Hayes, Shannon. Radical Homemakers: Changing the world from your own backyard

Finch Publishing, $32.95

Name an annoying word. Okay, how about “radical”. Now another. Try “homemaker”. Together, they make a title as appealing as fingernails down a blackboard. What author would do this to their darling?

One who wants to make a point.

Let’s start with “homemaker”. Hayes wants to free the term from its 1950s cage. Her homemaker, dad or mum, is less interested in vacuuming than plumbing. They are re-claiming skills outsourced to society over the past few generations: butchering livestock, sewing clothes, tiling floors, home-schooling, making smallgoods, canning tomatoes. This rejection of consumer culture is where the “radical” bit comes in. Radical homemakers, Hayes asserts, are challenging our materialist world by ignoring its norms.

The first half of this book explains why. The home, once a unit of production, is now one of consumption. Feminism is more than a stellar career with executive options. Individualism without interdependence breeds a society of fat, sad people. Kids should not be education-consumers; people should not be corporate health-consumers.

The second half of this book is the “how”. In self-congratulatory vignettes, 30 radical homemakers discuss their lives. Despite excellent intentions, these conversations with hippies about alternative lifestyles are not always super-interesting. Quel surprise. And although there’s plenty of Thoreau and Friedan for intellectual ballast, we never really discover how to start this magic bus ride without initially being part of the capitalist system (i.e. buying the farm in the first place). Which is a shame, as is the smug tone, which will put off many who could otherwise be inspired by this worthy book.


Reviewed January 2011