Saturday, October 23, 2010

Compare and Contrast

Two books have recently come into my life that make an interesting pair. I serendipitously read them back to back, which highlighted their interconnectedness.

The first, The Feminine Mystique, is Betty Friedan's classic from the 1960's about "the housewife syndrome." In it, Friedan highlighted the isolation and stagnation that was occurring in the lives of housewives as their husbands and children spent increasing amounts of time away from home and they themselves became little more than tools of consumption for the marketplace. The solution, to Friedan (and to entire generations of women), was to get out of the house, preferably with a career.

The second book, Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes, has just recently been published. Hayes's premise is that the two career family has us chasing our tails, having (or wanting) to purchase more and more to make our lives more efficient and more "meaningful," then needing to work more and/or work harder to make more money to pay for our purchases. This leaves us stressed out and overtired, with no time to enjoy the myriad of expensive things we've bought...or to simply enjoy each other and our homes. With our standard of living based on two salaries, it also leaves us as vulnerable or more vulnerable to economic chaos from unexpected job loss. Her solution is to return the family household to a unit of production, rather than solely of consumption, which requires commitment from all adults in the household and involves building community and interrelatedness. She herself has pursued this path, and she has researched 20 other "radical homemakers" from among the many who replied to her solicitation for guinea pigs when she began writing this book.

I read The Feminine Mystique first. As I worked my way through it, I kept thinking two things to myself: 1) "Why didn't I read this in college or in my 20's? I can so relate to these 1950's housewives! How sad is this that I've been so far behind in understanding what was happening to me?" and 2) "Friedan doesn't address childrearing and caretaking. Who's going to raise the children? Who's going to care for family members, both when they are sick and when they are well? Isn't there more to life than working?"

In the new introduction for her book, written by Betty Friedan in 1997, Friedan herself shares deep concerns over the fact that "two generations later" careers, both male and female, are still based on the model of the 1950's male with a stay-at-home wife to care for the home and children. So both working men and women are getting overworked and stressed out. Meanwhile, women are still getting paid less than 75% of what men earn for the same job, so employers are letting more men go and keeping the "cheaper" women. This is causing increased anger and hostility in men, who blame women in the workplace, rather than their employers, for their loss of money and prestige. Meanwhile, the ultra rich are getting richer and richer and nobody is really paying attention to that. It's much too easy to blame each other.

As I read Radical Homemakers, I kept thinking to myself, "Yes, this is what Greg and I were thinking over the years when we tried to produce some of our own food, keep our wants to a dull roar, and avoid getting too caught up in consumerism!" Hayes keeps in mind the lessons from The Feminine Mystique, warning of the absolute importance of interconnectedness and community building to help stave off the feeling of isolation. To keep radical homemakers mentally growing, she notes the requirement for self-learning that this path requires, since so many of these small-scale production skills are almost lost. She also touches upon the need to pursue personal and community interests, especially after radical homemaker has become comfortable with their productivity level.

As to why I was relating so strongly to "the housewife syndrome"? I think it was because of Greg's and my mobile lifestyle. Moving so often kept us from being able to develop the interconnectedness and sense of deep community that both supports and is a gift of the lifestyle. With Greg's job requiring long hours away from home, it was all too easy for me to get relatively isolated and lonely.

I find the radical homemakers' lifestyle very least in theory! I am reminded of Greg's grandparents' life during the Depression in Oklahoma: they spent 10 years on a farm during the Dust Bowl. They were "dirt poor", but they raised 5 children and kept everyone fed and clothed without anyone having a paid job or being responsible to an employer. It was obviously hard work, and they chose to leave the farm when World War II gave them other options (and their children began leaving home), but they survived. In fact, their son doesn't even remember feeling particularly poor during those Depression years - "There were a lot of others worse off than we were."

I do some of the lifestyle already - I garden and can, at least a little. I prefer shopping at local businesses, antique shops and thrift stores to buying from big box stores. I watch little TV and pay even less attention to the ads. At least in part, our cars were chosen for their mileage, and they are far from new. I am not known for keeping up with the fashion industry. :-) There's obviously a lot more I (we) could do, but for now I'm grateful to know there are others who value some of the same things we value.

Serendipity shines again!

No comments: