It’s March, hooray! I am so glad to be a woman. Not only is it Women’s History Month, but Friday 8th is International Women’s Day, and of course, Sunday 10th is Mother’s Day. In fact, I found it so hard to contain my excitement about all the womanly-themed events and discussions this month that I engaged social media. I was clearly way too early, but on February 28th I started a thread asking for suggestions for dishes with which to celebrate the achievements of women worldwide. All I got in return for my mistimed enthusiasm was a cocktail recipe and a reply from a former colleague, who said, ‘For International Women’s Day I plan to stay out of the kitchen and let Mr Marks or Spencer do the work.’
I decided to up the ante by inviting people to send me related puns, starting with my own suggestion: Emmeline Pankwurst. I had some response – ‘Grill Power’, ‘Germaine Beer’ – but if I’m honest, this request also panned. The most I saw regarding this topic on Facebook was a picture of the Oxfam International Women’s Day campaign slogan ‘It’s a cocktail shaking hot fudge knit-a-thon,’ which a friend posted along with the caption: ‘women: you must be so fucking proud.’
Upshot is: I am still trying to think up dishes with which to mark International Women’s Day. Sure, I was asking in February, I have only 100-odd followers and my daft choice of hashtag will have contributed to the general disinterest of my peers. But perhaps the unsuccessfulness of my gesture has even more to do with it not being reflective of how my contemporaries view a progressive and successful woman’s role in society.
I mean, here I am: a woman, at this point, pretty much a full-time mum who spends most of her available time keeping a cookery blog. I’m asking people to share recipes with which to celebrate womankind; but how can I celebrate the empowerment of women with a symbol of, and from a position of, such utter domesticity? Surely women must be released from our freshly-baked-cake-scented cages if we are to make a statement? As my friend implies, taking part in a bake-off isn’t progressive: Pussy Riot wear fluoro balaclavas, not Orla Kiely oven gloves.
The ‘feminine pastimes’ of cookery and craft are endlessly talked over in the media, but they are celebrated as middle class hobbies. A woman who forgoes or loses paid employment to look after her family full-time is seen as someone who is not fulfilling their potential. Her work might be diverse, essential, boring, rewarding, but it remains unpaid, and – as with many caring professions – undervalued.
Our society judges merit on accumulation of monetary wealth. It’s not enough to be nurturing, creative, or to get by. We can talk about and do these things with some pride, but only in the context of our luxury: free time. If the activities that make up your everyday are to sustain life rather than business, there is a largely unspoken expectation among Brits that you ought to get some real work and pay another professional to look after the kids. If you and or your partner are really good, you see, you might have income left after home and childcare costs to also pay someone to mop your floors, and have M&S sort dinner.
It seems to me that bringing up our children has been re-categorised from life experience to leisure activity. A woman, or man, who spends most of their time involved in domestic or caring work is not only deemed economically inactive but also idle. No one can be happy with their lot. While working parents wish they had more time with their families, many at home feel guilty about partaking in the indulgence of looking after their own children, and worry about the impact this will have on future employability. I know I do, even though my days seem busier than ever.
By asking friends for International Women’s Day recipe suggestions I hoped to be amused and inspired. I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that women are better off in the kitchen (even though it is one of my favourite places to be). I interpret, however, my peers’ lack of enthusiasm for the idea as a sign that it is still deeply unfashionable and thought, however mistakenly, un-feminist to be a modern woman who is ‘into’ things like cooking, crafting and childcare.
This is a damn shame, because these day-to-day jobs are what binds communities and make people’s lives worthwhile. Their significance is why these tasks can be successfully re-packaged and sold back to us as hobbies. The problem for women today isn’t that home making or childcare are demeaning, they are not, but that our inflexible labour market still forces these tasks to be shared unequally between the sexes. This is why I think that one of the most promising routes to better gender equality may lie with the four-day week.
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About Chloe King
I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.
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