The 'new domesticity' is persuading many mothers to stay home. But is that really the best answer for moms – or their children?
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This shift to the new domesticity also comes from an anti-corporate backlash against the food industry. Authors like Michael Pollan urge Americans to eat organic and local. But for women in particular, who often bear the brunt of preparing meals and shopping for household items, this emphasis on home cooking and natural foods adds a new layer of stress. Matchar is astute to note that Pollan and others blame feminism for killing home cooking, a myth that's "not just shaming, it's wildly inaccurate from a historical standpoint."Skip to next paragraph
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What Friedan and other feminists did advocate for was for women to have more options than homemaking alone. So if middle class and upper middle class households are expected to buck the corporate food system or be "met with a disheartening amount of cultural guilt and judgement," then, Matchar writes, "our outsized expectations of what food can do leads to an outsized sense of guilt among the group traditionally responsible for food: women."
So while eating mindfully and healthfully are noble goals, this extra pressure on women to put on the apron creates another problem.
Which brings up Matchar's most potent discussion, the unique challenges of DIY parenting. Parents worried about the medical and education systems have felt the need to step in as their children's doctors and teachers. As a result, despite medical advice, some parents are choosing not to inoculate their children. This movement is being linked to outbreaks of preventable childhood diseases: "In 2011, measles cases quadrupled in the United States, a situation blamed on vaccine refusal." A terribly unfortunate result, yes – but also an extreme example of how much Americans distrust medical experts and instead put their faith in Dr. Mom.
When it comes to their kids' education, this same mistrust of institutions leads to homeschooling, a practice that was previously the refuge for those with conservative religious beliefs. And while there's nothing inherently wrong with this new crop of privileged parents choosing to homeschool their children, Matchar suggests that negative effects trickle down to less fortunate families: "These options are not so freely available to working-class parents with less time and money. They're the ones who will be left behind if we collectively abandon the effort to push for better social and governmental solutions."
Matchar is a skilled, thoughtful writer, and in "Homeward Bound" she offers not only cultural insights but also empathy for the modern American idealist. She asserts that this New Domesticity stems from our dissatisfaction with our current systems in terms of work/life balance, food safety, health care, and education. And while it is indeed time for women and men to reclaim traditional women's work, she suggests it's also time to reconsider why we feel so frustrated and how we can change the institutions that sometimes give us no choice but to look homeward for answers.
Grace Bello is a Monitor contributor.