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Hello, I'm the Brat, and I'm a feminist who cooks. And knits. 
23rd-Feb-2009 04:14 pm
heart + stomach
Viv Groskop asks if good feminists bake cupcakes? Linked to by moviegrrl, I was so shocked by the title, that my first reaction was to say oh sod off, I can bake if I want to, and went to read the article all worked up to hate it, and ready to pass all sorts of judgements on Groskop.

Judgements which turned out to be unneeded, as the article was much more fair than I was expecting, in pitching 'girliness is good' young folks against older 'these were tools of our oppression' women. The problem was in its overly simplistic viewpoint.

I cook, and I knit. On Saturday night I sat with a glass of wine in front of Midsomer Murders and sewed up the lining of what my friend Oomar flatteringly calls my Gestapo coat, making the £10 it cost me stretch even longer than the five years for which I've already had it. The next day I shamelessly lay on the floor with my niece and made those sickening baby noises that I never thought I'd ever hear coming out of my mouth. I cook my own food from actual ingredients at least twice a week. I own a mortar and pestle. I bake a mean cookie.

I really should bake oatmeal and raisins. *makes a note*

OTOH, I can diagnose when my computer is sick. I know how science works. I can put up shelves. I remove my own spiders from the flat. I own a set of screwdrivers.

For me, doing all those things is - maybe not a specifically feminist choice, but definitely an empowering political choice. I'm not a slave to prepackaged lifestyle. I don't need anyone, male, female or other, to do things for me (unless that thing is doing up my own corset OR the person is one of my parents). It's simple competence. I enjoy doing crafty things and I can save myself money and improve my quality of life with them.

But the article isn't really about me and my politically motivated self reliance as it is about the fashion trend of domesticity. Groskop talked about groups like The Great Cake Project, which combines baking with a very definite sense of 50s aesthetic, and Afternoon Tease, burlesque with cake. It's against these she offers the viewpoints of women who feel that fetishising the 1950s housewife is making light of the troubles she faced.

A young woman like me has the privilege to be able to look at retro styles and techniques and lives and pick and choose from them to enrich my own life as I want. But I do so having nearly completed my postgraduate education, in the full knowledge that my grandmother, who was a housewife in the 40s and 50s, was in full time work at 14 because women just couldn't cope with education. I might have a problem with older feminists who insist Feminism has to work their way, stuck in a narrow field defined by their own privilege of being white, middle-class, monosexual and cisgendered, but I still owe it to my foremothers not to belittle their fight.

What's the appropriate gunslinger phrase? Forgetting the face of my mother?

I reject out of hand that there is something fundamentally wrong or unfeminist about my knowing how to knit or bake. I'm not so sure I can as simply dismiss concerns surrounding the celebration of a feminine ideal from an era in which feminine ideals were used as a prison for women. At some point, if you're creating art, you have to look at your art and ask yourself what is this saying and am I happy being the one saying that?.

But I like 50s bondage pinups. So who am I to judge anything? I imagine it's the old dilemma: you keep your politics out of my porn, and I'll stop claiming my porn is political.
23rd-Feb-2009 04:09 pm (UTC)
Very well put as always. I just woke up so I'm not at my clearest but I agree with everything you said and you said it better than I would.
23rd-Feb-2009 04:19 pm (UTC)
Rejecting the 'feminine' arts (such and knitting, baking embroidery etc) is surely in someway belittling feminine achievement?

Just because the GREAT MENZ tend not to knit or bake cookies doesn't mean it isn't a worthwhile acitivity.

Personally I knit a bit, embroider lots, sew clothes, like baking sweet things, but not because I am a woman, but because I just enjoy them, plus alot of 'masculine' hobbies are more expensive. I'd love to play around with electrics or model planes or something but those are not cheap.
23rd-Feb-2009 04:27 pm (UTC)
I agree with you.

There's a difference between knitting for fun and fetishising a whole aesthete used to oppress women, which is the point I thought I made.
23rd-Feb-2009 04:43 pm (UTC)
It was Marple.
23rd-Feb-2009 04:50 pm (UTC)
This isn't really what the article is about, but I think that being able to cook and sew, and generally be good around the house are useful skills that everyone, regardless of gender should have.

When I was at secondary school we had an arrangement with the Girl's Grammar up the road- they came down to us to use the wood/metalwork rooms, and we went up to them to learn sewing and cooking. At the end of my first year they built their own facilities and the arrangement was cancelled- which was disappointing to me because I was actually quite good at cooking, but crap at woodwork. I don't think I managed to build anything decent after that.
24th-Feb-2009 12:04 am (UTC)

Which is why SB retaught me how to bake cupcakes this evening, as it's about 20 years since I last had a go.

I learnt how to make cupcakes. If "list of things not to do next time" is learning. Told her there was too much mix in each case.

Still, tasty. So yeah, good feminists can make cupcakes. But sometimes the male feminists might be better at it (although, to be fair, they are bloody nice, just, well, explodey).
23rd-Feb-2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
Good food for thought here. I think I might feel a little better about this embrace of the domestic arts if there seemed to be a bit more awareness of the reasoning behind the tradition. In our grandmothers' day, you didn't knit socks because you wanted to make cute trendy socks with nice yarns and chat with friends -- you knitted socks because if you didn't, then you wouldn't have socks to put on your feet. You might have made the tradition of chatting with friends while you knitted because it was less boring than doing it on your own, but you still needed the socks and they wouldn't be made if you didn't knit them. Much the same with the other domestic arts: if you didn't know how to cook or mend, then you had raw food and clothes with holes in them.

I think that the dividing line between a fetishized trend and a genuine choice is that awareness of what created the traditions in the first place. If some women want to dress up in girdles and petticoats and make seven-layer cakes, that's fine, but it doesn't seem to be embracing or reclaiming the feminine as much as it's saying 'these are the aspects of the feminine that I like, and I'm going to ignore the rest of the parts that I don't'.

(Granted, I'm also crazy enough to mend my own underwear. Take that as you will.)

Edited at 2009-02-23 17:03 (UTC)
23rd-Feb-2009 10:35 pm (UTC)
Yes! I agree with this. Whether it was through unflattering reporting/quote-gathering or not, a lot of the young women in that article seemed to me to be embracing the feminism of Selective Recall, which is ... I just feel like it's a bit of a stretch to call something subversive just because you like doing it for yourself, but it used to be something that you were pressured/expected to do for your family. That's great, but it's not exactly subversive, to me.

It seems sort of more like ... well. In order to undermine the principles of '50s housewifeism, or whatever we're calling it, you'd have to get around (or subvert) the notion of women baking cakes because it's their natural state of being, or because they're not good at anything else, and not just pay attention to that whole nurturer/mother/provider thing. Just the act of baking a cake, no matter who it's for, doesn't actually seem to achieve that-- you'd need something else. Something like, uh. Power tools? I don't know.

Not to say people can't or shouldn't bake cakes! Because obviously that's ridiculous. I love cake. I hope to learn to bake some of my own one day (after I get better at sewing).
23rd-Feb-2009 05:09 pm (UTC)
I didn't read the article, but I've always subscribed to the idea that "feminism" should be about women being able to chose what kind of life they lead and what hobbies they enjoy, as opposed to dictating what that life or those hobbies should and shouldn't include. But then I tend to think of myself as more of an equalist than a feminist anyway.
23rd-Feb-2009 06:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this post -- it's something I've been thinking about lately. Especially the "where do my tastes come from" angle, since it's getting obvious (for example) that my brother and I think of competence and adulthood differently. And mine just happens to include a lot more cooking and cleaning.

ETA: For ultimate clarity, the "just happens" was mild sarcasm.

Edited at 2009-02-23 18:14 (UTC)
23rd-Feb-2009 06:26 pm (UTC)
Oatmeal raisin cookies are an affront. Not against anything in particular. Just an affront.

Sugar cookies, however....
23rd-Feb-2009 08:44 pm (UTC)
I think it's sad that people have to refer to thems3elves as anything other than human.

24th-Feb-2009 08:21 am (UTC)
That's because humanity isn't homogenous. And that fact makes me happy.
24th-Feb-2009 10:54 am (UTC)
Oh, don't get me wrong- I'm all for differences. I just don't like the fact that some people have an overwhelming need to pigeon-hole each other as -ist this and -ist that. Can't we all just get along?
24th-Feb-2009 10:59 am (UTC)
I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to say. Feminism isn't worth it?
24th-Feb-2009 05:17 pm (UTC)
No, I think it's very much worth it- I just wish that we didn't have to have it in the first place.
(Deleted comment)
24th-Feb-2009 12:03 am (UTC)
I'm beginning to feel that celebrating any aspect at all of any past era at all is going to upset anyone who is, for any reason, particularly attuned to negative aspects of that same era.

I don't know how I feel about that yet. Maybe we shouldn't celebrate any aspect of any past era without studying something more of that era besides the parts we like. Maybe it should be perfectly okay to enjoy something on a purely aesthetic level without having to care about everything that may have once been (or that may still be?) associated with it. Maybe not.

Does it make a difference how long ago it was? Is "I lived through that and it wasn't fun" only valid if you're still alive to say it?
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