“My mother was a good recreational cook, but what she basically believed about cooking was that if you worked hard and prospered, someone else would do it for you.”
In the bad old days, cooking was hot, dirty, tedious and exhausting, which is precisely why the Patriarchy assigned it to us (see also: cleaning and child-care). Cooking was ladybusiness and a lady was only as good as the meals she cranked out. As for the rare women who couldn’t cook, well, they were suspect–definitely lazy and maybe even bluestockings!
This mentality hasn’t shifted much, even in these more enlightened times. When Hillary Clinton infamously disaparaged the hallowed domestic arts of baking and hostessing with her comment, “I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession,” the media–and the right-wing–lost their ever-loving minds. The fuss wasn’t just because HRC was standing up for her career but because she was simultaneously rejecting her womanly duty to slave over some cookie sheets. We can safely presume that she could have mitigated the uproar by saying: “Oh, I’m committed to my career, but I still find time to cook for my family.” The problem was that she clearly didn’t seem to regret not baking those cookies. Like Nora Ephron’s mom, HRC was making the point that cooking is not something all women feel compelled to do. Fortunately, women’s lib now gives a lot of us the economic power to outsource it, and for many high-earning women of my acquaintance, there’s a certain pride that comes with announcing: “I had it catered” and “I never cook.”
To my mind, it’s the perfect Catch-22 for women these days: If you aren’t cooking, you’re neglecting your family. Bad mother! If you like cooking, you’re an unliberated throwback. Bad feminist!
So where does that leave those of us who do double duty as feminists and cooks? In yesterday’s comments thread about PhDork’s post about wifely doormattery, frequent commenter baraqiel noted: “stuff like this makes me look at cooking and get the anti-feminist nasties from it, which, hey: get your patriarchy off my hobbies.”
Amen, sister. I’m a feminazi bonerkiller with a successful career who kicks ass in the kitchen. My love of cooking is equal parts nature and nurture: I love to eat, and I’m half Southern Methodist and half New York Jewish, both cultures which absolutely revere home cooking. I could never be Carrie Bradshaw, storing my magazines in my unused oven.
As for gender equity in the kitchen, I confess that I judge men and women equally when they say they can’t cook. Granted, most of the people I know who can’t cook are men, but I have one or two female friends who never learned either. This strikes me as somewhat preposterous. Do you eat? Yes? Then why can’t you make your own meals? I’m not saying you need to whip up souffles and beef Wellington for 10, but basic cooking is something everyone should know.
The joys of cooking are many: it’s a meditative act, a creative act, a sensual act and joyful act (unless your sauce breaks or you start a grease-fire or leave something in the oven too long, in which case, it’s an exercise in frustration and swearing). It’s not, however, a gender-specific act, or at least, it shouldn’t be. Whether I’m baking a cake or making my mom’s two-day chicken soup or whisking an alfredo sauce, it’s all about me and my dinner. The Patriarchy is not invited.