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Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture
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221 of 232 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2010
I really expected to like this book, but it had so many glaring flaws I just couldn't. For one thing, it needs a different title. As others have already pointed out, it should be called Radical Homesteading because that is what the book is really about (although the "radical" is extraneous since it's pretty much exactly what homesteaders do, not just the "radical" ones). If your parents don't already have a farm you can live on and/or you have no interest in rural life, there's nothing here for you. Even if you buy into what she is saying and want this life for yourself and your family, the book offers no practical suggestions for achieving it--again, unless you come from a family who will give you land, or is willing to pay your bills while you remove yourself from the "extractive economy".

The book is divided into two parts. Part one is entitled "Why" and part two is entitled "How", but she never actually delivers on the how. She, and most of the people she interviewed either live on land provided to them by their parents from a family farm or are having some portion of their bills paid by their families (student loans, health insurance, etc.).

She makes some good points here and there--in fact I'd say overall I agree with of her core ideas-- but the historical interpretation is questionable at best, the whole thing is poorly researched and written, and in the end it really never offers any practical advice. The good points she does make have all been made before--by far better writers. Additionally, it comes off as preachy and privileged with it's all-or-nothing stance.

Hayes seems completely blind to her own privilege. The vast majority of the people in the book, Hayes included, have college degrees and come from solidly middle class backgrounds. There is a lot of talk about how unimportant income is to them, yet most of the people in the book have household income which put them in the third income quintile in the US (based on the figures from 2005) and some are in the fourth quintile or higher. (Interestingly, the income from the family in which one parent is a medical doctor is not given.) Nearly all are well above the poverty line. There is a complete lack of recognition for the fact it is much easier to be unconcerned about income when your income is large enough to sustain yourself and your family.

Hayes is correct our culture is overrun by consumerism and far too many people fail to understand the real cost of what they own (or even want to own). However, she misses the opportunity to educated people about making better, more life-sustaining choices by presenting the options as a strict either/or. Although she backpedals a bit at the very end of the book, her philosophy is largely presented as an all-or-nothing proposition. If you aren't growing all your own food on your family farm while homeschooling your children, you and your spouse must be working a 60+ hour a week at jobs you hate so together you can earn the six figure income it requires to afford a McMansion in the suburbs and two brand new cars while sticking your kids in daycare and eating all of your meals out of take-out bags in front of the tv. She blatantly ignores the fact, statistically speaking, very few people are actually living that life.

I also found it interesting Hayes encouraged readers to turn their backs on the "extractive economy" and live off the land, but she was fine with people taking money from family members who worked for jobs which were part of the same system they were eschewing. I was also a bit baffled by the rationalizations of the families who turned their backs on the "extractive economy" to become self-sustaining units of production, but then sought out and accepted government aid.

I won't take the time to point out all of the nonsense (asthma caused by working parents, homeschooling to avoid E. coli, pre-industrial life re-envisioned as utopia, etc.), since several other reviewers have already done so.

I was surprised by how much I disliked this book. When it was suggested for our book group I was really excited to read it. But unfortunately it just didn't deliver. Even if you are already a true believer, there isn't much here for you.

The core ideas behind this book are important and certainly ripe for discussion in our current culture. But, they need to be supported by adequate research and practical solutions which can be implemented by those who aren't living on their family's farm.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2011
I was very disappointed (even angry at times) with this book, especially that she offered no solutions as to ways to incorporate this lifestyle or ways in which it is possible to live simply yet not completely off the grid. I also felt the second half of the book of interviewing people from around the country in "all walks of life" was not as diverse and it should have been. Although she went across the country for interviews it was a lot of the same with very little "meat" to what she said she was trying to do with this book.

Realistically what her book promotes is not possible for most of the population and I speak from experience. As a fellow feminist who made the decision to live a life of simplicity, to stay at home with my children and live on the income of my partner I know what this requires and I believe Hayes does not even touch on the realm of mental, emotional, social and financial strains and stresses that also comes with this type of decision and lifestyle. While happy that I made the choices I have, I also recognize that it was not as easy as this books makes it out to be.

I was also very disappointed in the lack of acknowledgement for her education and what it has afforded her within her life and how it has contributed to the ability to have this lifestyle. I do not believe that it is realistic for many people to live this lifestyle that she is promoting, especially those who live in urban areas. As a resident of an urban city I know this to be very true, and while I would love to do more, my surroundings only allow me so much to work with. I am just like many other people who want to sustain themselves but have limited resources, which is not acknowledged enough in this book.I agree, our materialistic Western culture does need to be changed, but this book does not provide the solutions to get there.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2011
This book reminds me of works of early feminism, written by well educated women, about other high level demographic, well-educated women: Well intentioned, but lacking, and failing to address any other than a narrowly focused group.

In addition, Hayes could use an editor with a sharp blue pencil. There is much repetition, and some surprising errors of syntax and grammar which mar the book.

Living outside the "grid" of consumer culture and mass media dictates is a noble enterprise; there are numerous methods of doing it, some of which Hayes describes. For example, we've lived in academia for decades, where materialism is not highly regarded. For us, there is no border between leisure and work, as we greatly enjoy what we do. We do not have to live in family compounds in rural areas to maintain a simple, ecologically friendly lifestyle. One can live without incurring debt or falling prey to marketing techniques, yet still employ technologies and labor-saving conveniences in a mindful manner. One can be an advocate for social justice without the limitations of a narrow circle of people and places.
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57 of 88 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2010
I can understand the author's frustration and desire to be "radical" (I think it's basically impossible not to feel these things in a patriarchal male-defined and patriarchal male-dominated world, in which to some degree we still live), and she presents some great ideas in this book. I get the sense she is someone who enjoys hands-on work and finds the male-dominated nature of the marketplace daunting.

I also enjoy hands-on work and find the male-dominated nature of the marketplace daunting, and I particularly enjoy nurturing children (not just with food but more in the psychological sense). I sometimes suspect that part of why I prefer hands-on work is that the focus on male bread-winning and competition for resource control among men that patriarchy entails creates a situation where the work of women does not get recognized. With hands-on work, at least I can see the product if others cannot.

I am concerned that this book could be misunderstood and ultimately used to reinforce the very patriarchal-male dominated economy that the author criticizes, and I think there is another way to do this that might be more effective, productive and sustainable in the long run. (The author notes that her book could be misused in her criticism of "soccer moms," but I don't think she looks closely enough at the need to have a real equal partnership between parents, both in earning and in parenting, for the healthy psychology of the family. She also does not look at how her agenda will affect children, i.e. to be pulled this far out of the general "swim" of the world.)

I don't understand why the author cannot advocate for, study or innovate sustainable agriculture as an actual worker in the marketplace, taking responsibility for her and her children's financial needs (together with her husband) at the same time, and instead needs to withdraw from the political economy to do this, likely imposing some costs on the rest of us and delaying progress on some important reforms needed. The only reason I can think for this is that she objects to adult environments where interaction, assertiveness and competition (in certain circumstances), is required).

I do not think it is realistic to expect modern people to abandon modern medicine, science, education, technology, media, industry, etc. for a return to agrarian-based bartering and home-schooling, but it may be possible to modify those public worlds so they are less wasteful & violent, more productive and fairer in their reward to women and girls as much as to men and boys (and allocation of accountability between the sexes more fairly as well). Trying to use politics to address this, as the author advocates, has a role, but will be ultimately ineffective and just contribute to more polarization and conflict in our political economy if more women are not actual players in these marketplaces.

Having grown up in a 1950s-style homemaker family, I know all too well the trauma of being the child of a falsely and ineffectively empowered mother and patriarchal father. And I work currently on issues with unwanted, abused and neglected children, and I feel that full engagement, caregiving and parenting by both mother and father (provided that both are emotionally healthy adults - and if they're not, please don't reproduce until you both are) is important to prevent these issues. As much as I understand the author's feelings and motivation behind encouraging "radical" withdrawal from public life, I am concerned that it could be a type of narcissism (and naivite) for women to see themselves as the center of importance of family life and to pull the family (especially if just the children and not the husband) out of participation in the political economy and to redefine it on their own terms without considering that intersection fully.

I am also concerned about this book being read primarily by other women without more consideration for a nexus with men and their views on these issues ("men," of course, being a generalization since different men want different things; just because the author's husband joined her in this does not mean that there are not still a lot of men with other agendas). Women continue to hold far less wealth than men in our culture, seniors in poverty are some 80-85% women, and in government, women remain below 20% of the Senate and there's been no woman President. The women who reach full status in their careers, economic autonomy and a real "say" in public life still too often have to sacrifice marriage and family to do so, and many children are growing up without good quality, emotionally healthy, grounded (in the sense of being a human being, not being punished!:) ...) fathers in their daily lives. Male privilege, with all its toxicity, remains alive and well in many respects, and "baked-into" many people's psyches.

I am glad the author seems to have found a man to join her in seeking refuge in domesticity but I am concerned other women will use this without such full cooperation and will end up in something akin to 1950s homemaker status, which can be the path of least resistance with many men. This "choice" ultimately reinforces men's control of resources in the broader economy, as well as in the woman's marriage, and limits the choices of women in general much more than those of men (including that woman's choices should her source of economic support from her husband end for some reason), even if it feels like a "choice" to become a homemaker to that particular woman at the time. Also, it does not take into consideration what children (of both sexes) really want, which is, I suspect, both parents to have the ability to be available for them when needed, both parents to help them with learning to deal with the challenges of life and to have good relationships with both parents?

Even the author's "choice" to do this with a husband may reinforce these issues - because many men do not want to live this lifestyle and the fact she and her husband are withdrawn means another more egalitarian relationship wi pulled out of pressuring for reform in the marketplace.

Also, she is using supports from the male-dominated patriarchal economy (and from women who have the stamina and negotiation skills to stay in the marketplace and pay taxes) to do this. The fact she has a private property right and the right to raise her children as she wishes without intervention by the state are both rights protected by the government. What if someone in the family gets seriously ill? Will she expect the people who pay for the health care system to subsidize the care in this case? (Either by not charging her or by allowing her to declare bankruptcy and protecting her if she cannot pay the bills?)

Those of us men and women concerned about the status of women have all made much progress in the last 50 years in creating a world less oppressive to women (and have put a lot of hard work into creating this progress) and allowing women and men to truly nurture their children and support their development to adult autonomy and healthy adult relationships, but unfortunately the final steps in the revolution are not complete. I think the author's frustration perhaps may derive from the incompleteness of the revolution, rather than from its lack of validity? I hate to see people giving up when we are getting close to the "prize" and might actually see it actualized in the next 20-50 years. I see this book as a bit regressive and, especially when followed by a woman without the full participation of her husband stepping down from male privilege, a very different understanding than I have about the ultimate goals of sex equity, stable and satisfying marriage, and good quality childhood experiences for both boys and girls that prepare them well for adulthood.

I think the final steps are: (a) remaking and negotiating paid work for women and men so that 25-30-35 hour weeks are available to those who want it (even a 40-hour work week would be more reasonable than what many U.S. folks currently do), and both parents have the option to take leave (perhaps unpaid if necessary) during the first 12-24 months of a child's life (which they can alternate or handle however they wish), (b) getting men fully reconnected and empowering them as emotionally healthy fathers (of both sons and daughters), including providing them with time on their own with children, (c) getting women to parity with men in the highest levels of private business, finance, government, science, media, religion/spirituality, etc. and getting more men involved with children of all ages as teachers, librarians, coaches, etc., (d) addressing both the financial and "empathy" deficits we have in our culture and political economy, and especially in way too many families, in the process.

I respect this book for looking at consumer culture and oppressive types of pedagogy and religion, but I fall short of enthusiasm because I think there are alternatives:

1. Both parents negotiating for reduced hours (which will include reduced pay, of course) rather than one quitting a job.
2. Mother and father learning to co-parent rather than the mother being the primary parent.
3. Keeping everyone in the family connected to the political economy, including children (such as in public school, if a good-enough one is available) so that they learn to get along, make change where needed, lead and follow when required, and so that adults take full responsibility for themselves financially (alone or in conjunction with a spouse) in terms of planning realistically for health care needs, retirement and/or disability, and divorce or death of a spouse.

I think these more moderate adjustments may be more sustainable and productive, and less regressive, in the long run than some of what the author advocates.

If others are interested in these alternatives, some books that might be of interest are:

A. Getting To 50/50 by Joanna Strober and Sharon Meers
B. Equally Shared Parenting by Marc and Amy Vachon (There is now a support group in Philadelphia on meetup.com to help couples wanting to make this adjustment.)
C. Daddy Shift by Jeremy Adam Smith
D. Partnership Parenting by Drs. Kyle and Marsha Pruett
E. Passionate Marriage by Dr. David Schnarch
F. The Unfinished Revolution by Dr. Kathleen Gerson
G. Pink Brain/Blue Brain by Dr. Lise Eliot
H. The Gender Knot by Dr. Alan Johnson
I. I Don't Want to Talk About It by Dr. Terry Real
J. Alpha Girls by Dr. Dan Kindlon
K. Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dr. Michael Thompson
L. The Modern Dad's Dilemma: How to Stay Connected with Your Kids in a Rapidly Changing World by John Badalament
M. Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Dr. Cordelia Fine

Given that the public aspects of the U.S. and foreign political economies will likely progress on, this book ends up being (intentionally or not) an excellent case for dropping out and letting other women (and men who join in the effort) do the heavy lifting and make the sacrifices required to try to accomplish these final steps to getting men and women to equal status in public life and equal access to resources.

While some women and men will see this book as persuasive in a way that I think will hurt their children's ability to deal with the world as it will exist when they are adults, other women will likely see this as persuasive in the 1950s homemaker sense (only modified with a focus on agrarian bartering and home schooling)and will justify not taking responsibility for themselves as actors in the political economy, which I think is needed to be a good mother (ironically). Women in the latter group may see this withdrawal as in their personal interest, and may have that baby crying and those loads of laundry to do and that career-focused husband bringing in $ that make them feel so cared-for (superficially anyway) all pressuring them to withdraw to full-time domesticity, they might want to read a bit more about what patriarchy is and what it costs them and especially their children first. "The Gender Knot" referred to above is an excellent summary of what patriarchy is and how it affects men and women alike in a political and economic sense; "I Don't Want to Talk About It" discusses the psychological costs and the toxicity in a personal sense to children and both men and women. I also am concerned this full withdrawal into domesticity will be adopted by some women naively, as I suspect trying to re-enter the paid workforce after doing this will be very difficult.

I believe it's possible to create, in connection with men, a healthy and supportive home - and not give up on the dream of getting women full agency, status, and safety, in our political economy. And I think this will get easier and easier in coming years if we stay the course, learn from but don't re-adopt mistakes from the past, and don't "turn in and drop out" (to paraphrase Tim Leary in the 1960s).
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2014
The book is nicely to read, but it is very idealistic. It describes household as it was before industrial revolution and family bonds in a very idealistic way. I was raised in a country where the familiy ties are still quite strong and homemaking is still practiced. But this kind of lifestyle has also major flaws and is not neccesarily more sustainable than the current "capitalist" family model. I would agree more with this book if it would also cover the problem of overpopulation which is prevalent in this kind of societies and the problem of female education (actually its deficiency). Homeschooling is fatal in this case.
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1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2012
Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From A Consumer Culture discusses an important topic and what I read of the book was well thought out and lucid. However, the copy of Radical Homemakers I received had a big chunk of pages missing out of the middle of the book. I contacted the seller and a new copy was duly sent. The new copy of Radical Homemakers also had the same pages missing. The seller gave up at this point and refunded me. Radical Homemakers could be an important book, but having a great chunk of it missing spoiled the experience for me and I would not recommend this book to anybody in case they receive a faulty copy.
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