I have a confession to make. When I first heard about the topic of Emily Matchar’s new book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, I rolled my eyes and very uncharitably wondered aloud, “Who cares?” Essentially, Matchar tries to explore the rhyme and reason for a seemingly growing trend of women leaving the workforce and returning home for glorified DIY projects like soap-making and baking cupcakes.
I think I balk at the idea that this movement, “the new domesticity,” is deserving of the word Matchar chooses to describe it: “revolutionary.” The women of ancient Israel were making their own bread, butter and cleaning products long before June Cleaver of the 1950s or the millennial hipsters of today. And not because they choose to, but because - like lots of women around the world still today - they had to for the sake of economic and societal equilibrium.
As I think about this new movement, I keep hearing the faint whisper that the ways of the world are rarely the ways of God. On some level, I am still struggling to understand what this would mean for the world’s way of being a feminist and how my Christian faith undermines my own understanding of feminism. The term has so many layers of meaning and interpretation based on history, context and who is doing the defining. An African-American woman, for example, may not even use the term feminism, opting instead for womanism. But for the purposes of the new domesticity, if feminism is about women being freed to make their own choices, then like the enslaved Israelites freed from Egypt to be captive to God, Christian feminists are freed from unjust oppression to be enslaved to the ways of God's kingdom. And in God's kingdom, it is rarely about personal choices that make the individual happy, but more often about choices that benefit a larger community and help to usher in more justice, more healing, more compassion, more mercy, more power, more nourishment and provision and freedom for those with less.
I balk at the idea that “the new domesticity” is deserving of the word Matchar chooses to describe it: “revolutionary.”
So as I think about this new domesticity movement and its possible impact on the church - specifically Christian women who have struggled for equality within the church - I am reflecting on what it means as a feminist to be made in the image of God and to have a vocation that is in some way about the things of God. For one thing, women are still struggling for equality within the church, not even just as recognized legitimate voices and teachers but simply just to be truly seen and understood as having been created equal to men in the eyes of God. And as a Christian woman it is difficult for me to simply view this new movement from the perspective of an American. I see it and interpret it through the lens of being an American woman with Nigerian heritage, raised in various “developed” and “developing” countries and deeply aware of the diverse ways women both choose and are conscripted to live in other parts of the world.
So as much as I love trying new scone recipes and wish I had the skills and the time to learn to sew my own clothes for fun, none of that could happen vocationally without the added and significant income of a partner. (I should note here that I do not consider the freedom and privilege a financially able woman may have to choose to stay at home and raise her own children as a revolutionary move. I see it as a gift and a responsibility.) If I happen to find myself in a marriage that frees me up financially to make the sort of "new domesticity" choices I am reading about, then I have to admit that I would have an ongoing internal struggle with such choices unless there were clear and direct impacts to others beyond myself and my immediate family.