I read a piece in the Washington Post on Sunday that is still rolling around in my head. Emily Matchar wrote about The New Domesticity. Basically she’s asking a simple question: is the new wave of hobbies for women around knitting, sewing, canning, cooking, etc. a step back or a step forward for women. When I started making jewelry and blogging about that and related fashion some years ago I wondered if it was anti-feminist. Once in awhile I question it. But at the same time, I need to have that crafty and creative release. It’s good for me, and refreshes my brain.
Matchar’s claims that the mothers and grandmothers of Gen Y women (my generation) don’t understand because they never did these things is mind boggling to me! I’ve sat down with my grandmother for a knitting lesson. There was only one, and it didn’t go well. I still haven’t learned anything. But she knits regularly, and always asks about my mom’s sewing efforts. Yep, my mother sews – a trick she was never able to teach me, but one she learned from her mother. I remember a sewing machine being carted back and forth between our house and my grandma’s when I was young. It was actually just a few months ago I sent my mom all my old college and sorority shirts, for be taken apart and make into a quilt. Something I would never have the space or patience to do. My mom has both.
Maybe it’s just my family. Maybe we’re unique, but maybe not. It does seem as though most Gen Y women are doing something rather domestic in their spare time as a hobby. And yes, some also do it, as Matcher said in the Post, to attain greater control of what you eat and wear. In terms of what I put into my body – I’d much rather have something homemade. But that is not unique to Gen Y women, or men for that matter, and at the same time – I know plenty of my generation, who don’t have the time, energy, space, or desire to deal mostly in homemade baked goods and cooking.
Is this mania with what was once considered incredibly domestic chores a step backward? Since it is usually done as a hobby, or for fun, I don’t see it as a step backwards. Many Gen Yers have chosen just one or two of these areas that interest them. As for me, I bake, make jewelry, and occasionally cross-stitch. My boyfriend cooks and bakes. In fact I know a lot of Gen Y men who enjoy cooking and baking – and we never see them as less masculine, so why are so concerned about women looking too feminine, or, too domestic?
Women are more likely to make a career out of these activities, but I also believe there is good reason for that. Take a look on Etsy: the great majority of shops are owned by women. Women tend to look for jobs that allow them flexibility. And let’s face it – running a small, online business from your home, makes it a whole lot easier to pick your kids up from school, be available to take them to the doctor, and the many lessons, games, sporting events and other after school activities. It also provides added income, especially in a tough economy. In 2010, 97% of the Etsy community was women. While there are men who own shops on the site, it is dominated by women.
The online world, with sites available to us like Etsy and ArtFire makes me wonder, were the sites inspired by the need to share our handmade hobbies, or were our handmade hobbies inspired by the sites? If you want to get a magazine on knitting, sewing, beading or any other creative activity, you have plenty of options to choose from. As Matcher points out, book stores like Barnes and Noble offer endless selections around knitting, card making, canning, urban gardens, or whatever your heart desires. It is entirely likely these options have always been there – though maybe not in quite the numbers we see today, but you would have had to know what stores to look in for them. Once again – did our interest spark the endless number of books on domestic hobbies, or did the books spark us to learn?
Either way, I don’t see this trend as anti-feminist, a step backwards for women or as a reaction to the women’s movement. Trends come and go, and I’m sure we’ll see a resurgence like this again at some point, maybe when Gen Y has grandchildren. In the meantime, find a hobby you enjoy and keep doing it!
*Photo/Artist Credit: Brianne Bevin of Itty Bitty Press
Originally appeared on Fem2.0