Too many feminists in the kitchen

What is at the heart of feminism's generational rift? Cupcakes.

Published August 23, 2008 10:35AM (EDT)

Some third-wave feminists may still be fighting their forebears on hot topics like politics, sex work, sexuality and race -- but a piece in Friday's Guardian redirects our attention to a different battleground: the kitchen. The article's headline succinctly sums up the issue at hand: "Do good feminists bake cupcakes?"

That's right; feminism's generational battle is literally a piece of cake.

The cupcake has become the "symbol" of a retro renaissance among young women, reports the Guardian. They bake, sip afternoon tea, nibble cucumber sandwiches and knit "with tongue encased firmly in cheek"; they are third-wavers or post-feminists who ironically embrace a "1950s aesthetic." The Guardian reports that "many feminists" find the trend troublesome because "gushing over flowery tablecloths and playing at being mother with the teapot ignores the reality of this period: that many women felt forced to stay at home, and performed these chores, not with delight, but in a fit of frustration ... For many feminists then, there is something almost perverse about actively choosing to do tasks that the women's libbers of the 1960s and 1970s fought so hard to reject."

Wait, I'm confused: Is it "almost perverse" for me to bake cupcakes because I think they taste good -- or is it only "almost perverse" if I try to do so ironically? Is baking acceptable if I make the man in my life do it for me, or if I bake for myself and not for any others (particularly male others)? Isn't it possible to elect to do some traditional "women's work" -- and enjoy the freedom to reject certain retro responsibilities -- without "fetishizing" restrictive societal roles?

Before I come up with any more rhetorical questions, though, let's take a look at the "many feminists" who object to women electing to spend time in the kitchen. The Guardian quotes one: feminist author Natasha Walter, who argues that the problem is that we have to continue to fight the past assumption that domesticity "was just 'what women did.'" There are no others; Walter is the only alleged cupcake-hating feminist mentioned in the piece and, even still, she simply warns against casting the kitchen as strictly women's domain.

Tonight, while my boyfriend cooks dinner, I'll make sure to take this straw woman out with the trash.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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