02 February 2010

Meet The Radical Homemakers

A search for the origin of the word housewife traces it back to the thirteenth century, as the feudal period was coming to an end in Europe and the first signs of a middle class were popping up. Historian Ruth Schwartz Cowan explains that housewives were wedded to husbands, whose name came from hus, an old spelling of house, and bonded. Husbands were bonded to houses, rather than to lords. Housewives and husbands were free people, who owned their own homes and lived off their land. While there was a division of labor among the sexes in these early households, there was also an equal distribution of domestic work. Once the Industrial Revolution happened, however, things changed. Men left the household to work for wages, which were then used to purchase goods and services that they were no longer home to provide. Indeed, the men were the first to lose their domestic skills as successive generations forgot how to butcher the family hog, how to sew leather, how to chop firewood. As the Industrial Revolution forged on and crossed the ocean to America, men and women eventually stopped working together to provide for their household sustenance. They developed their separate spheres—man in the factory, woman in the home. The more a man worked outside the home, the more the household would have to buy in order to have needs met. Soon the factories were able to fabricate products to supplant the housewives’ duties as well. The housewife’s primary function ultimately became chauffeur and consumer. The household was no longer a unit of production. It was a unit of consumption... Portions of this story are excerpted from Shannon Hayes’ newest book, Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture, Left to Write Press, 2010...and appeared in Yes Magazine, Meet The Radical Homemakers, Feb 01, 2010

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