The REAL Opt-Out Revolution
From Your Woman In Washington Written by MOTHERS volunteer Kelly Coyle DiNorcia (ahimsamama.blogspot.com)
I recently took a ride down to Princeton, NJ to see a talk given by a woman named Shannon Hayes. It was about what she calls Radical Homemaking, or Enlightened Homemaking. Radical Homemakers are those who eschew many modern conveniences ("necessities") and choose instead to live a simple, low-tech lifestyle. In her research that led her to write a book about these Enlightened Homemakers, she has found that people can follow this lifestyle anywhere - in a city, in the suburbs, on a farm, in a highrise. It is not necessarily about being a "back-to-the-land" type (though I'd say that those types are well-represented among the members of this movement), but about finding ways to practice self-sufficiency whenever and however possible.
The life of a radical homemaker is appealing to me, though not in the extreme. More like Radical Homemaking Lite. I like growing my own food, cooking from scratch (baby food and all), making do with less, but I do still enjoy having a telephone and paying someone else to change the oil in my car. I have friends who are totally off the grid and would be considered "homesteaders", I don't know that I'm up for that. Yet.
Several individuals in the audience, and Hayes herself, expressed some of the tension between feminism and Radical Homemaking. We worked so hard to get OUT of the kitchen, many women would say, would we choose to go back? I don't think Hayes would argue that this lifestyle is an inevitable next step in the feminist movement, but I think it is definitely not necessarily ANTI-feminist. In fact, her argument in favor of homemaking as the newest expression of feminism is compelling - that we should make the family a unit of production rather than a unit of consumption and take back our lives from the consumer culture.
In these "enlightened" families, carework generally IS shared, sometimes along traditional gender lines but not necessarily, and if so only because that is where the members' inclinations lie. Hayes, for example, has a Ph.D. from Cornell University and supports her family as an author while her husband does most of the house- and care-work. Her family also has a farm which they tend with her parents, the products of which they sell for additional income. In my own family it is I who takes care of home repairs and yard work, and my husband who does laundry and much of the other house work, simply because I am more mechanically-minded than he is and enjoy being outside while he does not. For these families, concentrating on the home and family instead of a career outside the home is a choice that is based in personal and political values. It is not an adherence to traditional roles and constraints but instead a way of taking full responsibility for one's choices and life.
As Hayes said in her talk - "He who has the gold makes the rules, but if you don't need the gold you can change the rules." In other words, these people are choosing to protest against the status quo, against a workplace culture that frequently forces them to put put money-earning above all else, by simply opting out of the whole system to the extent that is possible for them. I (as a self-described feminist) like that, and I also like the feeling of empowerment, as well as the fulfillment of my creative urges, that come from doing things myself.