist’?
When Brent Ridge left the magazine spread perfection of the Martha Stewart monopoly to become a farmer, he brought many of those illusions of picture perfect simplicity with him. In the reality show of his story the ‘Beekman Boys’ struggle with the stressfulness of “keeping up with the domestic Jones’” as they try to create perfection in this new domesticity. Brent and Josh are two neo-liberals that deviate from traditional domestic gender roles.
Another example of deviation from traditional domestic roles comes from Thomas Knauer. Thomas is a straight man, husband, father, OSU grad school graduate, and avid quilter. In his blog post Thoughts of Fatherhood, Sewing + Gender Expectations Thomas explores some of the gender expectations that have led to discrimination and wariness from others in terms of his hobby. Many of the men participating in this new domesticity movement struggle with perceived feminism and exclusion based on gender essentialism.
No matter if you are participating in new domesticity from the sidelines with a credit card on Etsy, or your wearing those artisanal socks under your boots up to your knees in goat manure, this movement has played its part pulling you from your middle class box, if only for a moment. Its up to each person to decide what role they will play. As this movement approaches its apex I will only offer a warning, we must maintain realness, stick true to true domestic simplicity, and not overburden ourselves with image. True happiness cannot be pinned, it cannot be canned, it can only be fostered by participating in endeavors you truly enjoy. “[H]ow many moral and environmental claims can we assign to domestic work before it starts to feel, once more, like an obligation? If history is any lesson, my just-for-fun jar of jam could turn into my daughter’s chore, and eventually into my granddaughter’s “liberating” lobster strudel. And as . . . delicious as that sounds, it’s not really what I want on my holiday table in 2050″(Rothman, 1).
Matchar, Emily. (2013). Homeward Bound. pg 12. Print.
Little Boxes, Digital Video. youtube.com; 9/4/2009; Viewed 11/27/2013 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_2lGkEU4Xs
Wilson, Julie A. Yochim, Emily C. Pinning Happiness: Affect, Social Media, and Women’s Work. 2013. pg 3. Print.
Gill, Rosalind. “Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 10.147 (2007): 147-66. Print
Sock Picture Digital Image. Pinterest.com; n.d;Viewed: 25,November, 2013; http://www.pinterest.com/pin/294071050640210304/
Family Picture. Digital Image. elliotthomestead.com; n.p., n.d.; Viewed 27, November, 2013; http://theelliotthomestead.com/
Sewing Picture. Digital Image. thomasknauersnew.com; Thomas Knauer, n.d. http://www.thomasknauersews.com/
Rothman, Julia; The new domesticity: Fun, empowering or a step back for American Women?;Washington Post; http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-new-domesticity-fun-empowering-or-a-step-back-for-american-women/2011/11/18/gIQAqkg1vN_story_1.html
‘Beekman Boys’. Digital Video, youtube.com, 6/16/10, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOaBdu2IdFI