BOOK REVIEW – Radical Homemakers

I just finished reading Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes (2010). I wish the subtitle had been Reclaiming Self-Reliance from a Consumer Culture so that it would have been more than a women’s book.

Hayes asked who “the economy” is for and defined the economy of the last 5,000 years as an extractive economy – where corporate wealth is regarded as the foundation of economic health. In an extractive economy, we work to “make the rich richer” by agreeing with corporations that we should have a compulsion to strive in careers, pursue affluence and status, and consume. She points out that if we are reliant on a corporation to provide us with an income, and another corporation to produce the things we need, we have no independence. Worse yet, in such an economy, money is no longer a token of exchange and simple commerce. Rather, it has become a yardstick by which we measure each person’s value and our own self-worth. When our self-worth fails to measure up, our money goes to diversions and anesthetizations.

Our agreement to participate in an extractive economy keeps us from looking at the real questions, such as whether we are enjoying our lives, whether we are healthy, and whether our and our children’s emotional and intellectual needs are met. Distracted from the real issues, we become entirely dependent on entities outside ourselves, our families and our communities for determining our welfare.

Hayes suggests that a life-serving economy will generate a living for all, rather than a killing for a few. In the life-serving economy, Radical Homemakers ask themselves who are they truly serving by going to a job every day and in doing so, just who was defining the parameters for their success and happiness? Who benefited from their daily labors away from home? More importantly, who benefited and who suffered from their family’s lack of self-reliance?

In answering those questions, the Radical Homemakers released themselves from attachments to employment, the status race, and denounced their role as “consumers.” They recognized two ways to make a living – working a job to obtain purchasing power or producing their own basic needs. To produce their own needs, they reclaimed lost skills and learned to grow vegetables, can, freeze, make wine, keep chickens, cows, goats and honey bees, make cheese, soap and cleaning supplies, collect rainwater, educate their children, fix their houses and cars, sew, knit, mend, etc. They also built security through relationships among family, neighbors and community, often working together to build or make the things needed in order to keep their money within the family rather than giving it to corporations. Thus money is not a critical need. It is simply a tool to draw upon when a direct exchange for something of actual value cannot be worked out.

Hayes makes the point that it is fundamentally satisfying to be involved in the daily needs of your life, whether it’s making food, music or soap. The pleasure is in the doing and in the doing, we find that we need less money.

At 352 pages, the book covers much more than consumerism and is well worth the time it takes to read. It galloped along at a brisk pace and, again, I don’t think this is a book strictly for women. It is a blueprint for self-reliance which we may all need given the politics of corporate rule.