Why don’t women cook as much as they used to?

by Amanda Marcotte

I swear, I should just change the topic tag from “Food” to “Why Don’t People Cook More: An Examination Into Root Causes”.  But that would just make past entries harder to find, so “Food” it will stay.

SarahMC has done a bang-up job of collecting instances where feminism is blamed---either directly or through implication---for why less cooking gets done, since it’s apparently just fine and not at all offensive and sexist now to suggest that cooking is solely a woman’s job. (Unless, as Sarah points out, someone gets paid.  Then it’s men’s work.) Conservatives are often happy to trot out the story about how feminists tricked women into thinking they liked sex and didn’t love housework, but that’s not surprising---conservatives think women are biologically predisposed to be stupid, and thus easy to trick.  But when Michael Pollan goes there, it is disappointing.

The story trotted out by Michael Pollan, and more crudely by Gordon Ramsey, is that women got liberated and now they avoid the kitchen and spend all their time pursuing high powered careers to show off how feminist they are.  Thus, they argue, everyone is fat.  The problem with this formula is that it focuses the ire at those women whose class status affords them a choice between work and staying at home.* And, as we should all know by now, whether or not someone eats poorly is highly dependent on class status.  The women being blamed for putting their careers before their kitchens are the women who are the least likely to be obese or have family members that are.

Reality: the people most affected by junk food culture and the attendant health problems are lower on the income scale.  Not that they’re all poor, by any means---sometimes these discussions fall into the trap of assuming everyone is rich or poor, while ignoring people who aren’t on the margins but still live paycheck to paycheck---but it’s safe to say that whether or not women who work in pretty much every income bracket below the upper middle class do so because they have to.  That someone works under a certain family income level isn’t a very good predictor of her political beliefs.  She may go to work everyday while being a fundamentalist Christian who thinks women shouldn’t work.  She may not think very much of working as a political statement at all, and wish with all her might she could spend all day cooking and cleaning and doing right by Jesus.  But she needs the money, so she gets up and works and takes care of the kids and cleans the house and takes care of her husband and tries to scratch some time in the day out to relax and watch TV, and so learning to cook and actually doing it every day falls by the wayside.  This is true whether she is a fire-breathing feminist or a fundamentalist Christian, or anything in between.

Gordon Ramsey’s comments are particularly silly. I don’t buy for a moment that the men of England or America are doing most of the home cooking.  I think that Ramsey is so startled to see any family where the husband cooks and the wife doesn’t that said examples loom large in his mind.  But I don’t doubt that in those situations where men make some effort to share domestic responsibilities, they often do so by taking over the one chore that offers a chance for creative expression, which is cooking.  When you’re a man, you can use privilege that way.  You’re a hero for “helping”, so you get to do it however you like.  But even though it’s still not completely fair, a situation where a man relieves a woman of even this one time-consuming duty (if only to free her up to do more housework and child care) is still better than the alternative, where she has to do it all, and thus stuff like cooking falls by the wayside.

The point is that feminism isn’t the problem.  In fact, in many instances, what we need is more feminism.  After all, it’s the feminist impulse that causes men to feel like they should be doing something on occasion besides sitting around letting their wives do all the housework, even if that something they do is take over the most satisfying chore.  It’s imperfect feminism, but still a relief for women. 

And seriously, screw Gordon Ramsey for his crack about how women know how to mix cocktails but not how to cook.  Mixing cocktails is a lot fucking easier than preparing a meal from scratch, even the simplest meal like rice and beans. 

*The issue is even more complicated than this.  I reject the idea that most of the women who do have husbands who make enough money that they can stay at home are well-situated to choose to do so. Your husband can always, always wake up one day and decide to leave and withdraw all that support.  Thus, I think even seemingly wealthy housewives are vulnerable, and discussions about class differences housewifery often don’t take that fact in to account. But that’s for another post. 

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