Sunday, July 7, 2013

"Homeward Bound": A Book Review

I just finished an excellent book called "Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity." The book has many facets, but the primary theme examines why many women have recently embraced traditional values, such as being stay-at-home mothers, crafting, canning, homesteading, keeping chickens, buying local, gardening, and much more. The book examines the root causes for the rise in New Domesticity and delves into the lives of those who practice some aspect of this societal trend. (I'm not missing the fact that I took freshly-baked sourdough bread out of the oven half an hour after finishing the book.)

The three biggest root causes seem to be 1) the feminism of the 60s and 70s that encouraged women to work and be free of domestic duties, 2) the uncertain economic times we live in that have caused widespread distrust in corporations and government, and 3) dissatisfaction with the 9-5 jobs that offer no personal fulfillment or flexibility. Author Emily Matchar thoroughly explains how New Domesticity provides answers to these causes.

When I first started reading the book, I found it ironic that interests that had arisen naturally for me through the influence of family and friends were also part of a greater societal movement. I didn't look at a single DIY blog on gardening or canning or cooking when I first started doing these things, but somehow the zeitgeist of the times moved me. I didn't have any great moral pulpits to mount as I started to can, garden, and bake bread, but rather genuine interest in these domestic arts and now a love for supporting my local community. With two years in the work force and three years of canning and gardening under my belt now, I agree with much of what Matchar believes is best about the New Domesticity movement:

"New Domesticity comes out 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. We want to embrace the richness, creativity, and comfort that can be found in domestic life...We want to live in a more sustainable way, both economically and ecologically. We've realized that the consumption-crazy Standard American Lifestyle isn't good for the earth and it isn't good for us. We want to focus on what really matters..." (249).

However, as with every movement, there is a shadow side. As I was talking to my housemate about the book, it struck me that New Domesticity is simply a secular way of living out the Christ v. Culture paradigms in Richard Niebuhr's book "Christ and Culture." (Thank you Whitworth Core classes.) The paradigms Niebuhr describes are Christ Against Culture, Christ of Culture, Christ Above Culture, Christ and Culture in Paradox, and Christ Transforming Culture.

Matchar's biggest problem with the New Domesticity movement is that it encourages many educated, middle class families to make decisions that put the individual good (or individual family good) over the common good. These trends include homeschooling, not vaccinating one's children, denigrating work outside the home, and seeing DIY (Do-It-Yourself) projects (e.g. raising one's own chickens to combat the evils of factory farming) as a way to combat the world's ills. Basically, it's an "Individual Against Culture" paradigm that's becoming a legitimate subculture in the United States. Matchar calls it "troubling hyperindividualism," which is already a characteristic of Generation Y. The same criticism could be made of the Christ Against Culture paradigm. It's better to cut oneself off from the world than to try and change it.

There is a very basic, human tendency in the Christ Against Culture paradigm, which is why I think we see the same trends in the secular world, too. Ultimately, I think Matchar's advice is spot on for both New Domesticity and Christianity. She writes: "The key to making all this to be expansive rather than exclusive" (249). And Christians can be expansive in a way that no other group of people can because we serve a God who is expansive. There are limitless possibilities for the ways we can engage the culture, broken and suffering though it is, so that we can "invite the world" (250) into God's expansive family instead of quarantining ourselves from the world.

I highly recommend Matchar's book. Even if you're not involved in the proponents of New Domesticity yourself, the book will undoubtedly give you an understanding of this significant cultural trend and will reinforce the importance of keeping Christ firmly in the center of your life, domestically-focused or otherwise.

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