Today, out of the blue, I got a query from a friend — a smart, competent, and female professional — who asked me this: What’s the right temperature for baked eggplant? My immediate (and correct, I might add) answer: 350. (This wasn’t just a complete stab in the dark — she showed me the rest of the recipe, which she had gotten from a friend, but she had forgotten the temperature. I told her 350; she later confirmed that with her friend).
I get a good deal of pride from the fact that a female friend feels comfortable firing off a casual baking-related question to me. And I’m equally proud that knowing that she’s right to turn to me for help. I like baking; I like cooking; I like going into the kitchen and creating; and I’m relatively good at it. (I gave her the right answer, didn’t I?) I’m no four-star chef, but I can put together a pretty good dinner, and I enjoy doing it. I get a good deal of pleasure from cooking. My wife knows that there’s no surer way to keep me happy than to turn me loose in the kitchen and tell me that I’m in charge of dinner. That works on many levels — it keeps me happy, it gives her some down time, and it typically results in a tasty dinner.
Earlier this week, one of my wife’s relatives came over for an afternoon; I threw together some chicken in a frying pan for part of dinner. It was just something I tossed together on the spot, which is pretty typical, though I was using a lot of known quantities — olive oil, cumin seed, garlic, pepper, some cinnamon for variety. She actually ended up asking me for my recipe, which of course delighted me. And I was happy to give her my recipe (such as it was) as well as random assorted tips. (“If you drizzle just a little bit of olive oil over the chicken when it’s about halfway done, it won’t be as dry when it’s done.”)
There’s lots of talk lately in the bloggernacle about women’s roles. This discussion is necessary and important. There are lots of good things that we could do to celebrate International Women’s Day; and there are lots of interesting questions to be asked and answered on complex topics like gender essentialism, the role of feminism, and so forth.
But sometimes I like to just step back and cook dinner. Granted, this is an intellectually satisfying exercise in ways that I appreciate. It’s an effective way to show my children that many traditional stereotypes are all wet, and to let friends and family know how I feel about gender roles. So yes, cooking is a feminist exercise of sorts — but that’s really just an afterthought in my own analysis.
I cook because it’s fun.
My joy in domesticity shows me a lot of things. First, it adds to already extant doubts about many of society’s predefined notions of gender identity. Stereotypes tell us that men work and women cook — I see the absurdity in that characterization every time I enter the kitchen.
Second, it brings to my mind questions about our security in our own gender and sexual identities. Over at Feminist Mormon Housewives, a post asked a few weeks ago whether readers were comfortable in their feminimity. I think it can be a healthy exercise to engage in activities that break with traditional gender norms.
Third, it saddens me somewhat. I’m sad because I feel that I have a level of freedom as a man to express joy in domesticity, without invoking harmful stereotypes. I don’t think that women have the same level of freedom. A woman who says “I like to cook” is immediately placed into various mental boxes that are not always compatible with progressive ideas on feminism and equality. I don’t have to worry about that, as a man — I can cook with impunity. And I can’t help but wonder if I would feel the same if I were a woman — that is, whether my feminist ideals would mililtate against my ability to enjoy myself in the kitchen. And so I’m sad, contemplating the possibility of women potentially shut out of such a fun activity. I can enjoy cooking, as a man, without the accompanying baggage – but that might be more complicated if I approached the question as a woman.
Fourth, I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the work done by feminist pioneers who have undercut notions of gender roles. I benefit from their work, as a man — I’m a free rider. Feminist pioneers who challenge ingrained gender stereotypes benefit not only women – they benefit men as well. (And men are truly free riders, I think – we face none of the stigma that women face trying to break into traditional male realms).
Finally, I think that some measure of enjoyment in domestic activity is becoming (more of) the norm for Mormon men, and I think that change is a good thing. As I noted earlier, I like that freedom and flexibility on an intellectual level, but even more so on a personal level. I don’t think I’m so unusual in my proclivities — and I think this is a good development.
Anyway, I find this topic fascinating, and I would elaborate further, but I’m hoping to get home in time to cook some dinner.