*This is reposted from a blog that Liz and I started last year and hoped to continue before life got too crazy. I’m posting it in hopes that it’ll inspire me to blog more and document my homemaking successes and more often, failures.
I recall one time shortly after Finn was born Patrick and I were sitting around filling out forms for something or other. On the box under my name that said “occupation” Patrick paused. “Homemaker?” he asked. I bristled. Seriously? Did he really think I just sat around all day keeping the house clean and his slippers ready by the door? I felt demeaned. I was NOT a homemaker. I have a degree from a good university and interests outside the shininess of my floor. I had a career before having Finn and planned to go back to that career when he was older. But what was my current occupation? I decided on “stay-at-home mom.” At least there was some dignity in that. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom ever since (or SAHM as the kids say).
Enter Radical Homemaking, a book by Shannon Hayes. Friends were talking about it a few weeks ago and I decided to pick it up. The subtitle is “Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture.” Intriguing. I read the first few pages and was hooked. The author is interviewing a homemaker, a women with a Ph.D. who is agonizing over whether to continue on a career track or become a homemaker, her real desire. She voiced the question that has been floating in my mind for years:
That sense of independence [of being successful in a career], do we have to cast it aside in order to live on a humbler scale, or can you still…have your own identity within a family unit, or a tight community and have your own successes, however you define them? [Can you] have both of those? Is that possible? And if we forgo the success image, are we then rejecting feminist ideals, are we just going back to the homemaker role that we were taught to think was primitive…a symbol of oppression for women?
Hayes argues that homemaking has fallen victim to a culture that has embraced money as a marker of value. In this culture, “a women’s struggle for autonomy and self-fulfillment are satisfied if she participates in the market economy in a way that gains her prestige and economic power. “ Basically, a woman’s worth is measured by whether (and how much) she empowers the economy. A homemaker is dismissed by this economic system because rather than consuming (even though corporations and society tell her that’s what she must do to be happy) a homemaker, in the sense that Hayes is referring to, is a producer.
Radical Homemakers are men and women who have chosen to make family, community, social justice and the health of the planet the governing principles of their lives…For about five thousand years, our culture has been hostage to a form of organization by domination that fails to honor our living systems, where “he who holds the gold makes the rules.” By contrast, Radical Homemakers use life skills and relationships as a replacement for gold, on the premise that he or she who doesn’t need the gold can change the rules. The greater our domestic skills, be they plant a garden, grow tomatoes on an apartment balcony, mend a shirt, repair an appliance, provide for our own entertainment, cook and preserve a local harvest or care for our children and loved ones, the less dependent we are on the gold.
The book was revelatory for me. I’ve always enjoyed the things I do at home but felt slightly embarrassed by them. Does my cooking obsession mean I’ve become an oppressed and subservient housewife? (You only have to ask Patrick for the answer to that question) I’ve been hesitant to call myself a homemaker because it doesn’t seem to jibe with my feminist sensibilities, or so I thought. But says who? Not the people I care about. Our economic system says so. Why should my life and identity be dictated by an economic system? I can unplug myself from this matrix and focus my life around the things I value, caring about the things I want to care about. And the things I care about are my family and my community. And my tool is my creativity.
In being a homemaker, I’ve finally found a way to channel my creative energy into something productive. I used to lament not being able to pull out my easel and oil paints whenever I felt that creative rush. What I didn’t realize is there’s a whole other dimension of creation that I hadn’t even thought to explore. Who knew that seeing a golden loaf of bread rising in the oven, spreading amazing jam made from berries Finn and I picked or feeding the twins fresh applesauce made and canned with friends would bring that same sense of satisfaction and accomplishment? As I told Patrick the other day, the kitchen is my new studio. And beyond the kitchen, I’ve been exploring sewing, quilting, knitting, finding new ways to make our house homey, guiding the kids to use their imaginations and explore outside, gardening and using fresh herbs from the yard, canning and preserving. A lot of these things don’t appeal to many people, but I actually enjoy them! That’s not to say that I’m any good at them. After two weeks of attempting to learn bread baking and about eight dense inedible loaves, Patrick finally begged for store bought bread. Luckily Jennie’s bread recipe came to the rescue and we have delicious fluffy homemade bread once again.
I wouldn’t call myself a Radical Homemaker though. For one, I’m a little lazy. I can’t take a lot of this to the extreme that some people do. I’m not okay with giving up health insurance and growing home remedies. I really like the clothes that small children in India make for Old Navy. I love to bargain but I don’t know if I could barter for everything. Raw milk frightens me. I’d rather be poked in the eye repeatedly than homeschool my kids. Patrick won’t let me have backyard chickens. Biking everywhere makes me sweaty. Sometimes the recycling bin is just too far away.
But I feel liberated from the idea that my inner homemaker can’t coexist with my inner feminist. They are one and the same. I can be a homemaker because I am a feminist. So I’m going to try my best to nurture my creative skills to serve the people and things I love (including myself). Maybe someday I’ll be able to call myself a Radical Homemaker. In the meantime, my name is Melissa and I am a…moderate Homemaker.