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Monday, July 22, 2013

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D.I.-Why?: Emily Matchar on the Allure of the “New Domesticity”

I first stumbled across Emily Matchar’s website in the aftermath of my December 2011 wedding. Planning the wedding had unleashed in me a seemingly endless energy for DIY projects, and for six months I crafted, thrifted, embossed and antiqued everything in sight. I had recently acquired a PhD in English, but found myself weighing the possibility of starting a crafting business rather than pursuing an academic job—a cheerless task in the middle of the worst academic hiring slump in recent memory. Compared with the prospect of slaving away in adjunct positions, dragging my husband from town to town for visiting professorships in Idaho or Nebraska, and risking delayed or denied tenure when I decided to procreate, the idea of painting vases to look like antique mercury glass for a living was... appealing. And I was good at it! Everyone loved those repurposed vintage postcards! The matchbox favors were a big success! Someone would pay me to do that for a living—right?

Wrong, says Matchar. I was listening to the siren song of the New Domesticity. In her new book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, Matchar examines the DIY trend in a variety of manifestations—Etsy culture, “mommy” blogs, backyard chickens, from-scratch cooking—and sees a retreat to domesticity at the heart of it all. Homesteading, homeschooling, homemaking—home, home, home. The promise of the New Domesticity is that by circling our wagons and “doing it ourselves,” we can compensate for the lack of stability and work-life balance in the workforce and the failure of the government to ensure safe food, high-quality education, and sustainable environmental practices—all while making cool stuff! Moreover, Matchar is troubled by the way that this trend affects women economically, encouraging them to give up financial independence while breathing new life into old ideas about what women’s work should look like.

Matchar herself is no stranger to the pleasures of the New Domesticity (ask her about canning!), and she avoids judging its proponents, bringing a quippy, self-deprecating sense of humor to her topic instead. We recently spoke to Matchar about her book and the gender politics of DIY.

What makes New Domesticity “new”?

New Domesticity, the way I define it, is the re-embrace of old-fashioned domesticity by people who have the means and the wherewithal to not be doing this stuff if they didn't want to. So it's not the poor stay-at-home mother who is making her own bread because she can't afford to go to Walmart—which doesn't even make sense, but you know what I mean. It's not somebody who has to be doing this because of poverty or because they're in a developing country where they don't have better methods. These are people who are embracing this out of choice, because of environmentalist, political, or at the very least philosophical motivations.

What's wrong with retreating to the home? How is that potentially damaging to women?

The danger is that we want to have women in public life as much as we have men in public life, and if women are retreating, pulling back their participation in the workforce because the workforce is not meeting their needs, then the workforce needs to meet women's needs. I think this is a sign that something needs to be done. I'm interested in the structural reasons why people are choosing this, and how we can make it so we can more easily blend domestic stuff and work, because I think we're realizing, rightly, that there's a lot of value in taking care of your family. And that should be something both men and women should be able to do alongside their jobs, and not have to choose in an either/or proposition.

You talk about the aesthetic aspects of DIY and the New Domesticity. What is it that makes it so compelling, outside of the dissatisfaction with work?

There’s a lot of beauty to be found in handmade stuff. We’re at a moment where we're appreciating that aesthetic. One of the reasons that aesthetic is popular right now is it does represent—how to put this? It represents luxury, in a way that factory-made used to represent luxury. A hundred years ago, factory-made represented that you could afford it, that you didn't have to make it. And now things have shifted so that mass-produced is cheap and homemade is expensive, because it means that you have the time to make something by hand—or at the very least, you have the money to pay somebody to make it by hand, and that represents a new luxury. I think that's part of the reason we find it attractive, and why it has become so trendy.

It's so adorable, all those little owls and things . . . 

I know! And it took 25 hours to make!

I love the part where you mention corporate retailers co-opting the look of DIY.

Yeah, you can buy faux DIY, faux handcrafted stuff at Walmart these days, that's how popular it is. So what does that say?

Thinking about quilt-and-sampler aesthetics, it seems like there’s always been some kind of undercurrent of nostalgia for that. What makes our craft aesthetic different from the craft aesthetic of even 15 years ago?

There's always been people who did crafts, there’s always been Michael’s. I think the difference now is that it's become cool for young people, and the aesthetic has shifted such that it appeals to twenty- and thirty-somethings rather than exclusively to your grandmother. That has a lot to do with old-fashioned retro stuff being reclaimed in a kitschy way—sort of how the Riot Grrls started reclaiming very stereotypical feminine tasks like needlework, but in this very winky-winky way, doing needlepoint pin-up girls, using it to make a statement. I think that really paved the way for crafts to have this renaissance that's cool and hip and young.

Do you think there was a measure of irony there at some point that is now lost?

When this resurgence first happened, it was very politicized. It was very much about being anti-corporate, and reclaiming old fashioned women's work in the name of feminism. But once that stuff became so hip and so big, with a million vendors on Etsy and hand-crafty stuff at Walmart, it certainly lost its political edge, and many people are embracing it as cute rather than political. And then there’s the danger that, if all this retro 1950s stuff is embraced as cute in a totally depoliticized way, are we actually then embracing the gender norms of the 1950s? There's some show on TLC called “Wives with Beehives,” and these women in LA were doing the whole 1950s retro housewife look as a lifestyle. There are so many people doing that as a hipster thing, as “I’m a feminist burlesque dancer,” but these women seem to have very little sense of irony about it. Of course TLC may have edited all the irony out, but these women were like, “I serve my husband.”

You’re very respectful of all the subcultures that you venture into, but I can also sense your discomfort at different times in the book. Were you ever particular disturbed or disheartened?

There were two things. One was that a number of people I talked to seemed to have a skewed idea of what the feminist movement was. That is completely understandable, because the feminist movement is wrongly portrayed pretty much everywhere. So I think it's understandable why women now are like, “Oh yeah, feminists, they said everyone had to get a job, and that ruined home cooking, and they disrespected stay-at-home moms.” And that’s just—that's not accurate. It’s disheartening that so many people have been fed that wrong portrayal of feminism. That bugs me. And two, I was bugged by—a lot of this New Domesticity is very worshipful of all things it considers “natural.” And that can be anti-intellectual, and it can be, as I point out in the chapter about parenting, even dangerous when it comes to health and food stuff. The number one thing that bugs me is the anti-vaccine people. Again, it's understandable how they reach those conclusions, because there's so much cultural valorizing of the natural. You go into the grocery store and they're talking about “natural” and “unnatural,” and you have idiots on TV that are Oprah’s gurus or whatever questioning mainstream medicine, and people get it in their heads that it's good to be skeptical about medicine, that it's good to have a DIY attitude to your own health. Which to some extent it is—it’s good to be informed. But it goes way too far.

One of the most surprising conclusions you came to was that while New Domesticity seemed to be associated with privilege, it was ultimately affiliated more with middle class culture than wealthy culture.

My feeling was that people who are actually members of the elite don’t need to be doing this stuff. They're more satisfied with their jobs, because they have high-level, money-making jobs they’re less likely to abandon or cut back on. They have the kind of money that means they can negotiate work-family stuff. They can get a really good nanny, or they can buy all of their food pre-made at Whole Foods if they're so worried about where it comes from. There are just less problems navigating work-life issues when you're a member of the super-elite. It was mostly a movement of people that were middle class and that were feeling really stuck, feeling unable to balance work and life stuff, and feeling dissatisfied with their job opportunities.

There’s a term called "values stretch." It means making a choice under duress, and then back-narrating it in order to show how you always wanted to make that decision.

That's absolutely true. There's a degree to which this New Domesticity helps people justify and feel good about the choices that they basically had to make. A lot of women are pushed out of the workforce, and nobody wants to feel like they're a pawn, nobody wants to feel like they don't have any power. I think a lot of the talk of opting out is more about being pushed out by some combination of forces. Women are encouraged to take that on, and say it was just their choice, which is something that benefits the corporations. If women are just choosing this, they don't have to work harder to make better policies to keep them in the workplace.

You end the book with a list of recommendations. I wish you would just touch on the most important ones to you.

The important ones to me are, one, to continue to encourage men in the domestic realm and encourage men into more equal, sharing relationships in the home. Because women are fully encouraged to go for it in the workplace, and I think there's less encouragement of men to take on traditionally feminine roles. There’s a lot of bluster about the "new stay-at-home dad", but stay-at-home dads are only 3% of all stay-at-home parents. I think stay-at-home dads still face a lot of sexist prejudice, and that needs to stop. And then, two, rather than retreating entirely, just beating on corporate culture to change. Because people need jobs. Most people can't not have jobs. Most women are going to work, most women want to work. And I think the corporate culture is waking up to this somewhat, but I think we need to keep beating on that. And then governmental policies. I still want to see universal daycare.

Crossing my fingers. What’s the craziest DIY project you've ever made? 

When I was in my early twenties I stenciled and painted my microwave with a frog pattern, because I thought my microwave was ugly. Actually I think a friend of mine still has it in her house. That's not extremely difficult, more just weird.

Was it fulfilling? Did it give you a sense of pride in your microwave?

It did! I loved that microwave. I loved my frog-print microwave.

 

Amy Gentry is a writer and performer living in Austin, Texas. You can find her writing about gender politics and literature on The Rumpus, the LA Review of Books, and her blog, The Oeditrix.


299 Comments / Post A Comment

iceberg

Oh, this was great! I still probably want a "fuck you" needlepoint though :)

Slapfight

@iceberg Go to Subversivecrossstitch.com! I made one that reads "shut the fuck up." I love it so much.

Scandyhoovian

@Slapfight Hahaha I need a "don't be a dick" one to hang in my front hallway as a welcome.

Spice&Snails&PuppyDogTails

@Slapfight I'm making my mother a "Get the fuck out my house, bitch" one right now to hang in her guest room, and it is amazing.

Lili B.

@Slapfight

spanglepants

I have the 'whatever' one from Subversive Cross Stitch. Turns out I find cross stitch really boring, though.

@spanglepants One of my lab partners from college made my ladyfriend a cross stitch that says "FUCK CANCER" last month when the ladyfriend had surgery. It was awesome and we put it in the hospital room.

zbzxbery737

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Ravi Sahni@facebook

@Lili B. And now things have shifted so that mass-produced is cheap and homemade is expensive, because it means that you have the time to make something by hand—or at the very least, you have the money to pay somebody to make it by hand, and that represents a new luxury. UP Board Result
I think that's part of the reason we find it attractive, and why it has become so trendy.

hallelujah

Emily articulates exactly why I'm so uncomfortable (and why we all should be!!!) with the whole crafty-Pinterest-housewive thing so, so perfectly. Fucking bravo.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

I have no particular insight on most of this, but I want backyard chickens like nobody's business.

Slapfight

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll My cousins have them and I am so jealous. I stalk them on facebook, coveting their Wyandotte's...

SuperGogo

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll My friend who has backyard chickens in Queens recently told me that shelters are getting inundated with hens, because they only lay for a few years but can live for much longer. So people don't want them anymore when the eggs stop coming, but also see them as pets and don't want to kill and eat them, as would be the standard course of action on a traditional farm. It's a sad (and I think bougie) situation. To my friend's credit, he is keeping and caring for his pet chickens even though only one is still laying and he gets an egg or two a week, at most.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@SuperGogo
There is also the chicken retirement home. In Portland, of course.

The article also notes that municipal restrictions on flock sizes can prevent owners from keeping on old birds, which is a good point, though obviously far from the whole story.

harebell

@SuperGogo

I really don't get this (and would be glad to have it explained to me). If you think of your chicken as a pet, why is it o.k. to give it to a pet shelter but not o.k. to kill it for food?

Alternately: why are these shelters not killing the hens for food? They sound like perfect soup chickens.

This isn't doing any favors to chickens or people, methinks.

JLA
JLA

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll My best friend has backyard chickens. She also has a backyard rat infestation.

Better to Eat You With

@SuperGogo NPR debunked that news story a couple of days later. Shelters are filling up with roosters because it's illegal to keep roosters in many cities, and when you order chicks, they often can't tell whether they're sending you future hens or roosters, so people dump off the roosters they can't keep.

squishycat

@Better to Eat You With ...my friend who had chickens in elementary school ended up just eating her rooster.

bitzyboozer

@Better to Eat You With Maybe that's true, but it's also true that hens only lay eggs for a few years, and then you have to make a tough decision about what to do with them. This article definitely made me rethink my backyard chicken keeping fantasies: http://www.nwedible.com/2013/05/you-absolutely-should-not-get-backyard-chickens.html

hallucinas

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll Also the poop. THE POOP.

Lili B.

This was amazing! I esp. like the bit about being pushed out of the workforce and turning to homemaking as a proactive measure, you know, YOU CAN'T FIRE ME, I QUIT.

Is this an appropriate place to ask the 'Pin at large how we all feel about the intensive coverage of the royal labour ward? I feel sort of gross about it, but I am in Britain so maybe it's worse over here?

packedsuitcase

@Lili B. I actually told my mother that I feel sorry for Kate's vagina, and if this is how she behaves with a baby that in no way affects her life, I'm not telling her until after I have a baby (if I ever get pregnant).

So, I don't know, I doubt it's worse just because you're there. A lot of Americans feel oddly tied to this whole idea of royalty (possibly because we have none of it, and there is a serious lack of this kind of pomp and circumstance here) and so there's this awkward kind of breathless anticipation.

hallelujah

@Lili B. Honestly, I find the concept of royalty so fucking repellent in the year 2013 I can't go anywhere near any of it.

harebell

@Lili B.
feeling super-grossed out about it! I'm SO glad I'm not the Duchess of Cambridge or whatever her name is now. And resolutely actively ignoring coverage. It gives me the heebie-jeebies. And she can't even choose her own ob-gyn -- she has to have her mother-in-law's, the Queen's. I guess it was a conscious trading-off of privacy for ridiculous undeserved wealth, so I won't feel too sorry for her, but still, ick, the coverage is awful.

dj pomegranate

@Lili B. I get it (people love royals, people love babies) but like, these journalists who have just been hanging out in the UK for three weeks (THREE WEEKS)...like, aren't there other things going on in the world? It's not like the baby's going to pop out giving a speech and wearing a hat from an up and coming UK designer (ALTHOUGH THAT WOULD BE GREAT.)

The fact that we are inundated with extensive "coverage" bugs me a lot. Literally the only facts are going to be: sex, weight, time of birth, which can be summed up with: "Yup, it's a baby, for sure! Guess we can all go home now!"

adorable-eggplant

@hallelujah Ditto. Also, I just read a harrowing account of Mararet Beaufort giving birth at the age of 13 (politically, it was expedient for her 20-something husband to consummate the marriage) that left me feeling pity for all royal women, although yeah I'm ready to see all that hereditary junk abolished.

Lili B.

@harebell The conscious construction of KM's life as "someone who will marry up" is a story I've never been able to get my whole head around, partly because it's reported with so many different angles and partly because it's hard to believe in this day and age that anyone still plans for that. My folks keep asking "has she had that baby yet?" - the first time I had no idea who they meant, I didn't even know the due date - and the news outlets here are practically timing her contractions for her. It's hard to see how anyone could choose this for themselves.

polka dots vs stripes

@Lili B. Me either! Not to mention, from what I understand, their story wasn't exactly a hot and heavy romance - they dated forever had a breakup somewhere in there (edited to say: Meaning, she didn't meet him and lock it down with a ring right after graduation or something. They stuck it through ups and downs before getting married.)

I also wonder if she would have gotten the same social-climber rhetoric if the genders were reversed.

the more I re-read this the more it makes no sense but it does in my head so maybe someone thinks similarly?

sophia_h

@Lili B. I've been so weirded out by her whole experience, first jealous that of course she gets round the clock care from providers who probably aren't allowed to tell her she's just being over anxious (not that I've had any experience with that...) to sorry for her with the intense amount of pressure and scrutiny from the last few weeks.

The saddest thing to me about all the attention focused on this baby was realizing it has actually LESS potential to grow up and be awesome than pretty much any baby in the world, and thus the attention is ridiculous. The kid isn't going to be a cancer researcher or a famous artist or do anything for the world except (hopefully) some serious philanthropy with British taxpayers' money, so why should anyone really care? At least the Carter and West spawn had the chance to inherit some serious talent.

Lili B.

@sophia_h At least the Carter and West spawn had the chance to inherit some serious talent

Well, that's the other thing - is KM really talented at something? Is she an incredible writer or clarinetist or netball player or anything? We don't know, because her function now is to be almost entirely without personality. This baby may be inheriting incredible talents, but we have no way of knowing about them.

As I typed that it occurs to me: that's one of the saddest things of all. She might as well be a cardboard cutout.

supernintendochalmers

@Lili B. I have friends who are "excited" about it but to me it's the most boring invasion of privacy ever. I don't know, I guess they're keeping information pretty locked down despite the media frenzy. But I was just thinking, God forbid she has complications or a difficult delivery, can you imagine going through that and then dealing with the media, too?

Olivia2.0

@Lili B. Isn't that sort of the point of her though? That her exceptional talent is to be shiny-headed and straight-backed and able to put up with the public portion of it? I mean - I find it difficult to believe that after Princess Diana was literally KILLED BY PAPS that anyone would pretend they don't know what they're getting into? I think she signed up for it, and that's her special skill. She can handle it. And that's probably why Will married her - because she convinced him she really, really would be okay with all that it entailed.

Edited to add: I guess I mean I HOPE that's her special skill - like Harry Potter's mom, giving some kind of ancient protection to her child or Bella turning into a super protective vampire mom. I just, I hope it all rolls off her back and she loves more of the "job" than she hates.

missupright

@Lili B. This makes me incredibly sad, too. Because she's clearly not stupid, she went to a good university, and now everything she ever does will be because of who she's married to. I hope at least she's happy, even with the world watching her lady garden.

sophia_h

@Lili B. Well, even if KM had secret hidden talents, it wouldn't matter for her kid because they'd have to remain hidden -- it's not going to study genetics at Cambridge or dance at the Bolshoi, because it's Royalty. So that's what I mean about the attention being a total waste, because at least most celeb spawn is allowed/encouraged/(forced?) to participate in the world.

polka dots vs stripes

@sophia_h Well, for what it's worth, and I have no idea what he majored in, but William did end up at St Andrews? And he's actually an active servicemember in Whales? So who knows what choices he did or did not have about what he wanted to study at university.

pajamaralls

@Lili B. I have no interest in this baby just because I don't really care about the royal family. It's just never been an interest.

But I think I do have a sort of internal backlash against them, and it's focused solely on people who hate celebrities like Kim Kardashian or the Real Housewives - basically anyone viewed as being famous for being famous; without ever having to work for it. But they love the Royal Family and fawn over Kate Middleton. And it's fine - like what you like and talk about her fashion and style, but don't fool yourself into thinking that Kate Middleton's years of hard-work and toiling got her where she is, ya know?

Lili B.

@Lili B. And... it's a boy. Take that, recent legislature!

Apocalypstick

@Lili B. Buggerit. No lesbian Queen with an artificial insemination heir yet after all.

arrizkhan

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Emby

Can we talk a little about the differences/similarities between female-oriented DIY projects and male-oriented ones? For example, woodworking has this Bob Villa masculinity associated with it, but it's craftwork, essentially.

Is there some gender boundary demarcated by the ratio of function:ornament?

Would this discussion over women's participation in DIY be different if the "I" was, say, cabinetry?

harebell

@Emby

well, food is pretty functional, so I don't know about this. (Though, granted, unless you're a member of the German Green Party, men are much more likely to be involved in food-making than in, say, knitting).

PistolPackinMama

@Emby Good. Point.

I think the fact that power tools come in pink (lower power but still not small enough to make my small hands comfortable holding them) is pointing straight at some of this. Also rebuilding cars! And since we are talking food production, hunting and fishing, which people do for real around here, and are male dominated.

I think... ugh. I love to sew. I love to cook, and I love to garden. I love these things, I love making things. I love the process as much as the product, and often times but not always the product is as good as or better than a manufactured thing.

But I also love my job and love to work and think it's worthwhile work.

What I want is universal day care and reasonable work hours and vacation and pay so when I am done with my job I love, I have time to go home and garden and sew, too.

My mater got a PhD at nearly 50. Between getting her MA and the PhD she did a lot of sewing and baking and party hosting. She just retired and is looking forward to sewing and baking and such again. But during her career, she worked insane hours, didn't take vacations or sick time or...

She got to do both, just not simultaneously. I want to do both, through my working life. I didn't spend all that time as a kid learning how to sew and getting really really good at it so I never did it again after turning 30.

It doesn't have to be an either/or. Workplace culture in the US should make it possible for people to have time for life, really.

Tuna Surprise

@Emby
I think the issue is more that the crafts replace a career for women in the way it rarely does for men. If dudes were quitting their jobs to make the family's dining room table from reclaimed driftwood (food tastes better on a table made with love!) we may have something to talk about.

Lili B.

@Emby thinking about this I was going to say "men make things for themselves, and women make things for other people," but I don't think that works as well as, say, "men make one thing once, because man-crafts last (a cabinet, a boat, etc) and women make multiple things multiple times, because woman-crafts do not last (sweaters, meals, etc.)". (insert gender-essentialist disclaimer here)

SarcasticFringehead

@Emby I think the demarcation has to do with who the project is for, and whether it's considered profitable. For instance, women generally cook more at home, for their families, whereas top-level chefs, who cook for other people and make money for it, are majority men. Women sew/craft items for the home (even if they sell them on Etsy or similar), while a large number of high-level fashion designers, who create for public consumption and, again, get paid for it, are men.

P.J. Morse

@PistolPackinMama "It doesn't have to be an either/or. Workplace culture in the US should make it possible for people to have time for life, really."

Word. Also, people need to be better about guarding their time. I guard my time like a Doberman. I am so much better about saying "no," so that I do have time for the hobbies I love. None of them involve needlepoint or canning, but if I do decide to get into needlepoint or canning, I'll have a little time to do it.

Emby

@Tuna Surprise I can see that, but I also wonder about the degree to which that crafting is seen as a "legitimate" profession. For example, a man quitting his job to become a cabinetmaker, while perhaps a little unorthodox, would likely still be viewed by society as switching professions. A change in vocation. And I wonder to what degree that has to do with the kinds of craftwork that are gendered as masculine (or the outputs of that work).

Emby

@SarcasticFringehead I think that's an excellent point.

Ellie

@Lili B. That's a really fascinating insight (multiple things/"lasting").

Tuna Surprise

@Emby
I think men tend to hobby in more expensive and potentially profitable areas. The cabinets are a good example. A guy might get a router and make cabinets for his home and then decide he loves enough to make it a career. A good woodworker can do just fine money wise. Where as a woman may decide she likes to make organic meals but it's harder to leverage that into a career. Being a chef is something that can pay...but it will take away your ability to stay home all day and cook for your family.

I think women use their new-found love of crafting as a way to demonstrate their love of their family and worth to the world (oh, look at this sweater I knitted for little Bree from organic wool from the heritage sheep we keep). Whereas men craft more as a demonstration of skill and craftsmanship. [Huge generalization ahead:] I think women can't make money crafting because other women don't want to buy their stuff. Because the point of what was made is that you make it/sacrifice your time/give your family the best (i.e., a woman buying home-cooked organic meals from another woman is cheating). On the other hand, men can both be proud of their own skills (I built a Cobra kit!) or just as proud when another guy did it (I got the guy with the best garage in town to build me this kit).

MmeLibrarian

@P.J. Morse Preach. I'm at a new(er) job and I've got coworkers who make a fetish of working 50, 60 hours a week, like they're going to win something for it. It's weird and I don't really see them getting all that much more done than I do, and I draw hard lines about my contracted 40 hour week.

Lili B.

@Tuna Surprise I think women can't make money crafting because other women don't want to buy their stuff. Because the point of what was made is that you make it/sacrifice your time/give your family the best

This is super-smart analysis right here. It's a zero-sum game: your prestige in making this thing negatively affects mine, because I didn't make one (or hired you to make one).

leonstj

@Tuna Surprise - I think this is a really important insight - I hate the generalization of this, and obviously it is not always true, but I know for most of the men I know who are into DIY culture, it is always "Look at this AWESOME THING I made all by myself!" and for most of the women I know, it is "Isn't it AWESOME I MADE THIS THING thing all by myself."

I mean, not that the women aren't making awesome things - their stuff is awesome too. But I wonder if maybe that is less about "the thing" and the motivations for it (men to show-off skill, women to show willingness to spend time) and more about gender norms encouraging men to be swaggery braggarts and women to be humble. I bet a lot of women are more swaggery regarding how kick-ass their crafts are than they'd feel comfortable letting on, and a lot of men are more proud of their effort and motivation than they say.

ALL of the real-talk being said though, uh, any women who want some DIY aesthetic laying around their life but would rather spend their hours working a high-earning office job, Leon is single and dreams of a life of fulltime homemaking.

SarcasticFringehead

@Tuna Surprise I also think that the "potentially profitable" part of your argument is really important - a guy who spends all his time making cabinets might not make more net profit after materials/tools/etc. than a woman who sells knit items, but the former is more likely to be considered a job (or at least a vocation) by society, while the latter is a hobby at which you happen to make money.

ColdFinger

@Tuna Surprise, @everyone: I, too, am loving this analysis, however overgeneralize-y, and I also came to say that I love the fact that this whole topic was brought up! I also had two other somewhat random thoughts.

1. Is it possible that men are able to craft in more profitable ways because they're willing to invest more money into it? I mean, I can't imagine spending hundreds of dollars on an appliance - like a router - just because I *might* like playing with it. (And I do have to do this to get to the point where I *do* like playing with it and end up making the kind of awesome things I might market.)

2. It is shocking to me how much withdrawal from the mainstream economy brings out traditional/sexist gender roles. The place where I see it most is in the non-profit sector, where I work. Because there's no tangible thing (profit) to guage someone's performance (and, therefore, to use as basis for offering promotions), and no reason to push one's bounaries to achieve that tangible thing, women fall waaay behind, as far as achieving leadership goes. Not sure if this is a stretch in this dicussion, but I do see a parallel in withdrawing into the domestic realm: women end up doing "female" things (and not getting recognized), while men make a display of strength with their typically "masculine" hobbies.

leonstj

@ColdFinger Your point 2 is really interesting. I hadn't thought about that a lot. I'm so loathe to accept any sort of "gender essentialism is real" - even if it is in any small way, I want that acceptance to be insanely hard-fought - but I am just so confused by it.

Like, I can cook and build and shit, and love to do so. I also know how to sew (and was taught to do so by my father, because he learned how to maintain his uniforms when he was in the navy, and my mom did not know how) - yet, out of a billion "domestic-y" things I do recreationally, it's very, very gender-stereotype-cliche the ones I'm choosing.

I wish I knew why, but the idea of knitting or needlepoint or making pillow shams is just so unappealing to me, and yet the idea of taking a month off work and sanding down and refinishing every wood surface in my apartment is getting me through this day.

Biketastrophy

@leon s I'm having a hard time rounding out the idea in my head, but I feel like there some sort of functionality vs aesthetics stereotypical gender split. Like, men are expected to build functional objects while women are expected to build things that look nice. Not to say there isn't any crossover with beautiful woodworking, and sewing for utility (my mom making all sorts of things for my boy scout camping trips as a kid is proof of that) but typically there is a line there, where men make functional pieces and women make aesthetically nice things.

(again just want to say not my beliefs but as a part of general society gender roles)

ColdFinger

@leon s Wellllll, I can't say I intended to make an argument for essentialism. But I do think this stuff runs pretty deep. Non-profits - at least where I work - tend to be more non-conforntatioal, everyone's super smart and accommodating in a lot of ways, and that's true of both men and women. Is this cooperative way of working "feminine"? It would never occur to me to say so. Yet this phenomenon of men steadily taking up the most important posts in an organization where the gender balance skews heavily towards women is fact.

But, you know. I think attitudes matter. Learning sew as a way to maintain your uniform is different than learning to sew as a way to beautify your family, fulfil your creative needs, and show off your aesthetic achievements - even if in both cases, you're attaching fabric with needle and thread. Ditto for sanding: one thing is to know how, whether rudimentarily or even more seriously, but another is to be taught the love of a craft. And so it perpetuates...

blushingflower

@leon s I am a pretty decent crocheter, I've made some nice stuff that I'm pretty proud of. But I also see all the flaws in it. So when people gush, on the one hand I'm really flattered and pleased, but on the other hand I'm really uncomfortable and I tend to downplay it with "all I did was follow the pattern".

As far as invested money, good quality yarn costs a lot of money. You can easily spend $100s on yarn and other supplies for knitting/crocheting.

I'd rather make pillow shams and blankets; I don't like getting my hands dirty.
[As for the dream of fulltime homemaking - how do you feel about polyamory? Because I've got an opening for a homemaker but you'd have to share... ;)]

Tuna Surprise

@leon s

This is a great discussion. I think a lot of the issues we have now run deep to traditional gender norms that have been enforced for centuries (e.g., needlepoint as a socially acceptable drawing room skill). I think a more recent layer that has been added to the mess is the way men's hobbies are viewed as an escape from work and women's hobbies are viewed as adding to the value of the home and value of her worth as a woman.

Hobbies like quilting (repurposing scraps to keep people warm), canning (storing food for the winter), etc are all about women spending very little money to add value to the home. On the other hand, we have a huge leeway with the cost/benefit analysis of men's hobbies. He bought a boat? He deserves it! He works hard!

My parents are perfect examples of this. My mom (who worked, btw) would stay up until the wee hours of the morning baking the perfect birthday cake and icing it to perfection. When I was older I was always shocked at how much bakeries charged for cake. My mom has never bought a bakery cake (she even made my wedding cake).

My dad, on the other hand, has spent years restoring and re-restoring his 65 Mustang. The thing is hella fun - but also a money pit. It's never offered any utility to the family except for unsafe rides and a chance to show off to the neighbors by doing burnouts.

RebeccaKW

@SarcasticFringehead @Tunsasuprise I agree with you. A man who invests in tools to build cabinets or tables, etc., may not make a profit right away but eventually he will and the profit will be bigger. People spend hundreds of dollars on that type of stuff. Whereas a woman who's selling knitted scarves and wreaths and canned vegetables is spending as much if not more time on her project and has smaller output to get started, but will get very little return on her investment. She might sell a scarf for $30, but it took her a week to make. So because his has more earning potential, society would look at his as a job and hers as a something to keep her occupied while the kids are at school, but also happens to earn her some pocket change.

Judith Slutler

@Emby I don't know. I was going to ask about my boyfriend's plans for backyard beekeeping though! I mean... I knit a little, but beekeeping seems way more ambitious and way more domestic to me.

squishycat

@blushingflower Yeah, fiber crafting is... not an inexpensive hobby, and I have more than once laughed in the face of someone suggesting that my knitting was some sort of money-saving, man-sticking-it-to action, when a) I do not have the time or patience to create replacements for as much store-bought knitwear as I need (imagine only having hand-knit socks! And I have never even *started* a sweater) and b) OH MY GOD YARN IS SO EXPENSIVE. It is *possible* to hit a couple of sweet spots on the price/quality spectrum where you are legitimately saving money or getting a better quality/more interesting product than you would if you bought it, but only rarely. You can of course buy cheap yarn, but most people who would call themselves "crafters" don't, for a lot of reasons.

blushingflower

@squishycat Yeah. There is something to be said for being able to make something that you couldn't find in a store, which is also the reason I want to learn to sew. And of course custom-making a gift for someone is a great way to show affection that might not be conveyed by the equivalent store-bought item, but from a practical perspective, anything that I'm going to need multiples of is something I'm probably not making myself (I'll make scarves and winter hats, because I only need one for the season, and there's a shawl on the back of my office chair right now, but I wouldn't want to have to replace my sock inventory with things I made by hand, and I only wear socks if I have to).

rathermarvelous

@Emby Speaking *only* for myself, I'm not as drawn to the thought of making more permanent things because I just don't want to deal with the mess. Is that a thing? No matter how badly I fuck up this tea towel, it's not going to ruin an entire room of my house.

squishycat

@rathermarvelous Also, you can always unravel the tea towel and re-knit/crochet it or something else from the same yarn. (Plus as much time and effort goes into knitting/crocheting, it's also not exhausting in the way big things can be. We painted our living/dining room - nothing super fancy, just three colors (one main, neutrally color, one light color for the dining area, one bright wall where there was a lot of wall space that couldn't be used for much except bookshelves) and no ceiling, and when we started the project, I was all gung-ho to paint almost the entire apartment. Afterwards, we decided we probably would never paint anything ever again. I am so happy we did it and maybe if we move again we *might* paint, but nothing else in this place is getting painted until we do move out and have to re-do the white.)

Linette

@rathermarvelous I feel like there might be something in this whole argument about how many "male" jobs can be loaned out, as currency, to other families, whereas many "female" jobs cannot. For example, my dad was often asked by friends of his to come help out with a plumbing job or car repair or to put a new roof on the house, and these were jobs that saved significant amounts of money by doing them among the men in the neighborhood.

Whereas crafts, while enjoyable to have around, are less essential. If you are the finest chef in the world, your food is going to get people no more or less full than Ramen, and if you can quilt beautifully, you can get that job done with a cheap fleece blanket from Wal-Mart. Those jobs bring joy and artistry to life, but they're not critical to having water and shelter and transport.

I do find it really interesting that women only go for the one type of job, too. Can't you see learning to build a car from scratch? That seems like an awesome hobby. Or, I don't know, build furniture. I think this is exactly what Emily's talking about, of course, but now I kind of want to learn woodworking just to be defiant (and also because I really hate knitting and crocheting and stuff, my friend tried to teach me and I got unutterably mad at yarn and all yarn-related things. Fuck yarn, you guys. Yarn is out to get you.)

squishycat

@Linette I know for me a lot of the appeal of baking/sewing/knitting/crocheting was that at the end of it, I had something I actually wanted, unlike the time I was 8 and built a radio and then remembered that I didn't actually listen to the radio much. Likewise, I know basic plumbing/electrical/mechanical maintenance, because my father thinks these are life skills, and because as the oldest by four years, I was his only helper for quite a while (and my brother never took to any of it like I did), but I don't actually have a ton of interest in cars and *hate* driving. I do like metalwork but the supplies are more immediately expensive, and I don't have any workshop space, whereas fiber craft I can basically do anywhere. (I'm surprised I didn't get into scale models or building computers, but most of the "good" models are of things that didn't much interest me, like cars and airplanes and trains, and the ones that did appeal to me had, like, four pieces and didn't need to be painted. I like fiddly things that need some effort to be put together correctly - I love 1000+-piece jigsaw puzzles, for example, and I guess because I grew up in a household that used Macs, the appeal of building a computer for an OS I didn't like wasn't huge, and I never got into Linux.)

E. Dimples

@PistolPackinMama Yes! Exactly! I want to bake bread. I want to make as much as I can from scratch in the kitchen.I want to keep up the beautiful gardens that my house came with (No grass in my modest backyard!). I want to sew. I desperately want to begin my first quilt. I want to spend my days making my son's childhood memorable and magical. I'd even like to make another baby and make their stuff. And I'd love for Hubz to be able to switch his work hours so that we have more time off together, but childcare is crazy expensive and our careers aren't at a point where we can pay for it five days a week and student loans. (We pay more in those than our mortgage. Actually, I alone pay more than our mortgage...)

But I also want to keep putting in the extra hours at work in the hopes of moving up and finishing up this project that I am working on. I want my career.

I think I'd be alright if the Internet and books didn't exist. Oh, and Animal Crossing because I am that lame.

testingwithfire

@MmeLibrarian People are afraid to draw lines, so they brag about their essentially mandatory OT as if it were a choice and aren't they great for doing it. Also, they think it's their Way Up The Ladder when they should know they aren't going anywhere. Makes it hard for the rest of us, frankly.

03313961h

@Emby In terms of skills in demand, analytics seems the one area that everyone is targeting these days. According to EMC’s general manager in Hong Kong, Gabriel Leung, “big data analytics is clearly the biggest area and skill in demand right now in our market. article here

jason049

I am always searching for informative information like this... joshua pellicer tao of badass

Lili B.

@Lili B. Also at first I totally read the headline as "Detective-Inspector Why?" and thought FINALLY, A CREATIVE DOCTOR WHO SPINOFF.

lora.bee

@Lili B. Please write this screenplay IMMEDIATELY.

Drawn7979

@lora.bee
second that!

blushingflower

Yeah, I can make myself a scarf, but it is much cheaper and faster to buy one. Quality yarn is expensive, and handmade takes time. Which is one of the reasons it represents luxury - it is symbolic of having enough leisure time to make something. (Sort of how tans went from becoming a signifier of being working-class to being a signifier of leisure time when people moved from working in fields to working in factories).
You're not a better person just because you made your bread from scratch and mine came from the store.

SarcasticFringehead

@blushingflower That's another interesting point - there's a lot of inefficiency potentially built into DIY stuff, that makes it less of the sustainability cure-all some people build it up to be. Industrial canning, for instance, is problematic because of the way that crops are grown and the potential for poorly-run factories among many other things, but I'm guessing that the energy and time per ounce of preserved food is much less than home canning.

sophia_h

@blushingflower I quit knitting for a long while because I got tired of the projects I could afford (and the yarn I could afford).

I will say, though, that I started making my own French bread because it was cheaper than the $6 artisanal loaves at my local store. But regular whole wheat sandwich bread isn't.

fondue with cheddar

@SarcasticFringehead The difference was that back when people used to do all these things themselves, nobody had jobs. Growing/cooking food and making your own clothes/furnishings WERE your job.

03313961h

@blushingflower New Domesticity, the way I define it, is the re-embrace of old-fashioned domesticity by people who have the means and the wherewithal to not be doing this stuff if they didn't want to. So it's not the poor stay-at-home mother who is making her own bread because she can't afford to go to Walmart—which doesn't even make sense, but you know what I mean. "venus factor plan"

03313961h

@blushingflower industries there were 300 entries. ZAS said its main aim was to accommodate exhibitors from all walks of life and engage foreign companies based locally.schwarzkopf palette

fabel

Hmm I always saw this phenomenon as less sinister, as just sort of a "feminism has enough of a place in society for me to be comfortable playing a housewife" thing (which, arguably, IS sinister because, well, feminism hasn't necessarily "stuck" in that way) But I see it more being that women today don't have negative connotations with gearing their focus towards the home, they see it as a choice, etc. etc.

fabel

This isn't very articulate, sorry.

Undone

@fabel Even if you thought it wasn't articulate, I 100% hear you and agree.

03313961h

@Undone That bugs me. And two, I was bugged by—a lot of this New Domesticity is very worshipful of all things it considers “natural.” And that can be anti-intellectual, and it can be, as I point out in the chapter about parenting, even dangerous when it comes to health and food stuff. The number one thing that bugs me is the anti-vaccine people. Again, it's understandable how they reach those conclusions, because there's so much cultural valorizing of the natural. You go into the grocery store and they're talking about “natural” and “unnatural, site

garli

Yes, I love this:

That bugs me. And two, I was bugged by—a lot of this New Domesticity is very worshipful of all things it considers “natural.” And that can be anti-intellectual, and it can be, as I point out in the chapter about parenting, even dangerous when it comes to health and food stuff. The number one thing that bugs me is the anti-vaccine people. Again, it's understandable how they reach those conclusions, because there's so much cultural valorizing of the natural. You go into the grocery store and they're talking about “natural” and “unnatural,” and you have idiots on TV that are Oprah’s gurus or whatever questioning mainstream medicine, and people get it in their heads that it's good to be skeptical about medicine, that it's good to have a DIY attitude to your own health. Which to some extent it is—it’s good to be informed. But it goes way too far.

polka dots vs stripes

@garli Yes! I am all for understanding the chemicals we put in/near our body, but also very pro-science. I have no desire to go back to the days of dying from entirely preventable diseases and infections because that's "natural." Hand over the penicillin!

dj pomegranate

@garli I feel like lot of this "natural is better" thinking in homemaking and food overlaps with the "natural is better" pressure in beauty. (By that I mean the idea that society tells women to be "conventionally" good looking BUT it only "counts" if it's "natural".) Plastic surgery/makeup/artifice is NOT natural and therefore BAD, so you should definitely DO it if it makes you look like a "natural beauty" but please be sure to make it look like you DONT DO IT!

I dated a guy for a while who was really into "natural = BEST." He didn't believe in owning pets: they were domesticated by humans and therefore NOT NATURAL! He didn't believe in wearing sunscreen and makeup: definitely NOT NATURAL! It started out sort of charming -- responsible consumerism! -- but eventually I realized that it wasn't responsible, it was anti-intellectual. This white girl will take the risks of sunscreen over the risks of melanoma any day.

I realized gradually that, hmmm...all these "natural" things that he fetishizes are things that make MY life more difficult, not HIS. I am the one who has to check the ingredients on every food item because I am the one who does most of the cooking. I am the one who has to adjust her beauty regimen because I am the one who wears makeup. (etc...there are plenty more where that came from.) I don't think that was his intent--he wasn't a TOTAL mysogynist--but that was absolutely the result. And I feel like "women end up working harder at things" is a common result in discussions on how much better it is to be NATURAL.

See also: foodies calling for a return to the made-from-scratch kitchen because IT'S SO NATURAL without really realizing/caring that those who will be returning to the kitchen are predominantly women. Men won't be "returning" since they weren't there to begin with.

dj pomegranate

@dj pomegranate Sorry for all the caps lock guys...apparently I get really worked up about naturalness and/or this particular ex bf.

garli

@polka dots vs stripes Dude, real talk when someone says "oh that's full of CHEMICALS" my first though is "Do you know water is a chemical?" Like, a chemical is a basic building block of matter, calm the f down. There are good ones and bad ones, but act like you know the difference.

@dj pomegranate All of that YES. Basically liking things because they're "natural" and disliking them because they're "unnatural" is just lazy. Look into things. Methane is perfectly natural, but I don't want to eat it.

missupright

@dj pomegranate I just read this book, called A Greedy Man In A Hungry World, by Jay Rayner, and it touched on this a lot. I didn't agree with all (or even most) of what he writes, but it was incredibly interesting. And also, incredibly hungry-making, because he talks a LOT about how nice food is.

JLA
JLA

@dj pomegranate Is he on the new season of Project Runway? Because there is a guy that sounds just like that on the show.

dj pomegranate

@JLA Ha, no...I did literally just check the Project Runway website though (you never know!) because you can bet that I would be CAPS LOCKING all over the FOT about him and his natural-fetish if that were the case.

SarcasticFringehead

@garli Okay, I'ma go to kind of a weird philosophical place here for a minute, so bear with me (or don't :) ).

So, if the idea of the "naturalists" (I know that's not exactly the right word, but for purposes of discussion I'm using it) want to live the way we "evolved" to live...I mean, we evolved giant brains, right? So we could shape our environment to help us survive and thrive as a species? In which case, it seems to me that the most "natural" actions are those which perpetuate our species. In which case: it is natural to use sunscreen to prevent skin damage/cancer, but it's not natural to use sunscreen that, say, releases toxins into your skin or into the environment, because the net result is detrimental to our survival. Eating food with harmful synthetic preservatives is unnatural not because they're synthetic, but because they're harmful (and since we don't know or aren't allowed to know what's in a lot of these things, I tend to suspect harmful more than not). And I don't mean this in a human-domination way, either - one of the things we need for our species to survive is a functioning global ecosystem, and we for sure don't know enough about how that works to create one on our own; we've got one now that works pretty well for us, and we need to preserve as much of it as we can.

tl;dr: It's bizarre to me that people think preventative medical care is unnatural, when our ancestors would almost definitely have been ALL OVER that shit.

bureaucrab

@garli Ah, yes, the old chemical-equals-synthetic crowd. I'm big on an old standby: "arsenic and cyanide are natural, d'ya want any part of those?"

Judith Slutler

@garli The fetishization of "natural" is just so weird to me. IMHO it's an artifact of urbanization; all things "natural" are a lot less attractive if you shit in an outhouse or have to deal with a wasp infestation in your rafters!

theharpoon

This thread reminds me of a story about 2 of my friends who were in a drug store, and one of them picked up some "normal" (read: aluminum-containing) antiperspirant to purchase and the other one was all "how can you put those chemicals on your body!" and then the first one was like "you take ecstasy, you idiot!" and yeah.

theharpoon

[note regarding the ecstasy: this story occurred a long time ago]

Poubelle

@dj pomegranate Yeah, I'm pretty sure my cat prefers his unnatural life in a warm home with lots of food and cuddles to his past, more natural life as a stray.

There's also the fact that domestic animals don't have the survival skills of wild animals because we bred them to be that way. It's our fault they depend on us. So, what, we're supposed to turn them free and let them suffer and die because our long-ago ancestors were more concerned with having access to meat/milk, protecting their property, getting rid of rodents than with being "natural" ?

(I wil also add that as a once-avid backpacker, I've found that the very natural wonders of wilderness are far more enjoyable with unnatural things like nylon and Gore-Tex and DEET.)

03313961h

@theharpoon This thread reminds me of a story about 2 of my friends who were in a drug store, and one of them picked up some "normal" (read: aluminum-containing) antiperspirant to purchase and the other one was all "how can you put those chemicals on your body!" and then the first one was like "you take ecstasy, you idiot!" and yeah. flavour art likit

Mae
Mae

I don't know. I have a really hard time faulting anyone who is dissatisfied with their job and career prospects for taking refuge in hobbies that interest them and make them feel capable and productive. Not that Emily Matchar's intention is to blame these women instead of the corporations they work for, but fighting hard, lonely battles for equality is, well, really fucking hard and thankless, especially if you yourself are not in a position of power and are not (ever) going to have meaningful, fulfilling work.

The monetization of all these hobbies is interesting, too. I'm torn between feeling satisfaction that a lot of these women are making at least a little money (it's about time someone recognized that domestic labor has value, etc.), and feeling uneasy with the notion that hobbies have to be legitimized by money.

elen

@Mae right, but she's not faulting them. she's saying work-life balance is hard, but it wouldn't have to be as hard as it is if policies changed and corporations were less exploitative of people's time and domestic duties were shared more equally. of course getting from where we are to there will be hard, but if you don't at least acknowledge that the way people's work lives suck is structured by certain forces, you run the risk of naturalizing those things. the world can be different than it is.

Ellie

@Mae To me, one of the points of her thesis is that this is a symptom of, not a cure for poor work-life balance.

Mae
Mae

@Ellie @elen Yeah, I get that. I guess my frustration lies in the fact that most articles discussing work/life balance don't offer many practical, actionable ideas about how to get from our present situation to one where corporations are less exploitative of workers. Granted, it's a huge, intractable problem, with roots extending beyond feminism, but I don't have much faith in the ability of individual workers to effect much structural change in this area.

MollyRen@twitter

@Mae "Granted, it's a huge, intractable problem, with roots extending beyond feminism, but I don't have much faith in the ability of individual workers to effect much structural change in this area."

Yup, that's my fear too.

Undone

@Mae Thanks for saying this. I'm leaving my job soon to be with my family, and there's part of me that feels like I'm letting down feminists and working moms, etc. But people all the time leave jobs that don't satisfy them for something better--whether that's a new job, or as you said, their hobbies, or their families. Why should that be such a negative thing?

I have more of a point here, but this is such a big issue that I can't even begin....

Cerasi

This is a great and though-provoking interview! I'm moving to a new apartment soon and at the same time have been trying to reconnect myself to creative hobbies (as opposed to reading the internet all night every night forever), and the natural result has been a revived enthusiasm for home-related DIY projects. And I love creating visually appealing things and having a nice space to live in, and having personal projects to be excited about makes me happy. But it does make me a little disconcerted when I realize that all these bloggers whose homes I admire seem to be stay-at-home moms, whereas my next job will hopefully be an 80-hour/week consulting gig. I'd like to be a dabbler in practical/creative pursuits, and I have no plans to quit my job for them, but the potential conflict there does worry me a little. I think what I'm saying is that I'm going to get this book.

barefoot cuntessa

Ooh, I liked all of this, especially the bits about SAHDs and women retreating from the work force and that danger. I have a friend who was mostly a SAHD, and he loved it. If they could've afforded it he would never have gone back to work. On the flip side, my best friend is the primary earner and her husband is really resentful if her for it. If he has to pick up any parenting slack that puts him over his perceived 50%, he gets upset and starts a fight. All of this despite the fact that her putting extra hours in, or going to a conference here and there pays for the daycare that allows both of them to work. It's been shocking to see someone who presents himself as being so progressive turn out to be so archaic when its his role and his life.

panther

Nothing much to add to the discussion, but I LOVED this book and am so happy to see it featured on the Hairpin!

Quinn A@twitter

I'm really fascinated by this, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to get a copy of the book. I don't think I have anything particularly insightful to say, so I will just ask if anyone else struggles to read that last question in anything other than a sort of cutting sarcastic tone? Like the whole interview seems so sincere and respectful, and the answer to that question is very sincere and happy-sounding, and I can't read "did it give you a sense of pride in your microwave?" without imagining the interviewer sneering and adopting a condescending tone. And it's not even that I would look down on someone who felt good about her frog-printed microwave myself, because I think a frog-printed microwave sounds pretty cool!

Ellie

@Quinn A@twitter I didn't read it as sarcastic, but that it was maybe a (good natured) joke.
I think it sounds cool too. It strikes me as less "domestic" than needlepoint or something would be - more like an art student project than whimsical domesticity, especially because I have never in my life seen a hand painted microwave.

polka dots vs stripes

@Quinn A@twitter I read it as sarcastic, but not in a biting, nasty kind of way. More of a, "Haha you did this (self-admittedly) weird DIY project - and was it everything they crack it up to be?"

But I also often use sarcasm like that with friends of mine, so I can see how others would find it abrasive.

oeditrix

@Quinn A@twitter Author here! It wasn't sarcastic. We were both laughing. As a person who spent the last day before her wedding wrapping two hundred matchboxes with sticky paper and stuffing them with dried dung balls (they contained bluebonnet seeds, but they also looked, unfortunately, kind of like candy), I am in no position to judge anyone. :)

The microwave thing actually kind of reminds me of my college coffee-maker, which I decorated with little stickers. I think still have it in the back of my cabinet, can't bear to throw it away. (Obviously my next article should be about being a pack-rat.)

Quinn A@twitter

@oeditrix Yeah, I didn't think it was actually condescending or anything, because of the tone of the rest of the interview. It was more of a "hey, my brain just did something weird. Did anyone else's?" comment. I really enjoyed the interview!

oeditrix

@Quinn A@twitter I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Although now I'm a little psyched out that maybe she thought I was being sneery. No, not possible. I am too clearly a doofus.

Gwdihw

Leaning Out

MmeLibrarian

@Gwdihw Leaning out so hard I'll be laying down over here if anyone needs me thanks.

morwydd

This is a great piece! I only recently ran into discussion of problematic aspects of "New Domesticity" and have been interested in that. I never perceived it as particularly threatening before; I think there is a lot of value in having practical skills such as canning, cooking, and sewing, just because those are things that I need to feel independent and self-sustainable. I do see how ND might become a sort of consolation for women who can't work elsewhere, either because of inhospitable environments or a lack of work. I don't think a career outside the home and a talent for "domestic work" are mutually exclusive; I find the arguments that ND is "distracting" to women who would otherwise be pursuing politics or whatever mildly insulting. Also, knitting in my life is less a measure of how much free time I have and more an indication of how bored I get riding the bus everywhere!

karenb

@morwydd it is interesting, though, that women are the ones largely embracing ND - in his bachelorhood, my boyfriend could cook, but he had zero interest in expanding his range past 3-4 decent offerings, while i am constantly trying new things, even when we alternate cooking duty. he's a crafty guy, too, knows how to cross-stitch and embroider, but doesn't, as he doesn't see the final product as having much practical use. anecdotal, yeah, but maybe also typical?

(also agree with you - as yarn harlot famously responds to people who see her knitting at the doctor's office, waiting, and exclaim how they wish they had the time to knit that she does -- they are both sitting there waiting, right now. they have the exact same time.)

blushingflower

@karenb Yes, people always comment on how patient I must be; they don't realize that often my fiberwork is a result of being IMPATIENT - I need something to keep my hands busy while I sit through this training or ride the Metro or watch TV.

Spice&Snails&PuppyDogTails

@morwydd I think your last point is particularly spot on. I knit when I'm watching Game of Thrones or talking to my grandmother on the phone, and I bake when I want pie. It's relaxation. One could argue that I should stop relaxing in any way and spend all my time plotting revolution, but for me it's never been the knitting that's keeping me from seizing the means of production.

Of course, I do domestic things to relax and clearly see them as hobbies rather than a business, so not everything about her argument applies. But yeah, if I weren't knitting while watching Game of Thrones I'd just be biting my nails bloody, not doing something more political or productive.

(And now I want to defensively say that I spend most of my work life and personal life doing political, productive things and deserve a chance to relax however I want, but...not really the point.)

Judith Slutler

@morwydd I feel like there is a strong class/cultural element to this critique and I'm not sure what it means to put certain kinds of activities into a "domesticity" box. My fam is middle-class, but my dad grew up on a farm, and my parents have had a big vegetable garden for at least the last 30 years. I grew up contributing to the "feminine" parts of harvest season out on my grandparents' big industrial-scale wheat farm, and doing a shit-ton of garden work at home from planting to weeding to compost to canning. My parents didn't really handle the garden or household tasks in general in a gendered way, and for me the garden had the place of "this is work we do as a family to improve our lives, and also a cool hobby." Using my gardening, cooking, canning, composting etc. skills has nothing to do with retreating from the world of work for me. It is work and it keeps people fed just as well as working at a job and spending their paychecks at the grocery store. It's the kind of work my family has done since... ummmm... well long before they emigrated to America, for sure.

I mean on the crafting stuff, I can see where this author is coming from, but it kind of gets my back up to read someone saying "the elite doesn't need to do this stuff" or whatever. Yeah, maybe the elite is OK purchasing prepackaged organic applesauce from Whole Foods and they don't feel the need to go out and turn over a big stinky compost pile every day in order to feel fulfilled because their jobs are so awesome? Well I love my chosen career path and I've loved basically every job I've had so far, but I feel most fulfilled when my hands are full of dirt and can't wait to suss out some urban gardening opportunities for next summer. (My brother is making a career out of agriculture, actually.)

And in honoring the meaning of manual labor, connecting to food production, sharing knowledge and seeds, practicing a certain type of localism, and donating extra to the food bank (like my folks do) I feel like there are a lot of implicit politics to be had in the garden.

Hiroine Protagonist

@Judith Slutler Plus! Who will produce the food when the Inevitable Collapse happens?

MilesofMountains

@Judith Slutler I think it's also a very urban way to view these activities. I live in a small, remote community where things such as hobby farming, canning, or producing goods that are difficult to get locally isn't "withdrawing" it's a large part of maintaining the local community and the local barter community. There are also many First Nations communities in the area in which making traditional things, even ornamental things, and smoking fish/making traditional medicine is still very radical.

Alexmen

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aarij

intractable problem, with roots extending beyond feminism, but I don't have much faith in the ability of individual workers to effect much structural change in this area. vista verde quan 2

Statham

That bit about women being pushed out of the workforce and turning to more domestic things kind of speaks to me right now. I recently left my job to pursue another one which fell through. I'm back to looking for jobs, and I find that I'm turning to cooking more as an outlet for the productivity I'm not getting at work.

I do cook when I'm working, I just don't cook as complex of recipes. I also don't bake as often.

I think it just makes me feel productive, and I can see how that can relate to crafting and other domestic hobbies.

I also volunteer though, because I need to be outside my home interacting with people, and my job filled that role for me a lot.

Lili B.

@Statham You're not alone! My little bro (well, he's 25) stress-bakes at 2 am. Since he moved home my mom's always complaining about how her clothes don't fit b/c cookies are magically appearing overnight in the kitchen.

polka dots vs stripes

@Statham Yeah I baked all the time when I was unemployed, but that could get expensive! I'm also sure I would sew all the time, but that's expensive too and I have a job and money to spend on it.

ColdFinger

@Statham I think that's a little different, though. What you're talking about sounds like stress relief - and, yeah, your way isn't to machine saw things, it's a more typically feminine outlet - but that doesn't mean you're being escapist. It's different than giving up on the workforce entirely.

Hope you find a job!

ColdFinger

@ColdFinger (^^^ will make less sense if you are a guy, just realized...)

Statham

@ColdFinger Thank you!

Yeah, I think it definitely is stress release. As much as I think it's nice to own a company where I could sell whatever I was making, I know that in the long run it'd be difficult to keep up. Especially since I wouldn't have health insurance or a retirement fund unless I take care of that myself.

Statham

@Lili B. I just baked cookies the other night too, but I have a bunch of people to foist them on.

@polka dots vs strips It can totally be expensive. I try to look for other cheaper things to do too to keep myself busy. Hence volunteering (which is usually free). I hang out at the library too, and then I read books in the cafe.

I also kind of look at finding a job as a job. I make sure to spend time applying for jobs each day, searching for jobs, updating cover letters etc etc

polka dots vs stripes

@Statham Sounds like you're spending your unemployment exactly as I did mine - it was (kind of?) fun while it lasted but I hope you find something soon!

Statham

@polka dots vs stripes It's not too bad right now. I teach, so I'm used to having the summer off, but normally I'm working on the curriculum for the upcoming year. This summer is different in that instead, I'm working on applying to jobs. I'm hoping to get a job by the beginning of the school year, otherwise I don't quite know what I would do.

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karenb

i am a knitter. i work full time. i do both things (but am not planning children, so, there's all my leisure time back!). i also have a fully fleshed out retirement plan that involves not actually retiring, but opening a yarn shop instead. i think while, yes, we need to have women in the public sphere, so everyone gets used to us being there, and it is normalised, i don't feel personally responsible to be the one doing it. i will leave that to the more career-minded ladies out there.

supernintendochalmers

Great interview on an increasingly relevant topic. I just wanted to add that A Practical Wedding had a terrific post on feminism and the new domesticity last week that sparked a lot of good discussion in the comments as well. I was especially interested to hear how the founder of APW's work as an independent blogger is constantly devalued when compared to her lawyer husband's, even though hers is paying the bills and providing their health insurance.

polka dots vs stripes

@supernintendochalmers I thought that was great too, and this interview & that discussion has convinced me to pick up this book.

themegnapkin

I've been reading/listening a lot to Brene Brown lately. She talks about the importance of creativity: "Unused creativity is not benign, it metastasizes into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, shame. It becomes destructive."
I make things because I *need* to - it's less about the finished object than it is about the process of creativity.

carolita

I've been doing my own pickles, mustard, kvass, chutney and kefir at home, and I have to say, it's about not eating the expensive or garbage-y stuff they sell at the supermarkets. I do it for my health, and it doesn't take long. You spend maybe twenty minutes putting stuff in a jar, then leave it for two days, then stick it in the fridge. Do you know how expensive the good, lacto-fermented stuff costs? Crazy. It's so much cheaper to make. However, I have yards of fabric that I intended to make stuff with, but just don't have the time. Maybe when I'm unemployed someday, or truly self-employed (not just working for other people on a non-contracted basis). So, I'm only new-domestic in a political and expedient way, I guess. It does feel good to do a couple of things yourself that don't take too much of your time. I always feel like I'm sticking it to The Man a little, when I eat my own pickles. And they're so delicious.

Statham

@carolita I find food wise that it's a lot cheaper for me to make my own stuff too. I can make a ton of Kale chips for the price of a bag of Kale and a little olive oil, but to buy just a small bag of it is $7-$8 dollars. I want to work on making my own salad dressings, pickles, and things like that.

blushingflower

@carolita Yeah, often it is cheaper to make certain things from scratch, depending on what it is. But it isn't necessarily, and it is often more time/labor intensive. Which comes to an intersectionality thing - some people can afford to opt out of the commercially prepared foods and make something that is ultimately less expensive and healthier, and other people don't have the time/space/energy to do that (or sometimes the money for the upfront expense if it's something like buying a canner).
But instead of lobbying for changes, we're just opting out, and leaving the people who can't opt out to fend for themselves, which I think is part of the author's point. (Which is not to say you shouldn't keep making/eating your own pickles).

Spice&Snails&PuppyDogTails

@blushingflower Interesting, I hadn't thought about "leaving the people who can't opt out to fend for themselves" and didn't really pick up on it in the interview, but I think it's a great point.

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Nancy Sin

Interesting discussion, and I understand why it needs to be said based on historical context and the other reasons the book's author noted (and I will most definitely be getting this book).

For me, as someone who has been into crafts throughout my life, it's been nice to see it become normalized. I have a primarily creative skill set, and am by and large a disaster in corporate environments – luckily I write for a living which keeps me sane. I will always have "making" projects in my life whether or not they are even remotely profitable.

For many, it can also be a matter of thrift – making DIY cleaners or repurposing objects requires little time and can save tons of money. I wholly celebrate the existence of Pinterest as I now scour that site for solutions before otherwise dropping a lot of coin on something I need.

And regarding Etsy, etc., I think if you recognize that you have the confidence to make something that someone else is more than willing to pay for, it can be a fulfilling opportunity for supplementary income if you ensure your work hours/pricing game is right.

I don't think any of this is a bad thing. Nor do I ever want to minimize being a stay at home mom (although I know it's a privilege). If one were in that situation to begin with, wouldn't it be best if said moms had an outlet for creativity?

jason049

I was especially interested to hear how the founder of APW's work as an independent blogger is constantly devalued when compared to her lawyer husband's, even though hers is paying the bills and providing their health insurance. on their homepage

Queen Elisatits

Firstly this interview is great and it makes me want to buy the book, which I might have written off before.
It also makes me think about how being a crafter (sewing, needlework, crochet, hot gluing stuff together) has made me a more critical consumer in a lot of ways in terms of quality. Not to say that I have the money to buy the high quality stuff or the patience to make my own dresses instead of buying them (mainly secondhand, but that's a whole different topic)At least I'm aware and that feels like an important thing to consider and relevant to this discussion.
Not sure what my point is but there it is.

MollyRen@twitter

I think there's also a distinction to be made between "DIY because I need it" and "DIY because it's BETTER".

Like, my own personal example is how I'm realizing I have only one pair of decent shorts right now. But I DO have a lot of capri-length pants because I thought for some reason I looked better in them than shorts. Instead of buying a new pair of shorts, I can hem these pants and BOOM-- I will have 5 pairs of new shorts as opposed to 1 pair of shorts for $30!

On the other hand, I've seen sewing projects that demand like, tons of money in special cloth and findings and such. So making my own DIY shorts from scratch isn't cost effective, even if I'm more likely to be able to make shorts in my size than find them at a store. (I'm plus sized).

squishycat

@MollyRen@twitter Basically, making your own clothing is only "less expensive" if you're comparing it to paying someone else to make it for you, or you are making it instead of buying some very high-end designer stuff. (The few things I can think of are small knitted goods - I actually calculated the cost of yarn + (my hourly wage at work x approximate time input) vs the price of a solid-colored cotton garter-stitch baby hat from Gap, and for that, the handmade one actually came out on top, but basically that's it.) You might also break even if you're very good at fitting and you're trying to match the cost of clothing item + alterations.

smartastic

This is interesting. I like to make stuff—jam, bread, knitting, etc—and I know other women (and some men) who do too. But I don't know anyone who has left the workforce to home-make full time. I'll buy that it's a thing, but I'd be interested in hearing from other 'Pinners if they know folks who have gone in this direction? And I'd be interested in hearing from Emily Matchar how she interprets hobby DIYing: ie, is there an element of danger to feminist ideals in it, from her perspective?

Also, I don't make things 'cause it's cheaper, or even because it's (always) better than what I could buy. I make stuff 'cause I like the process of making stuff. It's relaxing and fulfilling.

Statham

@smartastic A lot of the bloggers I follow did just that, and they also make part of their income through people sponsoring/advertising on their blog.

Only one has discussed how sometimes it's really hard for her to get by on what she makes. The others don't really mention it.

wee_ramekin

@smartastic The only person I know who has done this has been able to do it because her boyfriend works and pays all their bills. To the best of my knowledge, she does not work outside the home or produce things for sale; instead, she is the one who gardens, cooks, and is doing a lot of the physical rebuilding of their house (she's got carpentry skillz like woah).

It's difficult for me to suss out my feelings about what she's doing. On the one hand, it's awesome that they eat organic, hyper-local food and live in a home that she's rebuilding from the ground up! On the other, my fear is that her position makes her waaaaaaay too dependent on him, and if they do break up, it will be much more difficult for her to re-enter the workforce after having opted out of it for so long.

rathermarvelous

I read the book a little while ago, and the bit that really struck me was how women doing domestic/homemaking work still want to "professionalize" their labor, to spend time and energy that would normally go into a job outside the home, in the effort to legitimize the work. This professionalization of women's work is interesting--does it occur as a response to the 21st century working woman or to the man? Is the female Etsian trying to impress her professional peers, or to balance the scales in her marriage?

caddyr

This interview was, unfortunately, more interesting than the book. And Matchar doesn't come across nearly as critical (or analytical) in the text as she does here. She also barely mentions class or race in the book, which I think is a huge problem - obviously most women don't have the option to "opt out" and spend their time knitting and canning. She also seems to take at face value that all these craft and cooking projects are economical, when, as many commenters have mentioned, they often are far from it. I'm all for women - and men! - crafting and cooking to their hearts' content, and staying at home with their kids or just not working because they can afford not to - whatever makes you happy and works for your family. But this book - which I did really want to like - romanticizes the trend without ever offering many specifics as to how many women (and men) are actually opting out of the workforce to cultivate their homemaking skills. It also has this Gen Y whininess - "New Domesticity comes out of a deep desire for change in the world. We don't want to trade our souls for our careers, and we don't want to live in a culture that encourages us to do so" - which, you know, whatever.

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Dances With Scissors

I do understand the author's concern about women abandoning the fight for equality in the workplace, but I don't think that hiring out tasks that could be done at home is automatically a good idea. A lot of the appeal of DIY is in having control of your world at home. First off, if you make your own food at home, you're more in control of what you're eating - you know whether or not your meal is prepared in a clean kitchen, you can control the amount of salt or fat or gluten that's on your plate, and you know that no one has licked your food, or peed in it, or put their penis on your sandwich. My sister home-schools her kids (and works!), and some of my friends are considering doing the same. Again, control is the big issue. Not only is there no concern that their kids are going to be taught that the earth is 6,000 years old and humans were riding dinosaurs back in the day, they also don't have to panic that some gunman will stroll through the door and take their children away for good. The only problem that I see is that DIY for everyday needs is mainly the province of women - and I'm also wondering if that will continue to be the case, with so many traditionally 'male' jobs being gone permanently.

LeafySeaDragon

i quit work to be a big hippy sahm because SURPRISE, if i wanted to work, it would cost me money. my husband just flat out makes more money than me.

Shayna

As I start to try and build a career for myself (yup, gonna start that shit at 18, don't wanna end up unemployed. I'm terrified) there is a significant part of me that wants to essentially be Mrs. Weasley. Raise a whole pack of adopted teenagers in the country. Help out the kids, create an environment that's safe and helpful... I don't know. I recognize that it's hard work, being a stay at home mom. People romanticize it, but my mum was a SAHM and it's something of a thankless and tiring job. And yet I'm majoring in International Politics and trying to set myself up for an ambassadorial job. It's a bizarre pull.

Also yeah the author didn't mention race/class as much as I wish she would. Intersectionality affects everything!

1963248500@twitter

SURPRISE, if i wanted to work, it would cost me money. my husband just flat out makes more money than me. buy facebook likes

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sk her about canning!), and she avoids judging its proponents, bringing a quippy, self-deprecating sense of humor to her topic instead. We recently spoke to Matchar about her book and the gender politics of DIY. pictures for instagram likes

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all while making cool stuff! Moreover, Matchar is troubled by the way that this trend affects women economically, encouraging them to give up financial independence while breathing new life into old ideas about what women’s work should look like. High PR blog comments

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it means that you have the time to make something by hand—or at the very least, you have the money to pay somebody to make it by hand, and that represents a new luxury. I think that's part of the reason we find it attractive, and why it has become so trendy. youwatch

premiersh

The only problem that I see is that DIY for everyday needs is mainly the province of women - and I'm also wondering if that will continue to be the case, with so many traditionally 'male' jobs being gone permanently.
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1963248500@twitter

or at the very least, you have the money to pay somebody to make it by hand, and that represents a new luxury. I think that's part of the reason we find it attractive, and why it has become so trendy Blog comment Service

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There are so many people doing that as a hipster thing, as “I’m a feminist burlesque dancer,” but these women seem to have very little sense of irony about it. Of course TLC may have edited all the irony out, but these women were like, “I serve my husband.” vf streaming

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bringing a quippy, self-deprecating sense of humor to her topic instead. We recently spoke to Matchar about her book and the gender politics of DIY. ibcbet bandar bola

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bringing a quippy, self-deprecating sense of humor to her topic instead. We recently spoke to Matchar about her book and the gender politics of DIY. stove repair

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connecting to food production, sharing knowledge and seeds, practicing a certain type of localism, and donating extra to the food bank (like my folks do) I feel like there are a lot of implicit politics to be had in the garden.
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But once that stuff became so hip and so big, with a million vendors on Etsy and hand-crafty stuff at Walmart, it certainly lost its political edge, and many people are embracing it as cute rather than political. And then there’s the danger that, if all this retro 1950s stuff is embraced as cute in a totally depoliticized way, are we actually then embracing the gender norms of the 1950s? There's some show on TLC called “Wives with Beehives,” and these women in LA were doing the whole 1950s retro housewife look as a lifestyle. Doane College

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