Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture

Radical Homemakers

“Mainstream American culture views the household as a unit of consumption.”

– Shannon Hayes, Radical Homemakers

My recent research about the radical homemaking movement led me to the library to check out Shannon Hayes’ book, Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture.

Radical Homemakers is two books in one. The first part of the book discusses the historical and cultural background of domesticity and feminism, as well as how we as a culture came to value overwork and affluence more than community, relationship and sustainability. Part Two covers information and anecdotes gleaned from interviews with twenty radical homemakers.

“If the household was to be empty all day, then an assortment of products could be marketed on grounds that they would minimize domestic duties upon returning home, or fill the void left by family members’ absence from each other.”

– Shannon Hayes, Radical Homemakers

I quite enjoyed reading Part One of Radical Homemakers. In this section of the book, Hayes argues that radical homemaking isn’t just a lifestyle choice for hippies, but a solution to many of society’s problems.

Hayes discusses the overworked, underpaid and unrespected worker. She talks about Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique and “housewife’s syndrome.” This was the feeling of emptiness, the mixture of frustration, exhaustion and depression felt by many women after being told by society their only role was to seek fulfillment as wives and mothers.

She goes on to look at marketing efforts directed first at homemakers and then at parents with little time to spend with their kids.

Hayes compares the “extractive economy” with the “life-serving economy.” In the extractive economy, we spend our time working so we can buy substitutes for our time. Fast food for dinner, prescription drugs because our health has deteriorated due to poor diet and lack of exercise, childcare, luxury goods as gifts to make up for lack of time spent together.

In contrast, the life-serving economy is built by men and women who “choose to center their lives on their homes, creating strong family units and living in a way that honors our natural resources and local communities.”

“The tactical first step toward breaking from the extractive economy and building a life-supporting alternative to the consumer culture is the ability to unite and to nuture relationships with family, friends and community.”

– Shannon Hayes, Radical Homemakers

I didn’t enjoy Part 2 nearly as much as I did Part 1. I felt this section wasn’t well-organized, and as a result of the topical organization of chapters, I felt I never got to know the radical homemakers Hayes interviewed.

Some of those she interviewed were critical of others’ choices in complicated situations. Also, some of the implications of this section – for instance that, if we live as radical homemakers, we don’t need health insurance because we won’t get sick (or in an accident?) if we live more healthfully – don’t make sense to me.

I also found myself annoyed as I realized that a few of the radical homemakers seemed not to get the difference between interdependence and depending on others to make the sacrifices they don’t want to.

While the book was never intended as a “how-to,” it glosses over some of the problems encountered by those trying to live as radical homemakers, especially those where there’s no partner working for “the man,” with a steady paycheck, health insurance and 401(k).

As you might guess from the title, Radical Homemakers doesn’t address ways to enjoy at least some of the benefits of working outside the home while still having time to make bread or grow a bed of vegetables. For instance, instead of one partner working a typical corporate job while the other stays home, it might be more fulfilling to have each work part-time or seasonal jobs.

Despite these problems, I found the book an interesting read. If you’re interested in the homesteading lifestyle or learning a little about the cultural and historical background of homemaking, visit your library for a copy of Radical Homemakers.


2 thoughts on “Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture

  1. I came of age in what I consider to be the tween generation–too young when it was assumed all women stayed home but well established by the time it was assumed all women wanted to go out to work. I’m grateful for having the freedom to bounce back and forth between those two extremes. My favorite t-shirt during that time said, “Every mother is a working mother.” Validity for the job of those who were not yet called SAHMs.

    • I think having the right to choose, based on your own circumstances and personality, is best. Pressuring people – of any gender – to stay at home or to work, is never going to be in society’s best interests.

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