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The new domesticity: Fun, empowering or a step back for American women?

• www.washingtonpost.com
But lately, many women (and a few men) are diving into domesticity with a sense of moral purpose. The homemade jar of jam becomes a symbol of resistance to industrial food and its environment-defiling ways. This view has been brewing for a while, a thick stew of Slow Food and locavorism and DIY brought to a boil by recession and anxiety. Suddenly, learning the old-fashioned skills of our great-grandmothers seems not just fun, but necessary and even virtuous.

“This was initially about being frugal and concerned with what I put in my body,” says Kate Payne, 30, the Austin-based author of “The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking” and something of a guru on the new-domesticity scene. “But it became about the politics. . . . Am I going to buy cheap crap, or am I going to do this stuff myself?”

I recently spent some time with Megan Paska, a 31-year-old Brooklynite whose pixie-cut hair and inked-up biceps make her look like she should be fronting an indie rock band. But Paska’s daily life more closely resembles a 19th-century farm wife’s: soaking beans for stews, feeding her backyard chickens and rabbits, drying herbs, baking bread, keeping bees on her apartment roof. Her frugal, home-based life allowed her to leave a desk job she disliked; she now lives on $1,000 a month earned by teaching classes on DIY urban food production and writing about beekeeping and other pre-industrial skills.

A few years ago, her friends thought she was nuts. Now, with the economy stagnating and career disillusionment growing, they all want to imitate her. (Though her boyfriend, an IT guy, is not so sure.)

Most of the urban homesteaders Paska knows are female. “Women find this lifestyle very empowering,” she says. “Some people assume that this is a backlash against the feminist movement, but I see it as a continuation of it.”

In the past couple of years, a slew of hipster home-ec books has arrived to fill us in on lost domestic skills, recasting housework as scrappy, anti-establishment self-fulfillment. In addition to Payne’s “Hip Girl’s Guide,” there’s Raleigh Briggs’s “Make Your Place,” Bust Magazine’s “The Bust DIY Guide to Life,” Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen’s “Making It: Radical Home-Ec for a Post-Consumer World” and Shannon Hayes’s “Radical Homemakers.”

In one such book — “How to Sew a Button: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew” — writer Erin Bried recalls serving her dinner party guests a homemade “rhubarb” pie accidentally made with look-alike Swiss chard. One might chalk this up as a simple goof (hey, they’ve both got red stems!), but Bried sees her mistake as something much more serious:

 

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