A woman in graduate school for broadcast journalism contacted me. She was developing a piece, she said, which would be pitched to major media outlets, about female writers, bloggers, and businesswomen in their twenties who were taking advantage of the “recent trend of millennial women’s return to domesticity.” Many young women, she wrote, are creating brands and making money as experts on the domestic arts and “a return to traditional living.” Essentially, her piece would explore cultural and economic factors that have made this sort of content appealing to the public. I would love the chance to interview you about your journey and why you find a return to traditional living to be so appealing to many of today’s young women, she closed.I should have just offered to get coffee with this woman (who I’m sure is very nice and for whom I harbor no ill will!). Regardless of the subject, give me a latte and we can talk about esoteric cultural and economic factors until the cows come home. It’s, like, what I do for fun. The whole email just felt a little weird to me, though. So I wrote back, trying to better understand what she was seeking for content. I thanked her, of course, because it’s flattering (in that terrifying sort of way) to be asked for an interview. But I wasn’t sure, I told her, that I was really the right candidate.
For one, I explained, I don’t really have a brand or make money off of my blog. It’s a labor of love that I do in my spare time, on my own dollar. I do work full-time during the week, I clarified, but don’t really fit your description of “capitalizing on recent trends” since my income comes from an unrelated field. Secondly, the subject matter of the piece doesn’t seem quite in line with my writing. I understand that cooking and gardening might be considered domestic arts, but I’m not an “expert” in those arts (That’s probably why I don’t get paid for it! I wanted to joke, har har!), and I certainly don’t advocate a “return to traditional living”.
While we’re on the subject—I tried to be really nice at this point in the email—what do you mean by traditional living? Whose tradition is it? My site is a place where I share stories and talk about home cooking, among lots of other things, but it doesn’t pertain to any particular tradition. Oh, and interestingly, from what I can gather, my readership doesn’t seem to be comprised of only millennials or twenty-somethings. They are largely women, but of all ages, and the majority seem older than me. Also, there are male readers, too.
If, despite all this, you’d still like to talk, I’d be happy to get coffee and chat more, I wrote. Thanks!
She never wrote back.
. . . . .
At the risk of sounding pessimistic: why is no one interested in these stories? Give me more of the interesting, multifaceted accounts about what it means to actually make a home in this day and age. We’re too busy, I guess, framing those stories in antiquated language. Being interested in or good at cooking is portrayed as a step backwards towards “traditional ways of living”. Growing food is seen as quaint and pastoral rather than vital.
Some days I am so proud of my country-city existence. I put on a pencil skirt and sit at a desk and meet with our Ethiopia team, and then I come home to my chickens clucking and the woodstove trying to heat the drafty old house and the creek rushing. I puff up my chest because I can inhabit both worlds, walk in and out of them at will. I might clearly stick out in one or both of these worlds—at the meeting, I may be covertly trying to scrape duck excrement off my shoe; at home, I might be the person who can’t take that late-night Skype call because my internet connectivity is so bad—but it works. I can get it done.
Other days are less inspiring. Here’s a little episode that happens to me over and over: as I start to get to know someone, they will begin to learn that I live in the country, that I have chickens, that we keep a small garden. “You live on a farm!” they’ll crow. “Well, not really,” I say, “It’s just my home. We keep chickens and grow things because we enjoy it and think it’s important.” This never fails to perplex people. They would rather me agree that I live on a farm (which would be a disservice to the real farmers I know, by the way). I could extrapolate a lot from this—perhaps that we draw clear lines between “farms” and “every other type of residence” so as to be able to think that it’s not our problem. So that we can convince ourselves that caring about animals or growing things or open space belongs on farms, and not anywhere else. Mostly it just makes me feel weird and out of place. No one ever really bothers to ask, “Why?”
I should emphasize: I’m not against tradition. You can’t really argue that someone who writes 1300-word essays about her grandparents, their way of life, and their cellar for fun is kicking sand in tradition’s eyes. I do think, though, that some vaguely constructed concept of tradition is an easy, reductionist route to characterize ways of living, without acknowledging that people are driven by all kinds of reasons to live the way they do. Like, say, politics or community or health or passion.
Who is telling these stories?