A dish for the women

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.’

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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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8 comments on “A dish for the women

  1. March 6, 2013 at 9:06 am

    I interviewed a brilliant woman cookery writer the other day and she was saying that recipes used to be passed down from grandmother, mother, daughter etc etc and now that they’re not, and we just get our recipes off the internet, we’ve forgotten that recipes and the act of cooking them used to be about so much more than food: they were about our heritage, our history and our community. And while we were more liberated now, we’d also lost the support, advice and strength that came from that link.

    • March 6, 2013 at 4:00 pm

      That is such an interesting point Hattie, thanks so much for sharing. It’s true, I think, that we tend to trust and seek the advice of ‘specialists’ either online or on telly, rather than our own family tradition. I guess our parents’ generation wanted to get well away from the wartime-inspired frugality of their parents. My aunt Kate is very open about her rejection what my foodie grandmother taught her in the kitchen. Maybe the Be-ro cookbooks (as I mentioned in an earlier post) were part of the beginning of this corporate substitution for family… So many things to think about!

  2. March 6, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    Corporate substitution or infiltration? Have you read this yet? (Sure you have) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Commercialization-Intimate-Life-Notes-Home/dp/0520214889

  3. March 19, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Hello my dear Chloe, niece and mother in a million,

    I don’t reject what your grandmother taught me. I absolutely treasure it. In fact, I’ve just been writing about it. She taught your mum and I the most invaluable female arts, and even though I’m a useless practitioner nowadays, it was not always thus. Once I was a happlily married mother of one, and did dinner parties with the best of ’em. Sixties-type ones, but, thanks to my mother, never prawn cocktail or chicken-in-the-basket. She taught us how to make perfect pastry, boef-bourgy-non, all kinds of wonderful fare, the basics of which I still employ every day and am grateful for. Even mushrooms on toast can be good when you’ve learned about gathering them from the fields, making free with the butter and how to bake bread…(She also taught us about shopping carefully, how to sew and knit and read Tolstoy and Blake.)

    I’m so impressed by your remarks. Feminism has somewhat lost the plot. It’s all our fault, we 60s and 70s girls-about-town preached that ANY job was better than staying at home and looking after the baby, even a conveyerbelt, even though generations of women had been enslaved in factory work. Galloping 20th-century consumerism, capitalism and materialism did the rest to ensure utter female humiliation, and we went down like nine-pins. We’ve only ourselves to blame, I’m afraid, for joining in the fun and games. Money’s never the answer. Neither is the leisure/work divide. The thing is to spend your life making something beautiful out of yourself. Like a child. Or a pie. Or a picture etc…

    If women rediscovered their own bodies and birthright and learned some self-respect in both departments, neither gender would be left in any doubt as to our power and equality. Our children would be looked after too, which would bode rather better for the future than the current arrangement…There would be a whole new moral order in the world, manifest and available to guide society. Unfortunately, we all prefer copying men instead.

    In Holland everyone works a four-day week and job-shares, and the men still don’t look after the children or do the washing up. Neither do they on the kibbutz, and neither did they in the communist utopias of eastern europe. But that’s just another thing we women could have told them…

    • March 19, 2013 at 11:28 am

      Wow, Kate, great to hear from you. I’m sorry I misunderstood (and misrepresented) your ‘rejection’ of Winifred’s cookery – my assumption was inferred from an earlier email exchange that we had regarding those ‘food history’ questions I sent you. I think I oversimplified it somewhat. Some really poignant ideas here Kate, thank you so much for sharing! Would love to hear more about those dishes you mention, I only have a few handwritten recipes that were given to me as a birthday gift. If you saw the Winifred’s Gingers post the recipe is actually marked as yours! Take a look. They are very tasty. Speak soon xxx

  4. March 21, 2013 at 8:37 am

    Don’t YOU apologise! I know I was lousy, paathetic, less than useless on your questionnaire, due to pure shame that I no longer bother to cook seriously. I’ll look for the ginger biscuits, yes, I think I may have invented them – in another life! I think I have more of W’fred’s handwritten recipes, as well as her copy of Mrs Beeton, from the nineteenth century, absolutely superb, but very battered – the leather embossed spine is completely loose from the covers. I have it carefully packed ready for rebinding, when I can find a good bookbinder to do it. I found it lying casually on top of her fridge, amid a pile of sudry domestic detritis. I think she used it right up until the end of her life. As soon as I see you, I’ll show you all these things. So much has been happening down there…be safe, keep warm, will ring you today or tomorrow xxx

    • March 21, 2013 at 9:21 am

      I would love to see those Kate and perhaps make some scans/photographs for the blog… Speak soon xxx

  5. March 21, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Or maybe I didn’t invent them, but just loved gobbling them up!

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