Radical Homemakers (4) Some niggling issues

Wherever there are radical ideas there are nay sayers and vituperative opposition. Radical Homemakers is not for everyone. This goes without saying. Not everyone aspires to living on less, environmental sustainability, doing instead of buying. But no one is saying you have to. I take issue with those who claim that writers like Hayes, and those of us who chose to stay at home to raise young children are putting feminism back, or that those who desire to make their own jam are trying to live back in the 1750s, rejecting the whole of the modern world. The way we live now, that society currently deems “normal” is not sustainable, nor acheivable for the majority of the world’s population. Radical Homemakers are exploring a different way, looking both backwards and forwards, and putting human and ecological values before consumerism. This I wholeheartedly support and endorse.
However, there are elements of the book I am less comfortable with. So, having jumped up and down with delight for four posts on the wonder that is Radical Homemakers I will now raise some issues. It would not be fair of me to lavish so much praise on a book, which though it has generally been extremely well-received, has received some major criticisms amongst its target audience…including:
*It is too America-centric: not good for a book that is being marketed to a world wide audience
*Many have complained of it being dense, heavy reading – I did not find this
*Some of her sources, especially Freidan and Korten are over-relied upon, a number of them also provide glowing testimonials
*Some object to her selective reading of history 
*A number object that the path she suggests is really only an option for middle-class people, those with some savings, supportive family or family-owned rural acres…

“‘Effecting change, Hayes writes, means “letting go of our attachments to employment, releasing ourselves from the pressure of the status race … spending more time thinking about what we can do rather than what we can acquire.'” Letting go of our attachments to employment? Sounds like a hobby for the privileged–you know, those who come from old money, whose extended families own land somewhere, etc, etc.” bquick on Salon.com
“The U.S. median household income is approximately $44,000, so wondering in amazement that the family with an income of $43,000 “get along just fine” reflects a terribly elitist viewpoint. Almost half of all American households have to make do with less. There are millions of American households who would kill to have $43,000 incomes, and it would help to keep that in perspective when talking about “radical simplicity” that involves mostly upper class people engaging in recreational hardship.”  – Jason C on Salon.com
*However, my biggest concern by far is that in order for her vision of it to work, most of her radical homemakers have had to be bailed out by family members or the tax payer at some point, and so were happy to accept financial support, when it suited them from a system of which they were deeply critical and chose to opt out of. At times it felt a little “have your cake and eat it!” If you chose to live a life with no medical insurance, and then get to a point when you need it, should your family bail you out? Of course it’s great if they can…  Now I’m on thin ice here, of course families should be there for each other, and we have certainly had bits of help here and there from ours… But if you choose not to contribute to the tax system should you expect hand outs, such as Medicaid in return? You thumb your nose at education but then go looking for free college places… I don’t know, that doesn’t feel so “radical” or “self sufficient” to me…

Tiffany at Nature Moms expresses this very well: There was one area of the book I really did not like. It makes a case for why we might want to forgo the healthcare system and traditional health insurance and all the reasons why. That was all good and fine and it did seem to make exceptions for children. Then in the next breath it condoned choosing to stay at home and not seek out employment to cover these costs and instead sign up for Medicaid. That whole section just rubbed me the wrong way but I fully admit I am not so liberal in my views on welfare and healthcare. Then a few pages after that it makes an argument for why it is perfectly okay to live off welfare.

Okay I am down with living with less, simplifying, sticking it to the man, becoming self sufficient, going off-grid, and doing without but how is using tax payer funded assistance programs taking care of yourself? It isn’t and the argument for why it is fell flat IMO. These programs are not meant to be lifestyle choices. It is kind of like saying that you choose to raid the tip jar on the grocer’s counter for the rest of your life instead of finding a way to pay for your own groceries. Oh and tip jar contributions are mandatory for everyone else. You are not a self sustaining productive unit if you are taking government aid. The goal should be to get by without that.”
I don’t want to finish on a bum note. All in all it is a really great book. I hope the past week’s postings have given you a flavour of it,  inspired you, made you think, and made you want to find out more. So get it, read it, and check in to let me know what you think.

Read the whole series…
Book Review
Part One- Beyond Housewives and Feminism
Part Two – Value beyond Money
Part Three – Dispelling the Myth of Self Sufficiency

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  1. Seán and Helen
    Seán and Helen01-23-2011

    Totally agree. How can one been totally self sufficient and not rely on handouts from the state?? but it IS possible. When your income drops you just drop your outgoings. Children can be taught from an early age of what is and what is not important so they dont feel they are going without, and you live within your means. It is possible to do. You just ‘cut your cloth’ as the saying goes.

  2. Leanne

    Hi – Thanks for dropping by and reading my review on Radical Homemakers.

    As discussed in my review, I thought the book was poorly researched, and full of shoddy scholarship. In short, a great idea done shockingly badly.

    I gave it 1 star on my Amazon review, and it seems a lot of people do agree with me, when they took the time to follow up on Hayes’ so-called “sources”, which is something I always do when reading a book posing as scholarship.

    I loved the premise of the book, it’s just a real shame Hayes followed through so poorly.

    I can understand why some people would like the book, because it does attempt to justify the lifestyle I, and so many others, lead. But I’d have preferred a decent attempt at analysis, rather than this dodgy effort. I’d like to see some genuine scholar, such as Naomi Klein (for example), tackle the subject, and do it properly.


  3. Kristin

    I had some of the same concerns–and several others–about this book. As I wrote in my review, I generally agree with most of Hayes’ core ideas, but I couldn’t get past the huge problems with this book.

    The research is shoddy, the historical interpretation highly questionable, the arguments in favor of accepting government and family aid unconvincing, and the book came off as preachy and privileged.

    I think this is such an important topic; I sincerely hope another author will give it the treatment it deserves.

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