Saturday, November 26, 2011

The New Domesticity

Emily Machtar, chronicler of what she calls the "new domesticity," has a piece in the Post about the rise of home canning, knitting, and the like among women in their 20s:
My baby boomer mother does not can jam. Or bake bread. Or knit. Or sew. Nor did my grandmother, a 1960s housewife of the cigarette-in-one-hand-cocktail-in-the-other variety, who saw convenience food as a liberation from her immigrant mother’s domestic burdens. . . .

My grandmother died nearly a decade ago, but I can imagine how puzzled she’d be to behold my generation’s newfound mania for old-fashioned domestic work. Around the country, women my age (I’m 29), the daughters and granddaughters of the post-Betty Friedan feminists, are embracing the very homemaking activities our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shucked off. We’re heading back to jam-canning and knitting needles, both for fun and for a greater sense of control over what we eat and wear. . . .

Jam-canning is just a tiny facet of our domesticity craze. Sales of home canning supplies have risen 35 percent in the past three years, and sales of the “Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving” (the bible of home canning) have doubled over just the past year, according to the company. There’s the knitting resurgence, the homemade cleaning supplies made using white vinegar, the homemaker blogs. Then there’s all the “Little House on the Prairie” stuff, with its shades of ’70s hippie back-to-the-landism — the beekeeping, the cheesemaking, the urban chickens. When the magazine Backyard Poultry came out with its first issue almost six years ago, it printed 15,000 copies. Today, it prints 113,000.

Just another fad, yes, I know -- we are an easily bored species. But I see this particular fad as another sign that the life offered to us by contemporary capitalism is fundamentally unfulfilling. This may be what my kids would call a "first world problem," but it is a real problem nonetheless. "Getting ahead" -- a better job, more money, a bigger house, a nicer car -- is a sham.

Fortunately our fantastically large and diverse society offers a thousand different places to search for community, meaning, and real, hands-dirtying work, from knitting to home brewing to extreme rock climbing to vintage motorcycle repair. If your life feels fake to you, do something that feels real.

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