Heart of Home

[deck]As part of a larger cultural shift toward economic self-sufficiency, many women are returning to traditional domestic pursuits.[/deck]

Watercolor painting requires patience—each layer of paint must dry before the next is applied. Marina Taylor has worked on this painting for a few months.

[cap]M[/cap]arina Taylor surveys her home. Clad in a faded green skirt with an apron twisted around her waist, she is surrounded by mason jars of homegrown vegetables and unfinished craft projects in need of her attention. A cutting board’s worth of carrots await the evening meal. Light streams in through the windows, resting upon a mending basket of clothes that have been worn and torn. Her eyes linger upon the pile as she makes a list of the day’s tasks.

For the past five years, this has been Taylor’s life. Back then, a newborn baby meant a new  set of priorities, and she wanted to stay home with her son. She decided to focus on creating the perfect place to live—one where dinner clucked in her backyard before appearing on her table, where vegetables were grown in her garden and canned by hand, and where socks with holes were mended rather than condemned to the garbage can. She would often spend days without ever leaving her home, toiling in the kitchen in pursuit of her dream.

“Home,” Taylor says. “It’s a word that [says everything about] who I am and how I raise my family.”

Taylor is part of a growing movement among American women in their twenties and thirties who are embracing a brand of domesticity straight out of a bygone era. They can their own vegetables, teach their children at home, bake bread, and knit their own clothes as part of a back-to-basics movement that values simple living and doing it yourself.

Often referred to as “urban homesteading,” the trend is gaining ground. Blogs such as Gracious Girl, New Domesticity, and Fuck Yeah Domesticity are creating online hubs for the movement, and bookstores are overflowing with how-to guides for everything from raising poultry to re-upholstering aging furniture. According to the National Gardening Association, an estimated 38 million households grow food in personal gardens. The National Center for Education Statistics claims the number of home-schooled children has doubled since 1999. Even First Lady Michelle Obama’s home garden has added fuel to the homefire.

For many women, the return to domesticity has been spurred by a renewed sense of pride in one’s home.

“We live in a culture where we forget about words like ‘homemade’ or ‘home- grown,’ thinking that it prevents progress,” Taylor says. “But domesticity allows us to create a strong foundation upon which to progress.”

In addition, many women are drawn to the ethos of the movement’s tight-knit community.

“Women tend to be more community-based,” Taylor explains. “Women under- stand the relationships between people and nature and a sustainable community. Nothing can teach you the value of a community more than being a mother.”

Others see modern homemaking as a way to take a firm stand against American consumerism.

Taylor knits the body of a toy lion. Knitting is one of many activities gaining popularity.

[cap]E[/cap]lizabeth Hartman joined the movement after tuning into her consumption habits and deciding that less is more. Although she can’t grow or make everything her family needs (she’s succumbed to buying blue jeans), she strives to make the majority of her food and clothing herself.

Before moving to Colorado, Hartman converted her Eugene backyard into a small- scale edible production by raising bees and chickens and growing her own produce.

“I started with some basil and tomatoes and it grew from there,” Hartman says.

With nearly any trend, however, there comes resistance. Many believe that by focusing so heavily on domesticity, women will negate years of feminist progress and unintentionally enforce stereotypes about what constitutes “women’s work.”

“It’s a trend that’s often compared to the pioneer wife who can’t vote or go to work and is rarely seen in public,” Taylor says.

She found herself confronting the issue when her son once claimed that he didn’t need to do his laundry because it was a “woman’s job.”

“I realized my husband didn’t do laundry and that I enjoyed doing work around the house,” Taylor explains. “But this wasn’t a stereotype that was going to last in my house, so by the very next day, all the men in my home were doing their own laundry.”

For the most part, the backlash is drowned out by those who define feminism as a woman’s right to choose her own path. Mindy Lockard, an independent etiquette consultant, argues that the rise of domesticity does not jeopardize feminism at all. Her own website and blog, The Gracious Girl, provides women (And men) with inspiration, tips, and etiquette resources, such as a thank you note tracker. She says that modern domesticity allows women to pursue their interests without being shamed, and that social media websites such as Pinterest, Facebook, and Tumblr allow them to feel more connected and empowered.

Still, many women acknowledge that total domesticity isn’t for everyone.

“Get a group of your girlfriends together, put on some music, and drink a bottle of wine while you can 100 pounds of tomatoes,” Taylor says. “You’ll find out really quickly is this is something for you.”

She says she sometimes feels trapped in her own home, and has wanted to throw her plates against the wall. Taylor has felt frumpy and unfeminine when comparing herself to women dressed for the workplace in pencil skirts and blazers and the perfect dash of blush.

But then she reminds herself that her actions create the world in which she wants to live, and returns home to wax another block of cheese. When Taylor’s son turned five, she enrolled him in school and accepted a job as a handwork teacher at the Waldorf School in Eugene, which has allowed her to create a balance between work and home.

Being self-sufficient by growing one's own produce is a hallmark of modern domesticity. Taylor is picking homegrown sorrels from her garden.

[cap]F[/cap]or Hartman, embracing domesticity feels like a calling, and has cemented her belief in gender equality.

Her voice fills with pride when she explains that her ultimate goal rests in arming her infant daughter with the domestic skills she has worked so hard to learn, and hopes that by the time her daughter is ready to take on the world, she’ll know a little bit about almost everything.

“For my husband and I, this is a permanent change,” she says. “What can be more empowering for a woman than being able to dress a turkey and change your oil?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *