Millenial women, I have concerns. It’s not a usual complaint—too many of us living with our parents or forgetting how to use our vocal cords, because of the Facebook—but something more insidious. I am worried about all the marmalade.
Have you preserved something lately? The internet says you have. Sure, maybe you just made some kumquat jam or harvested some green beans from your garden for later use. What’s the big deal, Grace? Everybody’s doing it. It’s not like I’ve set up a canning shed in the backyard yet. It’s not the jelly that truly worries me. If you want homemade apple butter, that’s your (delicious) right. If you want to spend all weekend stewing beets, stew away, my little ableskiver! What worries me is the canning movement.
Everywhere I look, our generation is celebrating domesticity. We’re making jam and knitting sweaters. We’re not only sewing our own clothes, but weaving the fabric from backyard cotton crops and creating chevron prints with handmade vegetable dyes. Flocks of children are being cooed over and homeschooled and raised on homemade organic vegan baby food. And that’s great! The domestic arts are important, under-appreciated crafts. For far too long, “women’s work” was reviled and treated as an expectation, not a honed skill. Knowing how to make things yourself is not only important, but freeing for both genders. De-stigmatizing the feminine is always a good idea, in my book.
Only…I’m less convinced that’s what we’re doing. Could this “new domesticity” not be busting gender roles at all, but reinforcing them? Look at your Facebook feed. Are any of your guy friends posting about the fruitcake they just baked or the new quilt they made for their son’s room? I’m betting not. Young women, however, are baking and sewing and quilting in droves. We’re sharing photos of our creations and blogging about them. Such hobbies are becoming the social norm for women.
Even the look of our generation—the much reviled, but still copied hipster—falls into a gender dichotomy. The Millennial guy, the one who will be parodied at fraternity parties in twenty years, is hyper-masculine. He has facial hair and flannel shirts. He’s really into video games and philosophy and locally sourced bourbon. Meanwhile, our dear Millennial woman has long flowing hair, which she artfully arranges into a braided sock bun, and wears twee, collared dresses she’s made with her own hands. She bakes towering, photogenic cakes and uses homemade cleaning solutions to scrub the kitchen mess away.
That’s not radical, friends. That’s traditional.
If we’d reinvented domesticity, surely it would be split more equitably along gender lines? If our argument is that we’re de-stigmitazing women’s work, then these hobbies shouldn’t be confined to women. Just as many guys should be teaching sewing classes and making scones for their families on the weekend. And—I say this as a person who enjoys both of those things—they’re not. The revival of these arts is a vastly female endeavor. The people who are reading the blogs and pinning the recipes? Women.
We haven’t reinvented homemaking at all, we’ve returned to it. It’s not an inherently bad thing, because the traditionally feminine isn’t inherently bad, but it is a cause for concern. All too many women I know are getting involved with these pursuits out of a sense of expectation. All of their friends suddenly care about canning strawberry jam, so they must as well. The moment that pressure happens, we have a problem. Hobbies are all well and good. Choosing to stay home and raise your children is also all well and good, but we must keep it that, precisely: a choice.
We fought for our right to make pecan pie and kick ass in the working world. Little by little, women have bashed in the social constructs that kept us in the kitchen. The death of these societal expectations is what allows this “new domesticity” to exist, that allows a choice to be made. I’m worried that we’re getting complacent about keeping that choice. The same friends who learn to knit out of a sense of peer pressure, insist that feminism is no longer necessary. That is my marmalade nightmare, friends. Are we going to, slowly and beautifully, place ourselves right back on that pretty, homemade pedestal?
There is still a war to be fought. The wage gap continues to exist; the gender roles continue to negatively affect both sexes. This is not the time to blithely saunter back toward tradition. Let’s bake our pies and care for our children, but keep up the good fight while we do so. Maybe our guy friends would like to make a perfect meringue or our sons would like to weed the garden? The feminine ideal shouldn’t be charming and pretty and accomplished. The feminine ideal shouldn’t be.
Canning fruit doesn’t make you a good woman. Sewing your husband a shirt doesn’t make you a good wife. You are good, whether you burn water or achieve perfectly fluffy souffles. The new domesticity is lovely, but it should never be an expectation. If you want to wear pearls and vacuum, then vacuum your little heart out. Just remember that you don’t have to.
Make your marmalade. Make intellectual war, while you’re at it.