Tuesday, July 19, 2011

DIY, Homesteading, Radical Housewifery/Homemaking

Though I haven't read the book yet, the lifestyle described in Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming domesticity from a consumer culture by Shannon Hayes is kind of seductive. I've flirted with these ideas a bit. Screw the rat race and 70 hour work weeks (all in the attempt to make partner, or get an elusive tenure-track position or not get fired). Instead focus on a slower pace of life, gardening, baking bread, living close to nature, voluntary simplicity, reskilling etc.*
Mother Nature has shown her hand. Faced with climate change, dwindling resources, and species extinctions, most Americans understand the fundamental steps necessary to solve our global crises-drive less, consume less, increase self-reliance, buy locally, eat locally, rebuild our local communities.

In essence, the great work we face requires rekindling the home fires.

Radical Homemakers is about men and women across the U.S. who focus on home and hearth as a political and ecological act, and who have centered their lives around family and community for personal fulfillment and cultural change. It explores what domesticity looks like in an era that has benefited from feminism, where domination and oppression are cast aside and where the choice to stay home is no longer equated with mind-numbing drudgery, economic insecurity, or relentless servitude.

Radical Homemakers nationwide speak about empowerment, transformation, happiness, and casting aside the pressures of a consumer culture to live in a world where money loses its power to relationships, independent thought, and creativity. If you ever considered quitting a job to plant tomatoes, read to a child, pursue creative work, can green beans and heal the planet, this is your book.

I know and admire several people who I would class as radical homemakers/homesteaders/DIYers. Some off-the-grid, some minimally on it. Some with children, some without. Some with lots of land, some with tiny patches in the city. They pretty well all combine this with some sort of income generating work. I respect what they are doing. It's hard work!

Indeed Not One More Winter in the Tipi, Honey (found with commentary over at Historiann) discusses gendered labour off-the-grid.
Too often, modern homesteading asks women to return to the toil so many of their grandmothers left behind. No matter how progressive the homesteading couple, the unfamiliarity and the physical demands of DIY living make it easy to fall into traditional gender roles — to retreat to the stereotypically masculine and feminine skills most of us still learn first and best. The result is that in many modern homesteads, despite highly evolved intentions, men build the houses, and women, like their pioneer-era counterparts, cook over the wood stove. Or scrub the floors. Or care for the babies.

This old-fashioned division of labor means that women are often the first to encounter the worst realities of homesteading. While their partners are outside, impressing the neighborhood with their construction skills, women are inside, confronting the cultural invisibility of domestic work and the social isolation of rural life.

Of course, this is a generalization. I'm sure many relationships are more egalitarian, but so many fall back into these gender roles. Though I think some work traditionally gendered female is beginning to be seen as admirable and even cool - cooking, baking, knitting and gardening were definitely not 'cool' when I was young. Young women tried to get AWAY (to be liberated) from doing those valuable yet unpaid (and therefore not contributing to GDP, and therefore having no official value) tasks. I'm not sure yet that toilet-cleaning has made it into the newly-cool category, but maybe it is just a matter of time.

I guess my question is: Is it really that radical for a woman to stay home and do what women have been doing for generations? Actually, it might be.

Which brings me to the feminist activist Radical Housewife blog (named with tongue-in-cheek), and a whole other way to be a woman who does not currently work for wages. One can still have a voice and be political and be a primary caregiver to children or a household. The danger is in supposing that simply "staying home" or dropping out of the paid work force will somehow automatically fix the world. Of turning completely inward and forgetting to be political. (Or confuse property rights with real human liberties.) Forgetting to fight for social justice and rights for others. Forgetting to be active in our communities. Becoming blinded by our own halos.

*I know, I know, it sounds so bourgeois and indeed it may require a degree of privilege (I suppose being minimally middle-class or at least upper-working-class) but I suppose there are worse things that one could DO with that privilege. (This reminds me of a similar discussion going on over here - Is minimalism just for the rich?)


suberite said...

diy homesteading Is a lot of work and I am finding, takes a bit of money first hand to start up. Absolutely, I believe to a certain extent going back to the land is a choice made by the privileged. You are right- there are worst things that one could do, or perhaps the question is well, what can one do, coming from privilege? We cannot erase our birth right but we can challenge it, question it, accept it, live with it to the best of our consciousness etc etc.
Indeed it would be an easy slip back into gender roles of the past or at least they become obvious. I am not so sure that we in regular society behave much different.

I enjoyed your review!

Jane said...

Hi Red Jenny, Jack and I have been living the "Good Life," inspired by Helen and Scott Nearing, for 30 years now.

I am currently writing a blog to try to share the hard earned knowledge we have gleaned over the years about living sustainably with the younger generation which shows an interest in learning these skills.
I would be honored if you would check out my blog and perhaps share it with your readers. (You will notice that most of the knitchen work is done by my husband.)