Current read: Radical Homemakers

I am currently reading just read (yay! I actually got through a book cover-to-cover!!) Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes.

I waited well over 3 months for my turn with this book through my library & quickly devoured it! And it almost seems like fate that I had to wait.

Three months ago, I was busily & confidently filling out applications for jobs & fellowships. As the rejections have slowly rolled in, I feel like I am keen on reevaluating where I am headed & how I can help to foster a fulfilling family & social life. Ms. Hayes has given me a lot to think about!

I found the book to be unexpectedly poignant & inspiring. I say “unexpectedly” because as a mother with a full-time out-of-the-home job I expected to be alienated by Ms. Hayes’ experience & point of view.

But the book is a well-researched & scholarly critique of the role of home & homemaker in our consumption-driven culture. It’s readability & depth remind me of Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born.

The first half is the more scholarly part, providing a history of homemaking & a critical reading of Betty Friedan & second- (third-?) wave feminism.

The second half of the book focuses on the experiences of several radical-homemaking households. It also provides a sort of abstract “how-to” that includes a push toward community engagement, something missing from the lives of Ms. Friedan’s housewives.

While Ms. Hayes’ message is, in some ways, a hard pill to swallow, I think her ultimate point is right on: We (women and men) need to rebuild our homes & communities by prioritizing & honoring relationships & resources.

It’s idealistic & I am under no delusions that such a reprioritization is feasible or likely for all (in fact, the relatively narrow demographic represented in the book is, I think, a valid criticism)… But her message resonates with me right now. As I contemplate what I will do next, I definitely feel like this book has made a deep impact.

For instance, as I consider my next move, I realize that I can strive for something other than long hours & golden handcuffs. Even being an attorney doesn’t have to mean disregarding family, relationships, & environment… I don’t think… I’ll find out soon. It shouldn’t, though the current structure of the profession often pushes us to forgo all of those things (family, friends, health, etc.).

Unfortunately, Ms. Hayes doesn’t really tackle the work question. She pays lip service to the pursuit of jobs that honor the four tenets of family, community, social justice & ecological sustainability, rightfully urging readers to question jobs that only serve a CEO or shareholders. But none of profiles in he book fully explore what that might look like.

For instance, a few households profiled included a partner with a full-time out-of-the-home career. But Ms. Hayes’ interviews seemed to focus only on the “at-home” partner. I know from experience that there are negotiations (spoken or unspoken) & compromises that are worth exploring there. And it’s not as if the partner with more outside commitments doesn’t have something to say about homemaking. Less, maybe, but not nil.

Of course, another problem with the book is the demographic cross-section of households represented. It seemed a very narrow cross-section.

Closest to home for me: None of the urban families had kids. It’s a difference worth thinking about because raising children in the city presents unique challenges (though it also offers great opportunities for ecologically- & socially-conscious living). Living space tends to be small (making homeschooling unattractive for some), opportunities for outdoor experiences are fewer (no “shooing” the kids outside without a second thought… sometimes not even to the backyard, if you’re lucky enough to have one…), safe neighborhoods cost more (taking a risk for cheap rent or land in a crime-prone neighborhood may have worked before we had a kid but not so much anymore).

Though I admit to having fantasies of moving to a small community someplace with rolling hills, I appreciate my urban life. There are many ecological advantages to city living. We have no plans to flee the city anytime soon.

So how can I approach radical homemaking when I am city-bound with a kid & have a full-time job?

I’m not sure. Pursuit of simplicity & less, learning more home arts, mindfulness in career choices. That’s where I’ll start. And that’s a lot. I plan to take it slow.

Just to be clear, I don’t necessarily blame Ms. Hayes for the narrow selection of participants for her study. She has certainly sparked a conversation (even among us urban families) that will hopefully bring more diversity to the movement toward more sustainable living. More than the current work-life-balance debate, Radical Homemakers has inspired me to rethink my priorities & to live life intentionally & with purpose.


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Filed under Attachment Parenting, Feminism, Lawyering, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Partnership, Read, Simplicity, Working

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