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We’re Reading: “Radical Homemakers”

February 22, 2011











Shannon Hayes offers up a fresh take on feminism, domesticity, and anti-consumerism in this fabulous (and inspiring) book. A potent mix of manifesto-style theory-building and grounded case studies, “Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture” invites us to rethink the meaning of “work”, “life”, and “balance”, while providing some concrete alternative models to consider.

Although many reviewers are calling the book a reassertion of “simple living”, my feeling is that this interpretation misses Hayes’ most compelling argument: that, when you consider the hollowness of most career-life paradigms, pursuing a politicized form of domesticity might offer many people (regardless of gender) a more meaningful, satisfying, and ultimately consequential life path. Trading income for thrift, community engagement, and self-sufficiency is hardly simple, but Hayes highlights the profound sense of freedom that many feel outside of the proverbial hamster wheel. Although Hayes steers clear of flimsy feel-good pronouncements, she seems to suggest that our time, energy, and potential is worth a lot more than most are willing to pay.

It’s a bit cheeky to bring this argument into a university context, what-with all the anxiety most of us feel about our post-graduate prospects. Reading Hayes, however, you begin to appreciate how the humanistic values and principles fostered in a university environment can be better animated outside of the traditional workforce; any skepticism we might feel about Hayes’ message should be checked against the shadowy assumption that “education” does, and should, entitle us to particular monetary returns.

Working with campus agriculture definitely animates the value of productive, life-affirming labour. Considering the ecological and economic realities we face as young people, it’s probably in our best interest to diversify our values, skills, and priorities. Of course, Hayes’ approach isn’t necessarily “the answer”; see Madeline Holler’s awesomely honest response in Salon (“While I share the Radical Homemakers’ family, environmental and social justice values, the way they propose bringing about change requires too much of the kind of work I frankly don’t want to do”). Still, Hayes’ book will prove to be a consciousness-expanding read for those already disillusioned with the status quo, and outlines a liberating, if challenging, vision of the good life.

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