Monday, 1 July 2013

"Knit your own job"

Like any addict, I told myself I would only have a look at the preview on my Kobo account and then stop. Right. Before I knew it, and without so much as missing a beat, I'd downloaded the whole book to my tablet. Such are the dangers of eBooks.

Anyway, the book I'm talking about is Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity by Emily Matchar and it deals with a range of very interesting issues relating to the growing international trend of reviving the "lost" domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting and the rise of home-based crafting businesses and the artisan economy. She examines these issues in relation to what it means for feminism and asks the questions " Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off?" 

Much of her answer deals with the disillusionment with the workplace, particularly when it comes to working mothers and a new generation's demands for a healthier work-life balance. Very interesting. 

In her chapter "Knit your own job: Etsy and the New Handmade Culture", she speaks of the rise of the artisan economy - trades that work both within and outside of the economic system. For many it seems to be offering a viable work-from-home and be creatively engaged alternative to stagnant 9-5 corporate careers. Matchar writes:
"Lawrence Katz, the Harvard economist and former chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labour, also talks of the comeback of artisans as an important job class. The artisan, Katz argues, may have more stability in the twenty-first-century economy than the corporate employee, since they can work either inside or outside the system."
 In relation to South Africa, with its thriving informal economy, it does make you wonder whether this is a viable reality for the masses of unemployed.While there is a healthy and growing handmade and crafting community here, when we think of "craft" many of us tend to still think of Zimbabweans selling wire key rings at street corners, or rural Zulu women doing traditional bead work, or woven baskets from the bustling Victoria Street Market. Is it, at least in the sense that Matchar describes it, a middle class luxury? As far as these crafts go, they haven't been attributed much value. Can the two "knit your own job" options be merged? If so, how? Certainly not having access to electricity, computers and the internet means that these traditional crafters remain firmly outside of the Etsy-economy Matchar speaks about.

Of course Homeward Bound is based on American research, which means completely different challenges in some aspects, but also many of the same - especially DIY culture as an expression of post feminism. It was interesting to read that many of the women Matchar talks to, couch their reasons for opting out of the formal workforce to stay home with their children as not anti-feminist, but rather in a discourse of personal choice. So for many women, smaller, home-based businesses have provided the balance needed to work and raise children. However,  Matchar also cautions:
"The new culture of craft and artisanship is exciting and worthwhile. At the same time, it's hard not to worry that the 'very-very small business' model is helping repackage old, failed ideas about microenterprise and women."
Homeward Bound was a fascinating read - I got very sucked into the world of DIY - organic gardening, frugal living, locavorism, urban homesteading, keeping chickens, knitting, canning, jam-making, homeschooling and attachment parenting.

The book made me rather keen on planting something (tomatoes P) and baking something (cake P )... we'll have to see how long the tomatoes last once I get back to work...

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