Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Radical Homemakers

I like the basic concept of this book. It dovetails nicely with things I have been thinking about for years as I've struggled to find my mental space for what I do all day every day. The prologue drew me in with passages like this:

Mainstream American culture views the household as a unit of consumption.  By this conventional standard, the household consumes food, clothing, household technologies, repair and debt services, electricity, entertainment, health-care services, and environmental resources.  In order to be a "successful" unit of consumption, the household must have money. Ruth and Sanford's household was not a unit of consumption.  By growing their own food, living within their means, providing much of their own health care, and relying on community, family and barter for meeting their remaining needs, their household was essentially a unit of production (just not by the standards of a market economy). Thus their income wasn't critical to their well-being.
While I don't think it is feasible for the vast majority of people to "produce" more than they by necessity have to buy, I do agree wholeheartedly with the idea that we should not look at each other as "consumers". The home is essentially a unit of sociological production, no matter how much money goes in or out. A successful home produces healthy, happy people who can contribute to the health and well-being of society as whole. If that was seen as the goal of a household, instead of income or spending habits I think society would be stronger.

The author interviewed a lot of homemakers and tries to summarize her findings thus:
If there was one unifying belief among them, it was to question all the assumptions in our consumer culture that have us convinced that a family cannot survive without a dual income.  They were fluent  at the mental exercise of rethinking the "givens" of our society and coming to the following conclusions: nobody (who matters) cares for 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--it does not have to be bought; and retirement is possible, regardless of income.

This paragraph shows some wonderful ideals but also hints at the major problems I had with this book. Because of the progressive ideology of the author and the defiant feminism she often feels the need to justify going back to what most perceive as a more traditional role. This justification I not only disagreed with, I feel it was unnecessary. If you can be mentally strong enough to reject the consumerism of our society, to what ever degree, then you don't need such platitudes as, "The governing tenet of social justice precludes treating any member of the family as subservient."

Eventually I had to stop reading because while I applaud what she is doing and I think our society would benefit immeasurably from more people doing it, I think she is using the wrong set of ideals to convince people to do it. If you need feminist dogma to give you self-worth because you have decided to stay home and raise people instead of money, then those reasons are going to wear thin eventually.

Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture. Shannon Hayes. Left to Write Press. 2010