Daily: New feminism found in food, but does it pay the bills?

Kristen Daily

Feminism has become a dirty word. It’s unfortunate, but largely true. Feminism is messy. While most people today would agree to support gender equality, they are hesitant to identify with or embrace feminism wholly.

A recent poll conducted by the Huffington Post shows that while only one-fifth of Americans identify themselves as feminists, the majority fits the general definition which argues for equal treatment of the sexes.

I admit, I have been hesitant to identify with feminists in some situations. I was fearful I would be categorized as a whiny, unrightfully indignant woman. But this is wrong, and deeply problematic. Feminism is still an issue today because there is still inequality. Until there is complete equality, feminism is a vital perspective to consider.

As I embrace my own feminism, I am realizing feminism is evolving and that the new revolution for feminists of my generation lies not only in the workplace, traditionally a place of inequality, but also in the kitchen, which can pose many contradictions.

This may seem backwards. I mean, don’t feminists work to get women out of the kitchen? Yet, food is distinctly feminine. While an ever increasing number of men cook and are active participants in food planning and preparation in the home, food is primarily a woman’s worry. Women are constantly inundated with information regarding food, albeit via Pinterest, food blogs, dieting or cooking daily meals. It is only natural that women are then expected to bear the responsibility of choosing the “right” food -good food for the people they care for.

In addition to this, women bear the majority of household economic responsibilities. Today this means that women are not only working as equal contributors to family incomes, but also that they are still the ones buying household goods like groceries. New York Times writer Stephanie Coontz explores some of these gender disparities in the home sphere.

Earlier this spring, Avital Norman Nathman, a blogger for the Ms. magazine blog, wrote a post titled “The Femisphere: Foodies and Food Politics”. In this post she presents a number of women who bring a unique lens through which to view food– a feminist lens.

“Some of these bloggers delve into the domesticity angle of food, investigating how years of stereotyped gender norms influence our relationship with food, while others focus on food politics, writing about everything from food accessibility/scarcity to ethical issues. From the delicious and delightful to the problematic and political, all of these blogger tackle food in a uniquely feminist way,” Nathman says.

One contributor to her post explained that most food writing treats food as if it were unaffected by class, race, or gender. And clearly, our food choices factor in many different issues. While food is a nutritional necessity and essential for life, it also has the power to influence social and political spheres.

Several contributors emphasized the opportunities feminist food writing offers to explore and critique social and cultural roles as well as gender norms. Many women emphasize the fact that there is a possibility that people can both love traditional tasks, like cooking and crafting, while still seeking gender equality.

Another theme which ran throughout the posts was how interconnected vegan and feminist ideals are. Both vegans and feminists wish to stop exploitation- one of animals, and the other of women. The book The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J. Adams really shows how our culture “meatifies” women.

Another engaging book that connects gender and food is Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound. Matchar explores the new culture of do-it-yourself and the phenomenon of middle class homemakers who are seeking self-made sufficiency. Throughout the book, Matchar engages the question of what this new DIY culture means for feminism.

As I mentioned earlier, many are worried that women’s newfound obsession with Pinterest, blogging, handmade crafting, and all things vintage scream of a doomed return to women as slaves to the house. However, Matchar also considers what opportunities this lifestyle gives to women. For some women, crafting and cooking can be every bit as self-empowering as a successful career in the corporate world.

However, empowerment through cooking and crafting doesn’t always pay the bills. What Matchar does well is this- she acknowledges that a DIY lifestyle is sometimes rose-tinted on blogs, yet this return to self-sustainability can truly be rewarding for both individuals and communities. In addition to this, this new culture is bringing together both sides of the political spectrum, conservative religious families seeking simple lives and “crunchy” liberals who want an all-natural lifestyle.

It is important to recognize that while DIY empowerment can be rewarding, there are financial responsibilities that must be faced. Many of the women Matchar interviewed held traditional jobs/careers in addition to their baking and blogging addictions. So my question is this: what do women who love domesticity do? Can corporate leaders love to bake and still be respected at work?

Overall, I am hopeful. Hopeful that this cultural revolution be recognized and embraced as distinctly feminist. The kitchen allows women to subvert traditional roles. While duty is still expected, today’s kitchen revolution allows women an outlet for creative self-expression and empowerment. If new feminist perspectives can allow for open discourse in society and politics, then the women of this generation have found their voices in the kitchen.