Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Shannon Hayes and Radical Homemaking

This morning, I went to see Shannon Hayes speak about her upcoming book, Radical Homemakers. It was well worth the drive to Princeton, down Route 206 during the morning rush (during which I had plenty of time to listen to my current audio book, which made the time fly anyway). Funny, thought-provoking, and informative, Hayes had some real nuggets of wisdom during the short one-hour presentation, during which time she read the first chapter of her book and then fielded questions from the audience.

The crux of Radical Homemaking, from what I could glean, is the act of taking a step outside the consumerist culture and changing the family from a unit of consumption into a unit of production. Not everyone has to be able to make and do everything themselves, says Hayes, but one common skill among Radical Homemakers is that they can all build community. They know that we need each other, and they masterfully trade their own ability to sew or garden, for example, for someone else's ability to fix cars or can beans, and it all works.

In an article about Hayes in the Fall 2008 issue of Brain, Child, she says that "the problem is that we see parenting as a consumer act. Eco-parenting [or Enlightened Homemaking, or Radical Homemaking] is the antithesis of being a consumer. It's about humility and generosity. It's creating lives that have meaning." Radical Homemakers are a breed apart from the "stay-at-home mom" who carts her kids from activity to activity and offers them constant, but ultimately meaningless, "enrichment". Far from being a step backwards into a pre-feminism past, this is a movement forward, where women (and some men) are thinking and acting locally - as local as you can get, in fact - choosing to make their concern for the planet the centerpiece of their homes and families. They choose to use their time, energy, skills, and minds to do work that is useful and meaningful, instead of working to make someone else rich while earning wages that allow them to buy "crap" (as Hayes puts it) and services.

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