Behind Every Urban Pioneer Woman Is A Genuinely Supportive Partner

Or the role of men in the "new domesticity."

Dec 9, 2011 at 2:00pm | Leave a comment

I'm one of those people who attracts domestic goddess friends. This is because I'm undomestic.

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I don't cook, and I only clean because it's my go-to, sanity-saver. I can play with my toddler daughter for hours on end, but it'd never occur to me to set up an arts & crafts project for her. And on the rare occasion that I make something from scratch, it's almost always someone else's idea. 

So, I really admire the urban domesticity movement, and I've occasionally tried to get on board. However, I've found that I'm pretty incapable at being capable.

For example, last spring I took a beginning sewing class, during which I attempted to put together a very simple tote bag. You know what? It was really friggin' hard.

I had a ton of trouble keeping all the details straight, like how to actually thread the machine, or how to sew in a way that kept the machine from jamming.

Basically, it was a disaster, but in true Ernessa-fashion, I did end up having a great conversation with a fellow classmate, an urban homesteader, who was ticking "learning to sew" off her ever-shrinking list of conquered self-sufficiency skills.  

Like most urban homesteader moms, she has a longer attention span than I do, is more thoughtful about her children's education than I am, and has a ton more patience for learning old-fashioned skills than I do.

I couldn't help but admire her, even if I would never, ever, ever want to be her. 

This is why I found this Washington Post op-ed by Emily Matchar on the "new domesticity" so baffling. "The new domesticity: Fun, empowering or a step back for American women?" it's handwringing headline asks before going on to talk about how popular urban homesteading has become. 

According to Matchar, sales of extreme how-to guides are through the roof and during this rough economy, doing it yourself has taken on a new attractiveness.

I'm with the author until she makes this claim:

Many women (and a few men) have been diving into domesticity with a sense of moral purpose.

Matchar then goes on to argue that what was once just fun is now being driven by both a sense of frugality and a "what's in my food" anxiety. She wonders how long before what started out as a self-empowering movement morphs into a women-only obligation. 

Wait, wait, wait, back up.

The one thing most of the talented domestics I know have in common are ridiculously supportive male partners.

Living in L.A., the west coast hipster capital, I've grown accustomed to having proud husbands show me through their Anthropologie catalog-worthy homes, pointing out which pieces they picked themselves, bragging about how the Mrs. and he found this vintage thingamajig at whatever little-known swap meet.

I rarely go to dinner parties where I don't find both hosts in the kitchen, putting the final touches on a perfectly crafted menu in homey tangent.

And nearly every partnered woman I know with an Etsy store, has a boyfriend or husband, slaving away in the background to fill orders.

I think Matchar, who's working on a book about the "new domesticity," fails to make the distinction between a trend involving mostly women and a movement spearheaded by women, and I wondered how she could just so willfully ignore male participation in the new domesticity. 

"What's weird is that it's not even new," my good friend, Delia Hauser, the most domestic of the domestic people I know, pointed out when I called to chat with her about the Post article.

Delia runs a "hardcore homemaking" blog called Martha Stalwart, has an Etsy store called The Brooklyn Haus, oh, and she DIYed her entire wedding.

"This kind of thing happened in the 70s, too," she told me. "I think maybe every time of major consumerism is followed by a return to hardcore do it yourself." 

My own husband complains about growing up in the 70s with my then-hippie mother-in-law, eating homemade peanut butter and having to do "elf factory work" every Christmas when his mother made complicated gingerbread houses from scratch.

In fact, when I was called upon to be domestic for the co-ed wedding shower we threw for Delia and her future husband, it was my mother-in-law who taught me how to prepare and can 60 jars of homemade strawberry jam as party favors.

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The only difference between then and now: While my mother-in-law's husband didn't help her with domestic projects at all, her son (my husband) kept our toddler wrangled and out of the kitchen while we worked. Then my husband organized all the jam in boxes, which he then put in the back of my car before he drove over to the venue to help set up for the party.

Yes, women planned the soiree, but we had a ton of help from our guys. 

Delia says that her own father inspired her DIY sensibilities. He's been doing it himself since way back, down to making his own beer and candles. He even baked and decorated their gorgeous wedding cake.

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What struck me as one of the few people at Delia's wedding who didn't do anything but show up, was how much more invested everyone else was in the event. Just about everybody, male and female, pitched in.

Though Delia organized everything, the entire wedding party plus her family made all the food. Her brothers kept the self-serve bar fully stocked. And the groom not only spent every weekend crafting for almost a year before the wedding, he also made all the center pieces himself.  

Even more interesting, I think Delia's husband, Jeff, enjoyed the intense wedding crafting more than anyone else involved. He works in technology and rarely gets to work with his hands outside of keyboarding. In fact, now that the wedding is over, Jeff's decided to take an online canning and pickling class. 

From what I've seen, behind just about every married urban pioneer woman, is a genuinely supportive partner.

I worry that by not acknowledging the role of males in the new-new domesticity in her Post article, Matchar herself, is participating in a pervasive form of gender bias. The kind that devalues women-led activities and assumes that any movement led by women must somehow be detrimental to them. 

In any case, I continue to admire and somehow collect girlfriends who actually "know how to do shit." God bless each and every one of you. And, if any technology-killing apocalyptic stuff goes down, expect me to show up at your front door.

Now, excuse me, I have to go pick up my blazer, which I had to drop off at the dry cleaners just to get a button sewn on.