Articles By The Author
On Facing Judgment
August 17, 2010
I thought I was emotionally prepared to publish Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture this spring. For three years, I endured more insomnia than somnolence as I fretted over my choice of language and confronted myth after myth that bound Americans tightly to an unsustainable way of life. My husband Bob would duck into my office with a cup of coffee in the morning, and I’d stare at him wide-eyed, frightened by some of the ideas that were flowing through my fingertips and onto the computer screen. It was OK to try to live by them. It was another matter altogether to collect them on paper, put them out for the world to read, and accept that perfect strangers would be able to peer in on our own home life, free to judge our choices.
By the time the book came out, I felt ready to stand behind the concepts it promoted, no matter how outlandish they seemed to the broad American public. After researching so many households, I was ready to talk about the ideas.
It turns out I was not ready for the Internet.
The vast majority of my life is lived off-line; thus, I didn’t fully understand that the Internet had become a 21st century high-speed public pillory. I have been e-decried for being naive, dangerous, anti-God, anti-public education, anti-feminist; for my reproductive choices, my food choices, my health care choices, my housing choices, furniture choices, livelihood choices. I thought the electronic world would be about debate and discussion. It is often more about judgment.
Admittedly, I’m sensitive to judgment. Like many writers, I have an ego that bruises more easily than an overripe banana. I have, however, discovered the true beauty of an electronic pillory: I can just turn it off when I’ve had enough.
The garden has too many weeds, I didn’t make jelly yet, I’m so disorganized I can’t find a clean pair of socks. Radical Homemaker? Ha. Try radical slob. Or radical procrastinator.
Of course, then I have to face my own self-judgments. The garden has too many weeds, the blueberries seem sepulchral, my house is a mess, I’m behind on the new book, I haven’t inventoried my canning needs for the year, my fridge needs cleaning, I need more exercise, my bangs are too long, I’m not reading enough, I haven’t gone to visit my grandfather lately, I didn’t make jelly yet, I’m so disorganized I can’t find a clean pair of socks. Radical Homemaker? Ha. Try radical slob. Or radical procrastinator.
These past two weeks, I have an excuse. My daughters Saoirse and Ula are taking their annual swimming lessons at the town pool. Bob offers to take them, but each morning, I insist on doing it myself. In part, I am keeping away from the computer, offering myself a reprieve from cyber-judgment. The other reason is because I learn so much watching the girls in the pool.
This is the fourth year that Saoirse has taken these classes. In that time, we’ve graduated through only one swimming level. Swimming may not be her best subject, but she wants to learn. And that’s why I love to watch her. I don’t know if it is because she is not familiar with the protocols of formal schooling (she is homeschooled), or if it is just in her personality, but Saoirse seems completely oblivious to the idea of “keeping up with the class.”
Watching her, I can see she has a list of skills in her head that she wants to master. She stretches on her back and floats on the water until her face is completely immersed and she sinks to the bottom. Then she goes into a bob, and practices blowing bubbles from the floor of the pool. She comes up for air and talks to herself about what she needs to do differently, oblivious to the opinions of those around her, then tries again. She has not developed enough skills to go up another level. But she doesn’t care. She simply relishes the accomplishments that she is having on her own. She has mastered more swimming techniques this year than ever before, and she is truly (and justifiably) proud of herself.
I’m proud of her, too. I find myself inspired by her ability to tune out any judgment that may be swirling around her (She’s the tallest kid in the class! She’s talking to herself! Why doesn’t she stand still in line and wait like the other kids? How many more times is she going to repeat this class?). Instead, she tunes in to what her heart tells her she needs to do.
I resolve to release all the judgment from my mind, to go forward with a free heart, work toward what I feel is important, and disregard the rest.
I think about all the judgment I hear in my own head about my daily failings, or the judgments that I read online about my personal life and work. I resolve to release it all from my mind, to go forward with a free heart, work toward what I feel is important, and disregard the rest.
Girls running, photo by Shannon AshleyLeaving It Up to Them
Even in radical homes, children don't always follow their parents' path. How some families are dealing with their children's choices.
Saoirse’s assiduousness and dedication pay off. Two days ago, her teacher noticed her off in her little world, blowing bubbles from the bottom of the pool. It was one of the skills the other kids needed to learn, so she called Saoirse in to the center of the group to demonstrate. I flushed with pride. However humble it may seem, it was still a moment of glory. I watched her smile privately when the teacher chose her, but she maintained her equanimity and concentration as she inhaled a giant gulp of air, stood up on her toes, then (without even holding her nose!), curled her long legs up under her and dropped to the floor of the pool as she blew a glorious stream of air to the surface for her classmates. Above the water, her teacher pointed to the bubbles haloing my daughter’s head and said, “See? That’s how it’s done.”
When she was out of air, Saoirse unwrapped her gloriously long legs and used them to propel herself in a single magnificent shot straight out of the water…
…And straight into the wall of the pool, which she hit with her mouth, slamming her brand new two front teeth (not all the way descended) right into her upper lip. My, how she did howl.
I can be such a clueless parent at moments like this. (Oops. There I go, judging myself again.) I gave her a wave to come join me outside the water, and assessed her lip. It wasn’t too bad. The brand new teeth held up to the accident, and there was only a small amount of blood. I tried to decide what to do. Do I tell her to be strong, toughen up, and re-join the class? Do I coddle her and let her quit for the day? She sniffled and tried to regain her composure, and I encouraged her to put some ice on it, then stay by the water and re-join her class when she was ready. I backed away from her, worried about being seen as an over-bearing parent. Her shoulders shrunk together as I moved back. Her spine seemed to wither within her. I watched her for a few moments, then brought her a towel, wrapped her up, and led her to the shade of a nearby tree farther from the pool, where we could sit and watch together. Her little sobs continued, interrupted only by the occasional blurting of “Mommy! It HURTS!” I tried to explain that the wound wasn’t really bad, that it would feel better by the next day. I encouraged her to pay attention to the class so that she wouldn’t miss anything. Saoirse tried to calm herself again and focus, but the sobs sporadically flowed forth, regardless. “It HUURRRTTTSSS!” she wailed again.
To hell with swimming lessons. There was nothing more to be gained from this. I wrapped my arms around my little girl and ushered her off to the empty changing room to get her warm and dry. Sniffling, she pulled off her bathing suit and handed it to me, her skinny bare chest sunken in sadness. I toweled her off again, then folded my arms around her. “Can I ask you something?”
“Are you worried what the other kids think?”
“Oh Mommy!” She crumbled into my arms and began to bawl. “Yes!”
I enveloped around her, making myself as large as I possibly could, in an effort to shield my little girl from any and all judgment that could possibly plague her in her life. We just remained there, dripping water that pooled up around my pants, soaking me through until it looked as though I’d had an accident. I didn’t care. I waited until her breathing slowed before I spoke.
“Can I tell you something?”
“I’m always worried what people think. And they don’t always think very nice things.”
“Sure. And you know what else? They get to write whatever they want. Up on the computer. Where anyone else can read it. It’s kind of like shouting it out in public.”
“Oh Mommy! That’s HORRIBLE!” And she threw her arms around my neck and resumed her crying, now, in part, for my benefit. Then she quieted a little and pulled away. “What do you do?”
Laundry on a line, photo by Chiot's RunLive Dangerously: 10 Easy Steps When Shannon Hayes made a list of easy steps for becoming a radical homemaker, she didn’t realize just how revolutionary they were.
“I do just like you. I get upset. Then I tell Daddy, or Grammie, or Pop Pop. They usually help me feel better. Or I cuddle with you and Ula.”
Slowly Saoirse released herself from my arms and began to pull on her clothes.
“So it hurts you, too?”
“Yup. Not for very long, though. Then I usually learn something from it, or I make a joke about it. Or tell a story about it. You will, too, about today.”
Dressed, she curled up in my arms once more, this time smiling just a little. I kissed the top of her head. “You know, I was really proud watching you today in the water.”
“Yeah, but then I felt really, really stupid.” She said the word with such emphasis, it practically took three-dimensional form as it pushed out of her bruised lips.
“It’ll pass,” I assured her, and we hugged some more.
Even my little girl, who seemed so liberated from judgment, was inflicting it on her own self. I thought about all those spiritual teachings I’ve read about, ways to release oneself from judgment. That’s a good idea, but hard as hell to do. I can certainly try. So can Saoirse. But it’ll probably happen again and again. And for that, I am thankful that we have each other, and Daddy, Ula, Grammie, and Pop Pop, and our friends. One of us is bound to hold the key that will unlock the other from the chains. Whatever bonds judgment can put on our souls, thankfully, unconditional love can usually break them.
Shannon HayesShannon Hayes wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Shannon is the author of Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, The Grassfed Gourmet and The Farmer and the Grill. She is the host of grassfedcooking.com and radicalhomemakers.com. Hayes works with her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in Upstate New York.
Read the whole article here.
Meet the Radical Homemakers
Feb. 1, 2010
Long before we could pronounce Betty Friedan’s last name, Americans from my generation felt her impact. Many of us born in the mid-1970s learned from our parents and our teachers that women no longer needed to stay home, that there were professional opportunities awaiting us. In my own school experience, homemaking, like farming, gained a reputation as a vocation for the scholastically impaired. Those of us with academic promise learned that we could do whatever we put our minds to, whether it was conquering the world or saving the world. I was personally interested in saving the world. That path eventually led me to conclude that homemaking would play a major role toward achieving that goal.
My own farming background led me to pursue advanced degrees in the field of sustainable agriculture, with a powerful interest in the local food movement. By the time my Ph.D. was conferred, I was married, and I was in a state of confusion. The more I understood about the importance of small farms and the nutritional, ecological, and social value of local food, the more I questioned the value of a 9-to-5 job. If my husband and I both worked and had children, it appeared that our family’s ecological impact would be considerable. We’d require two cars, professional wardrobes, convenience foods to make up for lost time in the kitchen … and we’d have to buy, rather than produce, harvest, and store, our own food.
The economics didn’t work out, either. When we crunched the numbers, our gross incomes from two careers would have been high, but the cost of living was also considerable, especially when daycare was figured into the calculation. Abandoning the job market, we re-joined my parents on our small grassfed livestock farm and became homemakers. For almost ten years now, we’ve been able to eat locally and organically, support local businesses, avoid big box stores, save money, and support a family of four on less than $45,000 per year.
Wondering if my family was a freaky aberration to the conventional American culture, I decided to post a notice on my webpage, looking to connect with other ecologically minded homemakers. My fingers trembled on the keyboard as I typed the notice. What, exactly, would be the repercussions for taking a pro-homemaker stand and seeking out others? Was encouraging a Radical Homemaking movement going to unravel all the social advancements that have been made in the last 40-plus years? Women, after all, have been the homemakers since the beginning of time. Or so I thought.
The Origins of Homemaking: A Vocation for Both Sexes
Housewives and husbands were free people, who owned their own homes and lived off their land.
Upon further investigation, I learned that the household did not become the “woman’s sphere” until the Industrial Revolution. A search for the origin of the word housewife traces it back to the thirteenth century, as the feudal period was coming to an end in Europe and the first signs of a middle class were popping up. Historian Ruth Schwartz Cowan explains that housewives were wedded to husbands, whose name came from hus, an old spelling of house, and bonded. Husbands were bonded to houses, rather than to lords. Housewives and husbands were free people, who owned their own homes and lived off their land. While there was a division of labor among the sexes in these early households, there was also an equal distribution of domestic work. Once the Industrial Revolution happened, however, things changed. Men left the household to work for wages, which were then used to purchase goods and services that they were no longer home to provide. Indeed, the men were the first to lose their domestic skills as successive generations forgot how to butcher the family hog, how to sew leather, how to chop firewood.
As the Industrial Revolution forged on and crossed the ocean to America, men and women eventually stopped working together to provide for their household sustenance. They developed their separate spheres—man in the factory, woman in the home. The more a man worked outside the home, the more the household would have to buy in order to have needs met. Soon the factories were able to fabricate products to supplant the housewives’ duties as well. The housewife’s primary function ultimately became chauffeur and consumer. The household was no longer a unit of production. It was a unit of consumption.
The effect on the American housewife was devastating. In 1963, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, documenting for the first time “the problem that has no name,” Housewife’s Syndrome, where American girls grew up fantasizing about finding their husbands, buying their dream homes and appliances, popping out babies, and living happily ever after. In truth, pointed out Friedan, happily-ever-after never came. Countless women suffered from depression and nervous breakdowns as they faced the endless meaningless tasks of shopping and driving children hither and yon. They never had opportunities to fulfill their highest potential, to challenge themselves, to feel as though they were truly contributing to society beyond wielding the credit card to keep the consumer culture humming. Friedan’s book sent women to work in droves. And corporate America seized upon a golden opportunity to secure a cheaper workforce and offer countless products to use up their paychecks.
The household was no longer a unit of production. It was a unit of consumption.
Before long, the second family income was no longer an option. In the minds of many, it was a necessity. Homemaking, like eating organic foods, seemed a luxury to be enjoyed only by those wives whose husbands garnered substantial earnings, enabling them to drive their children to school rather than put them on a bus, enroll them in endless enrichment activities, oversee their educational careers, and prepare them for entry into elite colleges in order to win a leg-up in a competitive workforce. At the other extreme, homemaking was seen as the realm of the ultra-religious, where women accepted the role of Biblical “Help Meets” to their husbands. They cooked, cleaned, toiled, served and remained silent and powerless. My husband and I fell into neither category, and I suspected there were more like us.
Meet the Radical Homemakers
I was right. I received hundreds of letters from rural, suburban, and city folks alike. Some ascribed to specific religious faiths, others did not. As long as the home showed no signs of domination or oppression, I was interested in learning more about them. I selected twenty households from my pile, plotted them on a map across the United States, and set about visiting each of them to see what homemaking could look like when men and women shared both power and responsibility. Curious to see if Radical Homemaking was a venture suited to more than just women in married couples, I visited with single parents, stay-at-home dads, widows, and divorcées. I spent time in families with and without children.
A glance into America’s past suggests that homemaking could play a big part in addressing the ecological, economic and social crises of our present time. Homemakers have played a powerful role during several critical periods in our nation’s history. By making use of locally available resources, they made the boycotts leading up to the American Revolution possible. They played a critical role in the foundational civic education required to launch a young democratic nation. They were driving forces behind both the abolition and suffrage movements.
Homemakers today could have a similar influence. The Radical Homemakers I interviewed had chosen to make family, community, social justice, and the health of the planet the governing principles of their lives. They rejected any form of labor or the expenditure of any resource that did not honor these tenets. For about 5,000 years, our culture has been hostage to a form of organization by domination that fails to honor our living systems, under which “he who holds the gold makes the rules.” By contrast, the Radical Homemakers are using life skills and relationships as replacements for gold, on the premise that he or she who doesn’t need the gold can change the rules. The greater one’s domestic skills, be they to plant a garden, grow tomatoes on an apartment balcony, mend a shirt, repair an appliance, provide one’s own entertainment, cook and preserve a local harvest, or care for children and loved ones, the less dependent one is on the gold.
By virtue of these skills, the Radical Homemakers I interviewed were building a great bridge from our existing extractive economy—where corporate wealth has been regarded as the foundation of economic health, where mining our Earth’s resources and exploiting our international neighbors have been acceptable costs of doing business—to a life serving economy, where the goal is, in the words of David Korten, to generate a living for all, rather than a killing for a few; where our resources are sustained, our waters are kept clean, our air pure, and families and can lead meaningful lives. In situations where one person was still required to work out of the home in the conventional extractive economy, homemakers were able to redirect the family’s financial, social and temporal resources toward building the life-serving economy. In most cases, however, the homemakers’ skills were so considerable that, while members of the household might hold jobs (more often than not they ran their own businesses), the financial needs of the family were so small that no one in the family was forced to accept any employment that did not honor the four tenets of family, community, social justice and ecological sustainability.
While all the families had some form of income that entered their lives, they were not a privileged set by any means. Most of the families I interviewed were living with a sense of abundance at about 200 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s a little over $40,000 for a family of four, about 37 percent below the national median family income, and 45 percent below the median income for married couple families. Some lived on considerably less, few had appreciably more. Not surprisingly, those with the lowest incomes had mastered the most domestic skills and had developed the most innovative approaches to living.
Rethinking the Impossible
The Radical Homemakers were skilled at the mental exercise of rethinking the “givens” of our society and coming to the following conclusions: nobody (who matters) cares what (or if) you drive; housing does not have to cost more than a single moderate income can afford (and can even cost less); it is okay to accept help from family and friends, to let go of the perceived ideal of independence and strive instead for interdependence; health can be achieved without making monthly payments to an insurance company; child care is not a fixed cost; education can be acquired for free; and retirement is possible, regardless of income.
Each home was the center for social change, the starting point from which a better life would ripple out for everyone.
As for domestic skills, the range of talents held by these households was as varied as the day is long. Many kept gardens, but not all. Some gardened on city rooftops, some on country acres, some in suburban yards. Some were wizards at car and appliance repairs. Others could sew. Some could build and fix houses; some kept livestock. Others crafted furniture, played music, or wrote. All could cook. (Really well, as my waistline will attest.) None of them could do everything. No one was completely self-sufficient, an independent island separate from the rest of the world. Thus the universal skills that they all possessed were far more complex than simply knowing how to can green beans or build a root cellar. In order to make it as homemakers, these people had to be wizards at nurturing relationships and working with family and community. They needed an intimate understanding of the life-serving economy, where a paycheck is not always exchanged for all services rendered. They needed to be their own teachers—to pursue their educations throughout life, forever
In addition, the happiest among them were successful at setting realistic expectations for themselves. They did not live in impeccably clean houses on manicured estates. They saw their homes as living systems and accepted the flux, flow, dirt, and chaos that are a natural part of that. They were masters at redefining pleasure not as something that should be bought in the consumer marketplace, but as something that could be created, no matter how much or how little money they had in their pockets. And above all, they were fearless. They did not let themselves be bullied by the conventional ideals regarding money, status, or material possessions. These families did not see their homes as a refuge from the world. Rather, each home was the center for social change, the starting point from which a better life would ripple out for everyone.
Home is where the great change will begin. It is not where it ends. Once we feel sufficiently proficient with our domestic skills, few of us will be content to simply practice them to the end of our days. Many of us will strive for more, to bring more beauty to the world, to bring about greater social change, to make life better for our neighbors, to contribute our creative powers to the building of a new, brighter, more sustainable, and happier future. That is precisely the great work we should all be tackling. If we start by focusing our energies on our domestic lives, we will do more than reduce our ecological impact and help create a living for all. We will craft a safe, nurturing place from which this great creative work can happen.
Shannon HayesShannon Hayes wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Shannon is the author of Radical Homemakers, The Farmer and the Grill, and The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook. She works with her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in upstate New York and hosts two websites, grassfedcooking.com and radicalhomemakers.com. Copies of her books are available through those websites.
Read the whole article here.
Leaving It Up To Them
By Shannon Hayes
July 28, 2010
Even in radical homes, children don't always follow their parents' path. How some families are dealing with their children's choices.
Shortly after her second birthday, we noticed that Ula (now three) was developing a wandering eye. She had difficulty seeing the pictures in her books, and flatly refused to eat with a fork. We took her to a developmental optometrist, and spent an hour in an examination. She needed glasses.
Ula disagreed. The first pair, made extra-durable to survive a child’s play, had various pieces snapped off of them in less than a week. The second pair was thrown off during a hike up a dirt road. We went back and found they’d been crushed by a passing car. Subsequent pairs were snapped in half, had the ear pieces broken off, or the lenses removed. Ula then took to hiding her glasses. We found them in the perennial beds, in potted plants, tucked in my underwear drawer, dangling from a screw underneath a picnic table. Since we try not to be wasteful consumers, I’m too embarrassed to divulge the number of glasses we’ve lost or destroyed in a single year. Our optometrist has grown annoyed with us. He pronounced Ula the most non-compliant patient he’s had in a very long career working with children (We always knew she was destined to be exceptional).
I am often asked how I plan to keep my children on the farm, or at least out of the fray of our consumer culture. My answer is simple. I can’t.
It isn’t as though Ula doesn’t need the glasses. With them, she can find food with her fork, enjoy detailed illustrations, put together puzzles, and investigate garden bugs. We have spent countless hours attempting to get her to wear them, trying everything from coercion to bribery. It doesn’t matter. I am convinced Ula came into our family with the singular purpose of teaching us the meaning of free will.
That lesson has gone a long way. Because our lifestyle is deeply variant from the mainstream, I am often asked about how it will affect my children as they enter adulthood, how I plan to keep them on the farm, or at least out of the fray of our consumer culture. My answer is simple. I can’t. If I can’t make my kid wear her glasses, even when I know they are good for her, how the heck can I expect to control her choices in adulthood?
I received a beautiful letter from a veteran Radical Homemaker recently that really drives this point home. Marie (not her real name) and her husband both chose to forgo conventional careers, raising their daughters with no electrical appliances except a fridge, washing machine, lights and a radio. They’ve managed to raise their family on an almost non-existent income, making ends meet through part-time freelance work, skilled crafts, and music. Both daughters were homeschooled, and completed college through distance learning programs. Now ready to forge her own path in life, the eldest, Angelica (also not her real name) is armed with a boatload of resources. She is an accomplished musician, dancer, and craftsperson, and positively rich in her ability to live on very little. Then girl meets boy. And, much to her mother’s despair, discussions about big incomes, mortgages, and flat screen televisions ensue. The relationship progressed, and the young couple decided to move in together. Angelica began questioning the value of her unique lifestyle, and the young man urged her to “get a real job.”
Fully aware that similar struggles might lie in my own children’s future, I hung on every word in Marie’s correspondence. I shared her angst in wondering what her daughter would do. One would think, from our level of concern, that Angelica was shooting heroine or breaking into houses. How funny, as Radical Homemaking parents, that the fears we hold for our children are that they should opt for the straight and narrow! But it is a genuine worry. We try to raise our children with the skills to require little from the Earth, to honor their hearts, relationships, and personal creativity. We hope that they will be able to move forward with freedom from our consumer culture, equipped with the resources to enjoy a lifestyle that honors social justice, family, community and the planet.
But as Ula has taught me, there is little we can do if our kids refuse our guidance, even if we think it is for the best. We must know in our hearts that we have lived our ideals, that we have demonstrated it is possible to live in a way that is true to our souls. The rest is up to them.
That seems to be working in Marie’s case. Just before moving in with her boyfriend, Angelica spent two weeks wrestling with his “get a real job” suggestion. Then she dumped him.
Now, if only I could get Ula to wear her glasses …
Read the whole article here.
The Real Battle Is Elsewhere
By Shannon Hayes
This article is a response to Mothers Who Care Too Much.
When my daughters wake up this morning, they will make themselves a fresh breakfast of homemade yogurt, topped with blueberries we froze last summer, and drizzled with honey from their Dad’s bees. My oldest is six, and we will probably spend a few minutes reviewing her math while my three-year-old plays with the dog. If anyone rushes out the door, it will be them, chasing after each other on a quest to find the most interesting bug in the garden.
I might be one of Hirschmann’s worst-case scenarios—women who seemingly have “turned their backs on the social resources invested in them” (I hold a PhD from Cornell). And perhaps even more distressing, I am an uncertified teacher, homeschooling my children. According to Hirschmann’s argument, I am failing in my responsibility to myself and my community in my refusal to join the conventional workforce. I would argue that I am fulfilling it to the greatest extent possible.
I’m part of a growing movement across the United States, Canada, and many other industrialized countries. We are the Radical Homemakers, and we work to promote four ends: ecological sustainability, social justice, and family and community well-being. We see ourselves as building a great bridge away from our existing extractive economy—in which corporate wealth is the foundation of economic health and ravaging our earth’s resources and exploiting our international neighbors are accepted as simply the costs of doing business—and toward a life-serving economy. In a life-serving economy, the goal, as the activist economist David Korten says, is to generate a living for all, rather than a killing for a few. Our resources are sustained, our waters are kept clean, our air remains pure, and families can lead meaningful and joyful lives.
We build this bridge by resisting—as much as we can—involvement with the extractive economy (including many forms of conventional employment) and by making up for the personal financial shortfall by turning our homes from units of consumption into units of production on a local scale.
This means growing our own food or sourcing it locally, cooking it from scratch rather than relying on highly processed and packaged foods, fixing the material goods we own rather than discarding them, creating our own entertainment rather than relying on a steady supply from corporate media, investing in relationships and community interdependence, accepting responsibility for our own and our children’s education (yes, sometimes that means homeschooling), caring to the extent possible for our children and loved ones, decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels, and slowing our lives down to a pace at which we can be involved deeply with our families and communities.
My brothers and sisters in the movement are stay-at-home dads and moms, single parents, and childless individuals and couples. We live in rural communities, the suburbs, and urban centers. Some of us have diplomas from prestigious universities; some of us are self-educated. Sometimes a member of the household works outside the home at a job that promotes the four ends; sometimes income is derived from home-based businesses.
Worrying about the fight for equality in an extractive economy is like attempting to save a sinking ship by mending a sail. Neither sex is winning the fight.
Unlike many post-industrial feminists, we do not see the home, and its care and upkeep, as a symbol of oppression. We see it as a starting point for social change. A few feminists might view us as a scourge upon progress. However, we see ourselves as beneficiaries of feminism’s best lessons about gender equity, balance of power, personal autonomy, and the importance of creative fulfillment. We’re eager to carry those lessons forward to build a socially just, ecologically sustainable society unlike any we have known.
The argument Hirschmann puts forward—that women should “care less” on the domestic front in order to compel male household partners to step up to the plate, thereby enabling the “fight for equality” to play out more favorably in the marketplace—is perfectly reasonable, if one believes the marketplace is the ultimate manifestation of human achievement. I bristle at that idea.
Worrying about the fight for equality in an extractive economy is like attempting to save a sinking ship by mending a sail. Neither sex is winning the fight. While some may succeed in bringing in more money, our true wealth—which includes happiness, health, a clean environment, natural resources, genuine creative fulfillment, and meaningful relationships—is being whisked out from underneath us. Dollars are handy to have in one’s pocket and are a necessary part of any economy, but we can’t eat them, drink them, or keep warm in a blanket stitched of them.
The race to see who can bring home more of them has left us bereft as a nation. We lead the world in reckless consumption, we are in the midst of a depression epidemic, we are no longer one of the healthiest populations, we work more hours than residents of most other industrialized countries, and we have one of the highest school dropout rates in the industrialized world.
The sad irony is that as we worry about who gets to climb higher and earn more money, income disparity grows larger, and, for most, the bottom line never seems to improve. Household net worth dropped dramatically in recent years, and Americans’ personal savings rates currently hover at just above a paltry 3 percent.
I agree with Hirschmann that negotiation for shared domestic responsibility is important. But it seems that the scorekeepers are always authorities external to ourselves—especially employers who stand to gain from our struggles to prove who will be the more loyal slave. With these concerns in mind, Betty Friedan warned in her final edition of The Feminine Mystique of the dangers of becoming too deeply ensconced in gender politics:
The sexual politics that helped us break through the feminine mystique is not relevant or adequate, is even diversionary, in confronting the serious and growing economic imbalance, the mounting inequality of wealth, now threatening both women and men.
When we realize that our wealth is greater than mere dollars—that it lies in the well-being of our planet, families, and communities, as well as personal fulfillment and happiness—it becomes clear that the stakes are even higher than Hirschmann suggests. Balance of power and shared domestic responsibility are important. But the “battle of the sexes” is a hazardous diversion from the real battle for a just and sustainable way of life.
Read the whole article here.
10 Easy Steps for Becoming a Radical Homemaker
By Shannon Hayes
June 28, 2010
When I first released Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, I was advised to make a list of “easy steps for becoming a radical homemaker” as part of my publicity outreach materials. My shoulders slumped at the very thought: Three years of research about the social, economic, and ecological significance of homemaking, and I had to reduce it to 10 easy tips? I didn’t see a to-do list as a viable route to a dramatic shift in thinking, beliefs, and behaviors. But since the objective of such a list was smoother discussion and communication of Radical Homemaking ideas with the public, I did it.
I came up with the simplest things I could imagine—like committing to hanging laundry out to dry, dedicating a portion of the lawn to a vegetable garden, making an effort to get to know neighbors to enable greater cooperation and reduce resource consumption. I would perfunctorily refer back to them when radio dialogues flagged, when interviews seemed to be getting off track, or to distract myself when an occasional wave of personal sarcasm (I do have them on occasion) threatened to jeopardize an otherwise polite discourse about the book. After about 40 media interviews, I was pretty good at rattling them off, and I began to see their power and significance beyond helping me to be polite.
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