Wednesday, October 12, 2016

We still have kitchens

Today was a cooking day, and I was feeling pressured because I had schoolwork on my mind. I wanted to focus on readings and essays, but groceries, food, cooking ... well, it has to be done, right?

Coincidentally, I had reached the part of an 1898 treatise by feminist writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman questioning whether most of us should be cooking at all. Cooking is a special field, like architecture, she argues, so trained experts, not amateurs, should be doing it. Eliminate the home kitchen altogether, she urges, and send the family off to a designated area outside the home for their meals. No kitchen, no onion smells, no cleanup!

As a feminist, Gilman's angle is that women -- "private servants" in her words -- have been unfairly stuck with the cooking duties, to the detriment of themselves, their families and society as a whole. But she doesn't stop at cooking -- women shouldn't be cleaning either. Once again, this should be the work of professionals who would whip regularly through people's homes, leaving women free to pursue their own careers.

Gilman, whose views must have been quite controversial when she wrote Women and Economics nearly 120 years ago, takes some ironic jabs at the contrast between the exalted view of women at that time and how they were actually treated. "It is woman, the dainty, the beautiful, the beloved wife and revered mother, who has by common consent been expected to do the chamber-work and scullery work of the world," she writes. "All that is basest and foulest she in the last instance must handle and remove."

The ashes and soot she refers to aren't part of the picture now, and household conveniences have transformed much of the drudgery she was referring to. But our homes are not the work-free oases of rest, privacy and beauty she was pushing for. We still have kitchens. And I still had to make a batch of spaghetti sauce.

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