Before I started this project, I hadn’t given a lot of thought to the word ‘homemaker.’ Like ‘housewife,’ it struck me as totally retro, the kind of word to be used jokingly (like those cheekily 1950s-style greeting cards you sometimes see at gift shops) or in a historical context. To call a woman a ‘homemaker’ would have been, in my mind, insulting: women were “stay-at-home moms” doing the important work of raising kids, not vacuuming the floor. To call a man a ‘homemaker?’ Try “stay-at-home dad” or “unemployed.”
But lately, ‘homemaker’ is having a re-birth, both as a word and a lifestyle. I keep coming across women (and a very small handful of men) who describe themselves as ‘hipster homemakers’ or ‘radical homemakers’ or ‘new homemakers.’ They seem to be interested in claiming social and environmental value for the task of caring for one’s home, enlarging the concept of “homemaker” to mean more than just “chief vacuumer.” Shannon Hayes, she of the book “Radical Homemakers,” sees homemaking (which in her definition has expanded to include raising farm animals and making your own soap) as they key to a more sustainable way of living – Why buy cleaning products when you can make your own out of vinegar? Why drive downtown to eat out when you can roast a delicious chicken and play cards in front of the fireplace at home? (Well, I can think of a few reasons, but I’m not Shannon Hayes!). Other people I’ve talked to see claiming the label of ‘homemaker’ as a ‘screw you’ to a world that only values career and financial success. Some of these people do have outside jobs, but choose to identify themselves by their relationship to their home rather than their career. Others simply see the word as having been de-valued as women entered the workforce in large numbers in the 20th century, and are pushing to reclaim it in a positive way. After all, it is (theoretically) a gender-neutral word, which – unlike housewife – doesn’t define the person by their relationship to a spouse.
Thoughts? Do any of you call yourselves ‘homemakers’? If so, what does it mean to you?