“New Domesticity” and Technology

By Angie Stangl*, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

After opening Pinterest for the first time in months, I remembered why I had avoided signing in; pins of cute babies in home-knit jumpers, DIY home organization solutions, canning basics, and cute little lunch ideas fill the screen.  It is not that these things aren’t cute, fun, or enjoyable but rather that they make me feel inadequate. These callings toward “domesticity” are all over the web and are popping up in most of the social media space I occupy.  Further, a pressure to participate in these domestic activities challenges the balance I’ve struck between home, work and graduate school.

baked cookies on a cooling rack suggest gendered domesticity

Emily Matchar in Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity (Simon & Schuster, 2013) examines the rise of this DIY culture and defines a “new domesticity” to explain the current movement of women participating in these things. Most importantly, in her book, Ms. Matchar illustrates many of potential pitfalls of areas that are a part of this growing new domesticity movement.  The new domesticity movement is not addressing the need for financial independence and a flexible workplace for women, it is largely disrupting gender-balanced parenting, and it is a movement for those who can afford to participate (often solidly middle class women with alternative sources of income).

To further complicate some of the arguments in Homeward Bound, technology is playing a key role in this movement as well.  The spaces that this new domesticity are being expressed are often online in the form of blogs, forums, and websites.  These online communities can offer support to fellow participants who partake in aspects of new domesticity but at the same time these are spaces that can be exclusive and reinforce the feeling of inadequacy for those who cannot find the time or money to participate.

Additionally, we need to be cognizant of the consumerist forces driving this movement, as is highlighted in the book.  Many blogs today have advertisements or the blogger writes about using (or not using) specific products or services.  Whether we want it to or not, these things shape our views.  Blogs voice personal opinions, so following a blogger’s advice may not feel so different than taking advice from a friend.

What I’d like to know is how is this new domesticity different than earlier notions from years ago about women wanting to have it all?  Haven’t we realized that we can strike a balance instead of trying to “do all the things”?  As much as aspects of this movement are compelling, I think we need to reconsider how technology has captured us and pushes us into this movement without considering some of the concerns raised in Homeward Bound.  Realistically, it is not possible to do it all.  So, how can we use technology to participate in a meaningful way (i.e. being inclusive and reversing the damage new domesticity has done)?

Here’s an interview with Emily Matchar.

*Angie Stangl is a participant in the UIUC Dialogues on Feminism and Technology graduate seminar.