The Return of Domesticity

How COVID-19 is returning life to normal

Photo by Nadya Spetnitskaya on Unsplash

“I’m about to use the last of the bread,” he says.
“Okie. I’ll make some more tomorrow.”

This exchange between my mate and I might have felt abnormal a few months ago. But today, it’s a normal part of my routine.

In The Time Before [COVID-19], it was a rarity for a modern Westerner to make bread every three days. Why wouldn’t you buy it at the supermarket along with everything else?

In The Time Before, people didn’t need to know how to cook a decent meal. Isn’t that what restaurants are for?

In The Time Before, we didn’t need to clean our homes; we could always hire a maid if it got too out of control.

In The Time Before, we didn’t need to have a clue about how to make a decent cup of coffee. That’s what the coffee shop on the way to the office was for.

In The Time Before, most problems had easy solutions, so long as you had some money to throw at them.

The Great Pause has been a time to globally train for The Time After. It has been a time for us to become reacquainted with the lost art of Domesticity.

Some of us are ahead of the game, having trained for this our entire lives. But until now, society hasn’t approved. If we weren’t wives or mothers we had no business being domestic. If we chose to be domestic anyway, we were shaming our gender by assuming a role designed “by the patriarchy” (a bullshit argument but one for a different time).

And yet, we are the few who were largely prepared for this Pause. It’s our time to shine. Now is when domesticity will begin to become normal again, as it always had been.

What happened to domesticity to begin with?

It’s a story we all know — World War II created a shortage in men on home turf, creating a need to tap into an unused labor force. Since Congress made it illegal to employ children in 1938, the only option available was women.

You say that as if it’s a bad thing…

Not at all! Just saying…women were legitimately seen as a last resort.

Of course, business owners only agreed to employ man’s dumber, weaker, all-in-all inferior counterpart because women would “happily” do the same jobs for pennies on the dollar.

When the war was over and men began coming home, women refused to accept returning to their roles keeping house. They enjoyed their financial contributions. Working empowered them. Besides, why should they need to care for their homes full time, again? A plethora of household aids emerged to make domestic life easier on women; dishwashers had become affordable to the middle-class, the washing machine was fully-automatic — diapers were even disposable, making less washing altogether. Running a household was so easy that women could have both a career and a happy family.

As more and more career opportunities arose for women, The Greatest Generation encouraged their daughters to be more than “just wives and mothers”.

They also still wanted those grand babies.

Truth! Boomer women were encouraged to be strong and independent, earning their own money. Depending on a man became a thing of the past. Yet, they were still pressured to fulfill their biological destinies of reproduction if they were to live worthwhile lives. Of course, that meant the demand to be a perfect mother was even greater — they had to prove that a career would not make them ineffective caretakers. It’s no wonder pre-packaged, freeze-dried, and microwavable food became the standard-American fare of Generation X’s rearing. It’s not that their Boomer mom’s didn’t know how to cook. They didn’t have the time to do so.

By the time Millennials came on the scene, Home Economics was no longer a required course in most high schools — it didn’t need to be. Millennial children turning adults could figure out how to feed themselves. There were fast food restaurants around every corner and food from the grocery store came with instructions. Millennial's had no need for sewing or mending — mass produced clothing was so cheap that if a button were lost or a hem came undone, it was an excuse to buy something new.

The only other good Home Ec might have served was to teach proper cleaning habits, but who needs those? Millennial's would be at work too much to appreciate a clean home, anyway. Plus, those Boomer ladies are still Jonesing for grand- and great-grand babes who’ll just muck up the place again, so why bother?

Besides. You’re either a clean person or you’re not. You can’t learn to be clean; only how to be better at it.

Fuck off, you filthy piece of shit.
Go make your bed.
And clean up the damn kitchen!

Life without domesticity

In less than 100 years, domesticity went from a normal role in our species to one discerned as demeaning. Career women look down their noses at those who choose to be stay-at-home moms. Men laugh at other men who become full-time dads, preventing other men from desiring to do the same. We even had to invent a word for choosing to stay home and raise the children: “homemaker “. Because our society functions by forcing people to identify who they are with their job title.

“Homemaker” also makes it easier to explain that gap in your work history if you do want to get a job again.

God forbid you have a gap in your work history. I forgot, work = life.

As a result, when mandatory isolation kicked in across the globe, entire generations were without knowledge of how to cope. Millennials and Gen-Z have had to turn to their wisest source of advice — the Google. For what else is one to do when money is tight, bread cannot be purchased, you’ve become bored of boxed pasta, and you aren’t allowed to go visit family for a home cooked meal?

Photo by Lindsay English, owner of The Fiber Seed

Reverting to the old ways

And so, two generations of Americans who were taught that domesticity is the way of the past are suddenly trying their hand at tasks that many of our own parents are ignorant to — not just home cooked meals, but sewing, gardening, bread making, knitting, and multitudes of other domestic activities that were oft scoffed at in The Time Before.

These groups are feeling equipped for life in a new way. They’re elated at creating something with their own hands. And their tasting appreciation for work that provides compensation that isn’t currency.

Their banding together and supporting one another. They’re finally learning their neighbor’s names, and sharing their creations with their communities as in the days of yore. Like we normally did, as a species.

This life is so much more important than career and economic gains. It’s not about titles, material treasures, and accolades. The connections we share, the beauty we create, and the love we spread are the only things that matter at the end of it all.

So when the Great Pause is finally over, and we fully begin life in The Time After, I hope we continue to appreciate all that we’ve gained from this pandemic. Because our previous way of living was far from normal and we never should have accepted it to begin with.

Sassy+Loving. Scientific+Spiritual. Nomadic. Always sincere, often wry. Hopefully romantic. Polymath.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store