By Sherry L. Ackerman
These are turbulent times; change is in the wind. But where will the great change begin? Actually, the great change will begin at home.
For about 5,000 years, our culture has been hostage to a form of organization by domination that fails to honor our living systems, under which “he who holds the gold makes the rules.”
By contrast, the concept of homemaking focuses on life skills and relationships, on the premise that he or she who doesn’t need the gold can change the rules. The greater one’s domestic skills – whether that is to plant a garden, grow tomatoes on an apartment balcony, mend a shirt, repair an appliance, provide one’s own entertainment, cook and preserve a local harvest, or care for children and loved ones – the less dependent one is on the gold.
You may be wondering if I am encouraging the unraveling of all of the feminist advancements of the last 40-plus years. Women, after all, have been the primary homemakers since the beginning of time.
Think again: this is simply not true! The household did not become the “woman’s place” until the Industrial Revolution. A search for the origin of the word housewife traces it back to the 13th 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 feudal 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 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.
A movement is currently afoot in the US, spearheaded by Shannon Hayes, known as “Radical Homemaking,” whereby both men and women are choosing to focus their lives on home and hearth as a political and ecological act.
These are people who have consciously decided to center their lives around family and community, not only for personal fulfillment, but as a way to bring about cultural change. They are interested in creating lifestyles that are no longer equated with drudgery, economic insecurity or relentless servitude.
As such, they are building a bridge from our existing extractive economy – where corporate wealth has been regarded as the foundation of economic health, where mining our Earth’s resources and exploiting our international neighbors have been acceptable costs of doing business – to a life serving economy, where the goal is, in the words of David Korten, “to generate a living for all, rather than a killing for a few;” where our resources are sustained, our waters are kept clean, our air pure, and our families can lead meaningful lives.
Radical homemaking is not where it ends. It really is where it begins. Once we feel sufficiently proficient with our domestic skills, few of us will be content to simply practice them to the end of our days.
Many of us will want to bring more beauty to the world, bring about greater social change, make life better for our neighbors, and contribute our creative powers to the building of a more sustainable, and happier future. That is precisely the great work we should all be tackling.
If we start by focusing our energies on our domestic lives, we will do more than reduce our ecological impact and help create a living for all. We will craft a safe, nurturing place from which a great creative work can begin to happen.

By Sherry L. Ackerman These are turbulent times; change is in the wind. But where will the great change begin? Actually, the great change will begin at home. For about 5,000 years, our culture has been hostage to a form of organization by domination that fails to honor our living systems, under which “he who holds the gold makes the rules.” By contrast, the concept of homemaking focuses on life skills and relationships, on the premise that he or she who doesn’t need the gold can change the rules. The greater one’s domestic skills – whether that is to plant a garden, grow tomatoes on an apartment balcony, mend a shirt, repair an appliance, provide one’s own entertainment, cook and preserve a local harvest, or care for children and loved ones – the less dependent one is on the gold. You may be wondering if I am encouraging the unraveling of all of the feminist advancements of the last 40-plus years. Women, after all, have been the primary homemakers since the beginning of time. Think again: this is simply not true! The household did not become the “woman’s place” until the Industrial Revolution. A search for the origin of the word housewife traces it back to the 13th 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 feudal 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 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. A movement is currently afoot in the US, spearheaded by Shannon Hayes, known as “Radical Homemaking,” whereby both men and women are choosing to focus their lives on home and hearth as a political and ecological act. These are people who have consciously decided to center their lives around family and community, not only for personal fulfillment, but as a way to bring about cultural change. They are interested in creating lifestyles that are no longer equated with drudgery, economic insecurity or relentless servitude. As such, they are building a bridge from our existing extractive economy – where corporate wealth has been regarded as the foundation of economic health, where mining our Earth’s resources and exploiting our international neighbors have been acceptable costs of doing business – to a life serving economy, where the goal is, in the words of David Korten, “to generate a living for all, rather than a killing for a few;” where our resources are sustained, our waters are kept clean, our air pure, and our families can lead meaningful lives. Radical homemaking is not where it ends. It really is where it begins. Once we feel sufficiently proficient with our domestic skills, few of us will be content to simply practice them to the end of our days. Many of us will want to bring more beauty to the world, bring about greater social change, make life better for our neighbors, and contribute our creative powers to the building of a more sustainable, and happier future. That is precisely the great work we should all be tackling. If we start by focusing our energies on our domestic lives, we will do more than reduce our ecological impact and help create a living for all. We will craft a safe, nurturing place from which a great creative work can begin to happen.