Homeward Bound: Chapter 8: Social Class and Gender Inequality

In my last post, I did touch on Chapter 8, but one point from that chapter deserves its own post.

To live off the grid typically requires “a partner’s income, or a piece of land, or some family money” (p. 205). Matchar’s homesteaders all had at least one of these sources of income. My research on scrapbook industry workers supports this.

Of the 11 industry workers in my study, three were full-time scrapbook business owners. Of the part-time industry workers, two were also full-time students and three had full-time work outside the industry. All industry workers had at least a Bachelor’s degree except for the two students, who have since graduated from college. Most industry workers were middle class. Only the college students reported earning less than $19,000 per year. The rest had household incomes of at least $40,000 per year. Excluding the store owners, most industry workers had other jobs or working spouses or parents providing most of their income.

I don’t doubt that there are folks living off the grid and pursuing DIY-lifestyles without being bankrolled by someone else. Just like I know there are online (scrappy) entrepreneurs doing it without this support as well. What remains hidden, however, is that for many, their DIY-lifestyle is feasible because of financial support from a partner or family. This aspect of the lifestyle remains fairly hidden from view as you peruse the blogs of many of these DIY-ers. This critique came up at The Smack Center recently (perhaps it’s alwasy been there, but I just recently began reading some of the threads over there and now they are closed). There are occasional mentions of working husbands, while for others it is quite clear that some scrap-epreneurs have their own jobs and careers supporting their hobby and blogging ventures.

What it boils down to in this somewhat rambling post is that this real need for income of some sort serves to reinforce social class inequality and gender inequality (remember I am a sociologist). Matchar writes “the choice to pursue homesteading often has the effect of reinforcing traditional breadwinner-homemaker divides, even when that’s not the intent” (p. 207). I agree 100% with her point on reinfocing social class inequality.

I have mixed feelings on her point on reinforcing gender inequality. On the one hand, she is right. The need for an income to support homemaking (and new domesticity is real). While some women (and men) who are pursuing new domesticity do find commercial success, which then supports this pursuit, most do not. This leaves many women in a precarious position if the marriage ends (read The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In).

At the same time, new domesticity (if spun into a business) does provide for an opportunity to (finally!) get paid for housework. Matchar points out that for modern homemakers to avoid “becoming bored, isolated, and purposeless,” they must “share their skills and receive[ing] validation for their hard work” through teaching classes, writing books, and sharing on blogs (p. 211). In my study of scrapbookers, I found that few people looked at the scrapbooks that were made by my respondents. The typical audience included pre-teen children, mothers of the scrapbooker, and other family members who are also scrapbookers. Scrapbookers spend a lot of time (and money) on their hobby under the mantra that “it’s for the family” (even if it’s not) and do seek validation for their creations. This lead to a proliferation of websites where people can post their layouts to a community in addition to posting to personal websites. I get that and I’ve been there. I’ve long accepted, however, that no one looks at my scrapbooks. They are for me. That’s also one reason why I don’t post many layouts online even though there are readers who want to see more of what I scrapbook. That’s not why I scrapbook, nor is it part of the way I do my hobby. The point? Through seeking external validation, a person could stumble upon or actively pursue an online business surrounding whatever it is they are doing.

Thoughts? Does new domesticity reinforce class inequality? Or does it enable a person to break down social class barriers? Does it reinforce gender inequality? Or does it liberate women (and men)? 

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