I come from a consumer family. My father’s mother was the 1950’s housewife who sought after the newest and greatest gadget promising greater convenience and my mother’s mother was the career woman who outsourced housekeeping, childcare and food preparation. Between my two parents, I didn’t learn many homemaking skills.
And then I joined the church.
My mother warned me that I might have a hard time assimilating into Mormon culture and embracing the role of a stay at home mother. After my college training as a preschool teacher, I embraced and enjoyed the role of mother and greatly appreciate that I am able to stay home to care for my babies. I struggle, however—and not surprisingly, with the role of homemaker.
The book Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture introduced me to the name of my struggle, as well as provided a solution for it.
I, of course, had heard of Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique and I’ve heard it called the book that started the feminist revolution. From what I had heard about it (I still haven’t read it), it inspired all the aspects of the feminist revolution that I disagree with and would not aspire to.
The author of Radical Homemakers, Shannon Hayes, introduced Feminine Mystique to me in a new way. Hayes disagrees with Friedan’s conclusions though accepts that housewife syndrome truly does exist (an in my experience it certainly does!). Instead of supporting Friedan’s solution of sending women into the workforce to escape the lack of fulfillment at home, Hayes points out that a generation later, women have not found the fulfillment they were seeking and instead are struggling under role strain and the stress of raising families, making a home and being employee. Instead they are finding the lack of fulfillment that comes from being a slave to a consumer culture. The solution, then, is for women and men to embrace equally the role as homemaker and live simply, each family becoming a unit of production rather than unit of consumption. The outcome, according to the 19 families and individuals she interviewed for the book, is that men and women are able to work less, earn less and live more while protecting the environment, building communities and taking steps to solve the problems plaguing our world.
Radical Homemakers is not really a how-to book on how to go about becoming a radical homemaker (which generally involves backyard homesteading or urban gardening) but readers learn the stories of those who made the transition from full-time employment to opting out of the job market and embracing domesticity. The first half of the book is a description of the history and reasons why a shift from consumerism is needed, while the second half tells the stories of families who adopted the radical homemaking lifestyle. The author has created a Radical Homemakers website where resources are being compiled.
The intersection between Mormon values of self-reliance, thrift, living simply, valuing family and community and eschewing consumption while, at the same time, embracing feminist values is fascinating. I also find it immensely validating as it shows me that the ideals of the gospel can be lived while honoring women as people with skills and interests that lie outside of motherhood and homemaking. I’m inspired by the women described in the book who after their hearths are reclaimed extend their focus outward to their communities through civic involvement, advocacy and mentoring.
Do you live any aspects of radical homemaking? Do you know any Latter-day Saints who embrace aspects of radical homemaking? How do you try to minimize the effects of consumerism in your daily life? Do you find a connection between domesticity and environmental sustainability?
If you have read the book and would be willing to discuss any of the themes in the book and how it relates to advocacy in the areas mentioned in the book and gospel principles, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.