Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Lifestyle for Sale

As promised, I am picking up where I left off last week, which is to talk more about the commercialization of taking care of a home (aka: "buying a lot of stuff for our houses").  Recounting briefly from my recent post, I want to reiterate that I think it is important to create warm, welcoming, aesthetically pleasing environments to live in.  I would even go further to say that creatively promoting beauty is a necessary habit for civilization.  I would not, however, claim that loading up my cart at Target with the newest Victoria Hagan housewares is particularly virtuous, nor do I think it testifies to the spirit of caring for a home particularly well.

What I mean is that creating a home (in the true "homemaker" sense of the word) is a lot more than decorating.  I think that we know this, but I also think that our culture sends out a lot of confusing messages.  

Take Martha Stewart Living, for instance.  Martha Stewart's example, delivered to your door monthly in all its glossy glory, has become the definition of homemaking.  Who knew that while feminism was ramping up across the West, a hostess/gardener was slowly building an empire on the very things the feminists were trying to get away from?  Watching Ms. Stewart rise to fame has led many to believe that homemaking is still alive and well.  Coupled with the popularity of publications like Real Simple and the newcomer, Rachael Ray, cooking, cleaning, gardening and decorating seem to be thriving.  However, I would disagree.  I think the appearance of homemaking is not the same thing as the practice of it.

What I mean by this is that I think we as women love to look at the magazines and think and plan and even buy for a lifestyle we don't actually live.  A lifestyle a lot of us probably feel is off limits.  This lifestyle--that of a housewife or homemaker--looks really appealing on paper, hence the magazine subscriptions.  Marketers have figured this out (evidenced by the advertisements stuffed to the gills), and are promoting the lifestyle with fervor.  And what they are promising is that we can buy it.  I mean, we are all supposed to be working, right?  

I think this is the rub, really.  The culture is telling us young women that to live the lifestyle is not really appropriate ("what?  you mean you aren't working?  why not!?"), but to buy it is.  The trouble is that the lifestyle can't really be bought.  And to commercialize it the way that we have is really to lose the heart of the homemaker tradition in the process.  

So, yes, I can decorate my home (it is lovely, though I'm hardly here), and keep my fridge stocked with produce (which I'm too tired to actually cook after working all day), and store up my china for quaint summer picnics (although hosting is one more stressful thing on my to-do list), but that doesn't make me a homemaker.  I'd like to be, I think--at least it sure sounds great and looks pretty in my magazine.  But so far all I've done is spend money on supplies.

Anyway, you get the point.  Being a homemaker is a lifestyle that can't be bought.  I think that our attempts to purchase it just shows that perhaps some of us are drawn to it in spite of what the culture says (we'll talk more about these issues next week).  But for now, most of us will just stick to our magazines.

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