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. Her idea of a fancy holiday treat was imported lobster strudel from the gourmet market.
My, how things have changed.
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.
But in an era when women still do the majority of the housework and earn far less of the money, “reclaiming” domesticity is about more than homemade holiday treats. Could this “new domesticity” start to look like old-fashioned obligation?
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.
The shelves at Barnes and Noble are overflowing with how-to guides to sewing and yogurt-making and rooftop vegetable gardening, more philosophical books about “urban homesteading” and “radical home economics,” and memoirs by women who quit their corporate careers to raise sheep or home school their kids (the number of home-schooled children went from 850,000in 1999 to 1.5 million in 2007, according to the most recent official estimate). The “career girl gone Green Acres” story is to the 2010s what chick lit was to the 1990s, a fantasy for a certain demographic of educated (though not necessarily wealthy) young women; today they’re concerned with sustainability, good food and conscious living.