_When I was 20, I learned to knit.  This was hard for me, because I identified strongly (and still do, to a more mellow degree) as a queer feminist.

I don't know about you, but when I think of queer feminist radicals, I think of combat boots, hand-lettered zines, and fair trade coffee.  Not knitting.  And certainly not homemaking. 

Turns out I'm not suited to knitting (I'm an angry, impatient knitter, who makes very ugly crafts).  But luckily, I found out several important things along the way:
  1. Knitting can be bad-ass (check out Slave to the Needles, via Microcosm Publishing: knitted beer muffs and thongs, anyone?)
  2. Femininity is powerful, but only when embraced.
  3. Taking the means of production into your own hands (however clumsy) is one of the most radical acts in which you can participate.

Fast-forward three years, and enter Shannon Hayes, author of Radical Homemakers.
I got tickets to the Sustainable Living Fair in 2011, and while researching the presenters I came across Ms. Hayes' biography.  Something struck a chord, so I followed my gut to the library and to her book....
Now, I have the tendency to be kind of an academic, so I ate up Hayes' intensely researched theoretical argument, Why, references to Betty Friedan and all.  My partner is more of a doer, and doesn't have a lot of patience for wordy intellectual exercises.  She focused more on the second half of the book: How, stories from the homemakers themselves.

For the full reasoning & sheer intellectual impact of Hayes' thesis, please just read the book.  For now, my understanding of it:

The Problems
  • Our Earth, our home, is in serious danger - and it's because of usOur current culture and mode of being is failing.  We can no longer afford to be a 'throw-away' culture. 
  • Consumerism separates us from the means of production - i.e. it makes us powerless.  Giant food industry corporations lock up the food, insurance companies lock up the health care, landlords lock up the shelter, and so on, leaving people with a choice: Work for wages (the 'key' to your basic needs), or suffer in poverty.
  • We work too hard, and it's glorified in this culture.  We don't have enough time to be with our families, rest, prepare healthy food, and pursue a true quality of life. 
  • We are in constant pursuit of more, bigger, better, newer.  This leaves us dissatisfied, in debt, and with a massive carbon footprint.
  • Wage jobs extract value and resources, not addThe more we work at jobs that are meaningless - that provide a paycheck but do not produce anything of life-serving quality - the more we consume in gas, convenience foods, expensive work clothes, and other resources.
  • Unpaid work is de-valued.  'Housewife' makes many people think of silly women in pastels, wielding credit cards, ferrying children to soccer & ballet, and making cupcakes.  This deserves more discussion, but long story short, housewives do a LOT of work but do not earn a tangible wage.  The inequality of respect prompted my own mother, a housewife, to write 'domestic engineer' as her career on one of my school forms... because 'housewife' just sounded too lame.
  • We are detached from our homes, families, communities, and planet.  We spend more waking time at work and in the car than in our homes.  We interact more with strangers, business acquaintances, and fictional characters than we do with those nearest to our hearts.  We do not know our neighbors because we can browse online for all our needs, and do not need to borrow or trade for a cup of sugar, a lawnmower, or a pleasant conversation.  We are detached from our home, Earth, because we can buy raspberries all year round - we do not need to know the rhythms of the sun, rain, or wind.  We simply whip out the credit card and ignore how much gas it took to ship them here, or how many chemicals the harvesters were exposed to. 
The Solutions
  • Be the change.  We have the most influence over our private spheres.  Yes, signing petitions and voting is important, but the actions you take, the lifestyle you enact each and every second makes a huge impact.
  • Reconnect with community.  Barter, trade, nourish friendships. Invest in friends over money, because friends are worth more.  Money can run out, and when it does, friends will be there to support you.
  • Re-learn value.  Value is not the dollar symbols in your bank account.  It's not the ability to buy a big screen, or sexy shoes.  Free time is valuable.  It's your life.  Family is valuable.  Nourishing food is valuable, as is your health (and the two are inextricably linked).  Rest is valuable.  Community - true community - is valuable.  Now invest in creating those values, not more dollar signs.
  • Realize when you have enough.  Really, you don't need that much.  Let yourself sit in enough-ness.  And while you're sitting, read Your Money or Your Life.
  • Reclaim the means of production. Learn to garden! preserve! sew! build!  Learn to turn stale bread into stuffing, ratty jeans into a purse, and scrap wood into a raised garden.  Learn how to provide for your own needs, and those of your family.
  • Produce more than you consume.  Do more and buy less.  Grow delicious food, sew your clothes, build a chair.  Add to a live-serving economy.
  • Reclaim the meaning of home.  Home is not just a place to crash at night.  Home is your hearth, your heart-center.  Value it with your energy and respect.
It seems like a lot, and it is.  But at the same time it isn't that much at all.  It's just a series of choices, some small, some bigger.  It's a commitment to creating a life and a world that is both sustainable and satisfying, starting with your heart and home.

It's as simple an act as picking up some knitting needles, and as radical an intention as, well... I'll let you decide.  

You might like:
- 10 Commandments of Radical DIY
- Forget 'All or Nothing' - Do Something!
- Ecological Footprint: Live Simply So Others May Simply Live
- Frugal Fashion: 5 Styles for Under $5.50

This post is shared at Fat Tuesday and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways!

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Comments

04/02/2012 5:29am

This is perfect! I think you included all of the main points. I've been having a hard time explaining the book but now I will just send people here to read your post! Thank you!

Reply
04/02/2012 9:50am

Great, I'm glad you enjoyed it! Yeah, there's so much there to cover, distilling it down was tough. Take care!

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04/11/2012 5:12pm

Great post! I believe we must move toward doing these action items you suggest if we are to make a course correction in society.

Reply
04/12/2012 12:05pm

I'm devouring this book right now. I, too, was a younger feminist who scoffed at the idea of being a "homemaker" but now that I'm older and wiser, I totally agree with the premise of the book.

And now I see that it is entirely possible to be a feminist and a modern homemaker at the same time!

Reply
Greasy
12/13/2013 11:24am

im a rooster

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