Does Feminism Have a Place in Your Kitchen?

retro woman kitchen

Some of us would make TERRIBLE ’50s housewives. Some would not. It’s nice to have the option to choose, right? Credit: molly_darling, Flickr

The only class I ever deliberately tanked was middle school Home Ec.

My poor, poor teacher. I don’t remember her name, but I’m certain I drove her positively nuts.

You see, 12-year-old Kristen was not going to bend to society’s traditional gender roles. I might’ve liked playing with hair and make-up, but who are you to tell me to wear a skirt? Or sew a button? Or — god forbid — cook? When it came time for the class project of sewing a simple apron, I opted to hot glue the seams. I honestly don’t remember what I did for the cooking segment, but I can promise you I didn’t actually cook.

I was still trying to figure myself — and society’s view of women — out, and the only way I knew to do that was to stand up against anything I saw as a norm. As I’ve grown, I’ve realized that I don’t have to fight against everything to still stand for equality.

I’ve learned to enjoy cooking. My husband and I often come up with ideas for new dishes together, or if one of us makes something from a new recipe, we’ll discuss what we might do differently next time to make it even better. (Basically, the answer is almost always “add more red pepper flakes.”)

Part of why I enjoy cooking is because I don’t feel it’s forced upon me. It’s not expected of me because I’m a woman who is married to a man and therefore I must have dinner on the table for him or he’s liable to run off with his secretary. It’s expected because I’m a grown-ass adult who likes to eat and therefore needs to, at least occasionally, make food.

Nigella Lawson made quite a few headlines after her estranged husband was photographed with his hand around her neck (and her in tears) at a restaurant. He later filed for divorce, apparently because she didn’t defend him enough in the media. Yeah, let that sink in.

Anyway, she was in the news again recently for her views on feminism. In an interview with the Observer Food Monthly, she was asked whether she considers herself a feminist, and claimed to be baffled because she felt the answer was “so self-evidently a yes.”

The “How to Be a Domestic Goddess” author then went on to say, “Feeling comfortable in the kitchen is essential for everyone, male or female. At the time it seemed so many people were fearful of cooking, and that meant home was never more than a stop-off from work. Women of my generation were keen — rightly — not to be tied to the stove, but the ramifications of this were that they felt a sense of dread in the kitchen. How can this be good for anyone?”

Is it just me, or is this something many of us struggle with? I feel like many women of my generation grew up spouting Jessie Spano quotes, calling anyone who expected us to meet a certain set of societal ideals “chauvinist pigs,” and channeling our inner Julia Sugarbakers anytime anyone dared say we couldn’t do something one of our masculine peers could do.

Rectifying that fired up, hear-me-roar attitude with our current fascination with all things Pinterest-perfect is a challenge I don’t know any generation has faced in quite the same way. And while it’s challenging at times, I also find it illuminating — some of the ladies I know who are amazing runners or CrossFit-ers or just general badasses are also bakers with talent to rival Martha herself. And some of the women I know who are practically Carol Brady in every way have no interest in the kitchen whatsoever.

I like to think feminism is at a point where the amount of time we spend in the kitchen has less to do with societal (or familial) pressure and more to do with the fact that we have the freedom to do what we love without being questioned. The kitchen has become a comfortable place for us because our place is no longer necessarily there, you know?

Thinking about this, though, made me wonder about other people’s feelings (or FEEEELINGS, as the case may be) about being in the kitchen and how it relates to the gender roles in your home. If you feel like weighing in, please take this survey (you can win some cool fit stuff if you do!), and feel free to share it with your friends. We’ll be incorporating the results into an infographic in the weeks to come!

Do your feminist (or anti-feminist) views influence your feelings about cooking? How so? —Kristen

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  1. For me, I only started cooking because my husband was a much better cook than me. About a year in to our marriage, I realized that a) he was better than me in the kitchen (well, except for the cleaning part) b) it wasn’t fair for him to always do the cooking and c) cooking would be a new challenge, and I always love a new challenge.

    So really when I think of “feminism” gender roles, especially those around the house, don’t come to mind.

    But one thing I really love about Nigella, as you mentioned her, is that she owns who she is and what she likes. I think that’s something we can respect for anyone.

  2. Suzannah says:

    You bring up a lot of great points! I would like to extend the conversation from just cooking to also cleaning up and doing the dishes after the meal. Cooking and baking are half of it! I am really focused on healthy eating and having a variety of whole foods, so I prefer to do the cooking and figure out what we will be eating as a family. I probably do the cooking in our house 90% of the time but my husband does the cleaning up and the dishes 90% of the time too. Both people should be contributing and helping out. Thanks for bringing up the topic!

  3. Lauren says:

    I admit that growing up, I felt almost the same way about cooking. I felt like it was something that was being seemingly forced upon me and I wanted nothing to do with it. However, I wish now, more than ever, that I had learned to cook at a young age because I think it would have benefitted me in the long run. I’m a young adult living on my own, working a full time job, and I find it challenging to try to create new and exciting dinner masterpieces (especially when I get home exhausted from work– the instant anything diet seems to call my name). What I think women need to realize is that being in the kitchen and feeling comfortable doesn’t stereotype you or force you into any social stigma, but it is another important element of being independent.

  4. Cindy says:

    I came from a family with very traditional roles, as a result I was kept in the kitchen after school and expected to cook and clean while my brothers played. For that reason as a adult I don’t cook or clean. I know that cooking could be enjoyable if I changed my attitude, but there are bigger issues for me to tackle and luckily I can afford to ignore this one.

  5. Leann says:

    I really think the only thing that makes it feminist is the particular mans attitude towards it. I’m a stay at home wife/mom. The cooking, cleaning, schoffering, etc. etc. is my role. My husband works outside the home and while we have an unspoken understanding of what my duties are , he never says a word on my off days, days where I don’t feel good or have trouble keeping up. He has never asked me “why didn’t you….” Or “why haven’t you…” He only thanks me for what I do. And I always thank him for everything he does for us. With that being said, I am a TERRIBLE cook! 🙂

  6. I consider myself very lucky that my husband views the household chores as something that we’re both responsible for. We always do the chores together unless one of happens to be too busy that day. I find that doing them together gets them done quicker and it makes it more enjoyable. Cooking actually ends up being fun sometimes because you get to work together and get some good conversations going.