A stunning celebration and reappraisal of the importance of “women’s work,” Made from Scratch addresses the tug that many Americans feel between our professional and private lives.
In this stunning celebration and reappraisal of the importance of "women's work," acclaimed journalist Jean Zimmerman poignantly addresses the tug that many Americans of the twenty-first century feel between our professional and private lives. With sharp wit and intelligence, she offers evidence that in the current domestic vacuum, we still long for a richer home life -- a paradox visible in the Martha Stewart phenomenon, in the continuing popularity of women's service magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, and Ladies' Home Journal -- whose combined circulation of over 17 million is nearly twice the combined circulation of Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report -- and the booming business of restorations, where onlookers get a hands-on view of domestic life as it flourished in past centuries. This book is about the ways home traditions passed from one generation to the next -- baking a birthday cake from scratch, cherishing family heirlooms, or discovering the satisfaction of piecing a quilt -- sustain our souls, especially in our ever more processed, synthetic world, where we buy "homemade" goods and fail to see the irony in that.
Made from Scratch tells the story of the unsung heroines of the hearth, investigating the history of female domesticity and charting its cultural changes over centuries. Zimmerman traces the lives of her own family's homemakers -- from her tiny but indomitable grandmother, who managed a farm, strangled chickens with her bare hands, and sewed all the family clothing, to her mother, who rejected her country upbringing yet kept a fastidious suburban home where the gender divide stayed firmly in place, to her own experiences as a wife and mother weaned on the Women's Movement of the 1970s, with its emphatic view that housework was a dirty word and that the domestic sphere was to be fled rather than cherished. In this book Zimmerman questions the unexamined trade-off we have made in a shockingly brief time span, as we've "progressed" from home-raised chickens to frozen TV dinners to McNuggets from the food court at the mall. What is lost when we no longer engage, as individuals and as a community, in the ancient rituals of food, craft, and shelter?
In the past century, homemakers have become a dying breed. The domestic achievements of our mothers and grandmothers have been devalued and replaced by the easy options of fast food, hired help and prefabricated products of all kinds; meanwhile, the arts of cooking, needlework and gardening become the province of a dedicated few. Zimmerman (Breaking with Tradition: Women and Work) urges both men and women to honor and preserve the domestic achievements of our female ancestors. "In the small private act of stirring a pot of homemade soup or knitting a scarf for a loved one we preserve the rich heritage of the home and keep back the swelling tide of mediocrity and commodification that is fast replacing it and, most important, nourish our own souls." Although Zimmerman asserts that revaluing "women's work" is a feminist act, her argument occasionally downplays the positive impact the feminist revolution has had on American women in the past four decades. In the end, Zimmerman advocates for a mild domestic revolution of her own: "I would like to see every person perform just one small domestic act." It's a startling request in its simplicity, and yet it highlights the very best that modern feminism has offered women: nowadays, for some women, to perform a small domestic act is a choice. Though the book's gender politics may raise a few hackles, the author offers a thoughtful and engaging defense of domesticity.