The debate about whether the poor can or cannot cook rumbles on. Many argue that it is not only the poor who cannot cook but in fact large swathes of the British middle-class also. It is just that the middle classes can get away with it more than the poor because, you know, they have more money, as this is one of the definitions of being middle class – there is some leeway should things go wrong.
I find it amazing, no in fact predictable, that the one group who did the most damage to home-cooking – the feminists – have got away scot-free.
Third wave feminists wanted to broaden the horizons of women in the 1960s away from exclusively being on home, husband and children to the world of work. Fair enough, you might say. Although I think this was a middle class fixation, it made its way into all of society.
Note, if you will, that Betty Freidan spoke of the frustrated 1950s suburban housewife, and in my humble opinion this boredom had as much to do with living in suffocating, artificial, American suburbia than it did with looking after the kids.
Clearly there were some frustrated housewives out there or the movement would not have been so successful. However what the third wave feminists did was not just to look to rebalance women’s lives but to comprehensively trash the domestic sphere, including cooking. And this still goes on.
The feminists stigmatised home-cooking, saying that only losers would want to spend any time ‘tied to the kitchen sink’. This was despite the fact that domestic appliances (largely invented by men) were coming online that really did take the drudge work out of the drudgery – such as washing up, washing clothes and drying them.
But somehow cooking for your family had to be labeled as ‘drudgery’ also – until cooking’s decline comes out of the private realm into the public as a major health and economic concern. Then is it everyone’s business and not just the little woman’s.
This stigmatisation persists. This piece from feminist bible Slate orders us to “Stop Idealising the Home-Cooked Family Dinner.” It tells us “the main reason that people see cooking mostly as a burden is because it is a burden. It’s expensive and time-consuming and often done for a bunch of ingrates who would rather just be eating fast food anyway.” And we wonder why home-cooking has fallen out of fashion.
There is this (admittedly older piece) in the Guardian – Natasha Walker asks Why romanticize domestic drudgery? Cooking is seen as part of that drudgery. Ms Walker tells us, “twice in the past week, talking to women who have given up work to take on the whole gamut of domestic work, I have heard almost the same line voiced with some surprise. “Cooking is so boring,”said one..”
This piece also asks the ladies – why are we still ‘chained to the kitchen sink?”. Because obviously the kitchen sink is a terrible place to be. Ever.
So please government ministers, chatterati et al do not feign surprise when many women and their families think a meal is something that comes from a black plastic tray out of the microwave oven. The microwave and its expensive ready-made meals are ‘liberating’, while spending an hour cooking spag bol is boring and a burden.
Women have absorbed the message that home-cooking is for losers. Home-cooking has been ruthlessly stigmatised by the feminists positively to shame women out of the house for ludicrously long hours so they are all too shattered to cook when they get home.
I can understand this – although I am actually at home I try to do most of the dinner prep in the morning or at lunch time as if I leave to post-5 I am too tired and my two-year-old will either pull a pot of boiling water down, or poke his eye with a kitchen spatula (we do not in fact have a kitchen spatula but you get the picture). So I sympathise with those women who are ‘doing it all.’
I suspect many mothers who are working give up at least half of their weekend to cook in advance and then freeze, or husband does much of it also (fair enough).
May I also say by way of disclaimer that I am not saying everything should be ‘cooked from scratch’ and never has a ready-made sauce darkened my cupboard door. I bake only very simple things with the kids and concentrate on the main meals but I do not think this means I am a domestic drudge.
In fact I find it fascinating that language such as ‘chained to the kitchen sink’ is deployed to shame domestic mothers when so many families spend ludicrous amounts of money on very fancy sinks in very fancy kitchens. It seems it is ok to be out working to pay for said sink –as long as you do not spend any time ‘chained to it.’
I understand this does not apply to the poor who may have very challenging cooking environments. But the hypocrisy of the middle-class feminists who with their own mega kitchens employ language to shame other women that do enjoy cooking a family dinner (or see it as their duty) seems lost on everyone.