Today in this interesting article I will be talking about women in the kitchen which is exciting not so much because of the gendering of domesticity but rather because I now have a chance for the very first time to wear my homemade chef’s hat.
How and when and who came up with the idea of women being in the kitchen and cleaning and taking care of the household?
Quick disclaimer that I cannot sit here and offer you an entire cross-cultural and comprehensive history of the concept of separate spheres and I’m about to paint in broad brushstrokes.
By virtue of biological determinism and the fact that women have the babies, there has usually that relegation of women to the private sphere.
The domestic sphere wasn’t always seen as such a terrible place for women particularly if we look in pre-Industrial Revolution America, a lot of the households were functioning as their own individual cottage industries. There was a lot of work that women needed to do in order for those households to survive. Pre-Civil War during the Antebellum period,this idea of republican motherhood really took home and also became sort of propaganda on behalf of promoting women in the domestic sphere.
It’s good for your country.
It’s also during this time that the role of the parent fully in charge of a child’s well-being both physically but also spiritually and morally passed from the father to the mother.
So you do see a distinct shift in this private sphere role from being a more utilitarian one arguably more on par with the public sphere role, aside from all of well the legal rights that women just didn’t have to being more encompassing of that domesticity that includes child rearing that we think of more today.
As the country evolved away from domestic production towards more Industrial Revolution fueled capitalism and urbanization those separate spheres became even more distinct, really reached a fever pitch In the Victorian and Edwardian eras with this so-called cult of domesticity and true womanhood.
And it wasn’t just men being jerks and saying, “Woman stay home and cook me dinner“.
Women also instructing other women through for instance women’s magazines and other kinds of publications that had all sorts of instructions for how to be an appropriate wife and mother and cultivate a house hold that is both socially appropriate and even enviable because that is your role.
Women in the kitchen became the moral center of the household who would balance against men’s baser instincts which is still such a tired trope.
After we get through World War I, we have the rise of technological developments and these labor-saving devices that would make housekeeping a completely different and less labor intensive task and then on top of that you have the rise of so-called scientific parenting, the first parenting experts who were all male doctors who were coming out saying women in the kitchen this is the way you need to do it.
All of this bizarre and conflicting pressure on women to essentially follow men’s advice on how to do what used to just be their autonomous role.
On the heel’s of that post World War II we have again this rise of domesticity to the point that it was comparable to Victorian Era, the dumbed down 50s and 60s era housewife where she was actively encouraged to really just make the home a haven for her husband and not worry him with all of her interests.
When we consider this kind of pendulum swing that happened over roughly a century, it’s not terribly surprising that by the mid-late 1960s some women started to say I think I’d like to try out this public sphere thing.
The government also helped nudge things along whether it was intending to or not with for instance the FDA’s approval of the very first oral contraceptive.
Also the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which in addition to other things barred sex discrimination in the work place.
There has always been this very close relationship between civic needs, government priorities and what’s going on in the household and unfortunately for most of history women have just sort of been pawns in the game because we had no rights for a very long time. Of course this concept of separate spheres is far older than the United States but really fascinating to see how in this context of how this nation evolved that evolved alongside it and also y’all know how I am.
I am a firm believer in looking to the past to understand more fully where we are in the present.
Also want to emphasize that I have been painting in broad and largely lily-white brushstrokes recounting mostly what my white great, great grandmothers would have been going through.
If you look at the history of women of color in the United States, completely different scenarios in terms of how society perceived them and how they had to fight the double fight of both sexism and racism and also economic equality to an even deeper extent.
Now I want to know what you think about all this gendering of domesticity and where we are today, are these roles anymore fluid than they used to be? Let me know in the comments below about why women belong in the kitchen.