This past weekend I finished up “Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture” by Shannon Hayes. Basically it is a manifesto for the crunchy side of the opt-out movement. It tries really hard to be a pro-feminist argument for domesticity, but I have a difficult time believing that this book will convince anyone. It is instead a reassurance for the true believer – maybe. It is certainly written for those who have been following the simplicity/lovavore/anti-consumerism movements. In fact, this really isn’t a standalone book. There is too much assumed for the typical America consumer to make heads or tails out of this, especially when they start reading about the book’s heroes (study subjects) who forgo health insurance, live off inheritance, found a rundown, old shack and fixed it up and/or have one solid income earning spouse working while the other plays homesteader.
What did I really enjoy about this book?
For once a book unafraid to use the word “homemaker”. Now of course Ms Hayes does take pains to point out that “housewife” doesn’t mean what you think it means. Supposedly it means something more akin to “freeman”. But still, it is something.
Stuff can’t make you happy. One of those principles that I think touches so much of what is wrong with our society. “Radical Homemakers” devotes a good amount of time to thinking through what the alternatives to “more stuff” are.
A lack of diversity: There is a vast diversity of thought and practice within the opt-out movement. We see only the slightest touch of this in “Radical Homemakers”. Ms Hayes describes that there are all sorts of Radical Homemakers, women, men, families, child-less, singles, single-parents – but all the interviewees have a certain homogeneous world view about them – I really couldn’t tell if this was because Shannon Hayes had selected a narrow band of people she considered “Radical”, if her own writing covered the voices of her subjects up too much or if she just happened to find 20 families opting out of the consumer-driven culture who had read all the same books and echoed each other.
Betty Friedan Fan. Betty is quoted in almost every single chapter. In fact this book is very quote heavy. Lots of quotes give the illusion of a well researched scholarly study, but the quotes are all sort of laboring under the same problem as the interviews. Lots of quote from a rather limited number of sources and all carefully selected to match the author’s world view such as Riane Eisler’s rather fanciful view of pre-historic cultures.
For the general reader, the person not sold on the anti-consumerism movement, I think this book would be horribly discouraging. In fact it was sort of discouraging to me. Ms Hayes doesn’t show you how step out of the rat-race. The stories she shares of those who have managed to step out aren’t really an option for most families, at least not whole clothed. There was no sense of a “first step” that a normal, in debt, working couple with small children, urban or sub-urban family could do. We see people who have been given inheritances, grew up on farms, have families that helped them out – what if you lack any of those resources? I guess you are out of luck and condemned to be another cog in the wheel. In reality of course you aren’t, but I don’t think Radical Homemakers shows that.
All in all
A good book for reaffirming the choices of those who have opted out and maybe a good read for those who are toying with the idea of less consumerism, but deep down inside don’t want to take it too far because that would be just way too much work. If you are looking for a deep exploration of those who have opted to return to homemaking in opposition to the general culture or a guide-book to the way out of consumerism this is not a book you will fall in love with. The view is too narrow and while the beauties and some of the struggles of the trail are described the location of the trail-head is left a mystery.