Radical homemakers vs. Radical housewives

A note from one of the publishers at the Minnesota Women’s Press reminded me of my long-delayed intention of talking a bit about a fellow Radical Shannon out there. Namely, Shannon Hayes, she of the Radical Homemaking book and series of articles in Yes! magazine. I appreciate her ideas (for the world needs MORE radical Shannons in it, not fewer) but she and I have totally different practices and goals.

Hayes’s subtitle is “reclaiming domesticity from a consumer culture.” As a committed pinko, I like anything that questions the status quo. Capitalism exists to make us all desperately unhappy sheep. The short term consequences are increased L’Oreal and Bud Lite sales–long term consequences are entrenched classism, racism, and sexism.

Hayes’s book site states that “it is the story of pioneering men and women who are redefining feminism and the good life by adhering to simple principles of ecological sustainability, social justice, community engagement and family well-being.” Elsewhere, she writes “in essence, the great work we face requires rekindling the home fires.”

And that’s where we part ways.

It starts with the word “homemaker,” one that I have always found problematic. How does one MAKE a home? I haven’t a clue. Is it by washing the floors? Baking from scratch? Quilting? Gardening? Reading bedtime stories? Nurturing relationships? I clean my home. In the interest of sustainability, I recycle and compost like a maniac, carry my cloth bags with me, bike it up, etc. etc. But I don’t think that keeping a coop of chickens or canning the beans from my garden is the way towards a more just world.

For one thing, “rekindling the home fires” implies turning inward, reaffirming the family as the basic unit of society, just like the folks at the Christian Coalition. Now, I don’t know if Shannon Hayes is religiously motivated. But once you start turning inwards, towards a unit that looks like you, talks like you and thinks like you, you start getting out of touch with the complex systems that conspire against the people who DON’T look like you!

Feminism is about fighting oppression in all its forms. That means we must work outward, not inward. This is why I must place Radical Homemaking on the Mommy Wars spectrum, despite its fine intentions. Examples of Radical Homemakers, the author included, have only been well-off, highly educated white women. Remember “The Opt-Out Revolution,” anyone?

A discussion on the subject at Bitch led me to the blogger Vegan Burnout, who wrote: “to frame the choice between working a soulless 9-to-5 or building a backyard chicken coop and learning to can tomatoes as the only feminist options is reductive and insulting.” It’s easy to choose your choice when you have so many choices to choose from, so that when you do choose, your choice is automatically the best one! It’s the Opt-Out argument from 2003 all over again.

So why did I pick the Radical Housewife moniker, then? Because I find the word “housewife” really funny. That’s why. When I’m asked to fill in the box marked “occupation,” I say I’m a writer and an at-home parent. The damn home can make itself for all I care.

Sorry, Radical Shannon. I just don’t buy it (anti-capitalist pun intended).

One Response to “Radical homemakers vs. Radical housewives”

  1. Dawn M says:

    Did you actually read the whole book? Some of your comments make me doubt it. If you did, how can you accuse her of saying it’s an “either/or” choice?

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