The first part of the book is an in-depth, theoretical look at the history of home life (domesticity) and feminism, and explains how the industrial revolution and an industrial economy altered every aspect of home life—how work and home became two separate places and how the work done outside the home (usually done by men) was valued, and that done inside the home (usually by women), was not. The author discusses the part that the advertising industry, the rise in ownership of automobiles and the consumer sciences had in the fragmentation of the home.
The book describes the trade-offs that we've made by focusing on our "extractive economy" (through our pursuit of affluence and our compulsion to overwork) instead of a "life-serving economy."
Ms. Hayes states that her aim in writing the book was to "demonstrate how Radical Homemaking can function in rebuilding a life-serving, socially just and ecologically sustainable economy" while also valuing feminism and the role of "women's work". She wants us to understand how our homes changed from productive social units to isolated units of consumption.
The second part of the book discusses the themes and lessons Ms. Hayes learned from a small group of people she interviewed. These men and women live the "radical homemaker" lifestyle and have chosen to make "family, community, social justice and the health of the planet" the focus of their lives and work. This is a group who has chosen to live their own way, under their own terms, and redefined the ideas of wealth and poverty for themselves. They focus more on becoming producers of goods instead of consumers, their homes are sustainable, and they understand the meaning of the word "enough."
I personally would have liked to see more solid stories of how the Radical Homemakers (some of them single, some married, some members of families) accomplished their goals, but that doesn't seem to be the point of this book. For those of us who have read extensively on the simple living movement, some of this may seem very familiar. What makes this book different, though, is the in-depth analysis of the history leading up to this movement, and its emphasis not on self-sufficiency, but on building and nurturing relationships that are not only organized around the single purpose of making money.
This book will change your view of the value of the work we do at home, the value of food we grow and serve our families, and the value of living in a sustainable manner.
Shannon Hayes is the host of GrassFedCooking.com and author of The Farmer and the Grill and The Grassfed Gourmet. She has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times. She holds a Ph.D. from Cornell University and works with her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in upstate New York. Learn more on her website.
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