The Joys of Domesticity

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.

26 comments for “The Joys of Domesticity

  1. 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.

    Huh? Well, my wife loves to cook and she’s certainly free of any baggage about it. Also, how do you explain that (almost) all the great chefs are male?

  2. “I think that some measure of enjoyment in domestic activity is becoming (more of) the norm for Mormon men”

    Hahaha, those years when I was inactive, I used to play a game in public–mormonspotting. The man who looked just as comfortable holding the baby as his wife, who even seemed to delight a little in being seen holding the baby 9 times out of 10 was LDS. It’s one of the areas where our ‘backward’ (*scoff*) ‘traditional’ family values are actually way ahead of the US norm. It’s far more progressive in terms of evolving gender roles.

  3. All this… from an eggplant?

    Some guys get all the inspiration.

    “Brother Wenger, I forgot to tell you this earlier, but I need you to give a talk today in Stake Conference. You can talk about whatever you want. Here’s a zucchini.”

  4. Kaimi, I think “free rider” is a needlessly perjorative term for yourself. I think of a free rider as someone who benefits without contributing at all. As long as you contribute, which it seems like you do, you’re a ‘paying’ rider.

  5. I agree with both Kaimi and Naiah. I’m not much of a cook, but I like fiddling around in the kitchen, and when my wife was gathering recipes for the ward cookbook I took a keen interest in who contributed what and what was worth trying. Also, I decorate my children’s birthday cakes, which only draws scoffs from the most thick-necked knuckle-draggers in my ward.

    And I recall that the first place I ever saw a baby changing station in a men’s bathroom was in the married student ward I attended at the U.

  6. I like to cook too. But I don’t like to clean up afterwards, at all. And I’m not a big fan of recepies. I just like to create.

    This is a very thoughtful post Kaimi, I wish I had enough brain cells to do it justice with a insightful comment, but I keep writing lame stuff and erasing it, so I’ll have to try again tomorrow.

  7. Kaimi – interesting post, but I’d be more impressed if your “Joys of Domesticity” included scrubbing the toilet and defrosting the freezer. As Rusty and others point out, cooking is easy. It’s the cleaning up afterwards, including washing the dirty dishes (AND the pans – don’t just leave them next to the sink filled with water), wiping down the counters and mopping up the floor of any crumbs and spills – not to mention picking out stray Cheerios and Goldfish crushed into the rugs and carpet. When you’ve gained an appreciation for these “joys” of domesticity, then you’ll have something to brag about. :)

  8. And not just once in a while, but day after day after day, without anyone even noticing that you do it. Try a lifetime of that and see how joyful you feel.

  9. Re: eggplant. 1000 degrees. Burn it to a crisp, toss it in the trash, and go find something edible for dinner!

    It’s a little like my grandfather’s recipe for cooking skunk: put the skunk, whole, unskinned, in a big pot of water. Add one rock. Boil for three days. Throw out the skunk. Eat the rock.

  10. My husband had a friend in the ward we just moved out of, who was a skinny guy with a beautiful tenor voice and strong interests in fashion and interior decorating. He was married with kids. Outside of Mormon culture, he would have been pinging everyone’s “gaydar.” Likewise, I’m not a really “feminine” woman; I have strong interests in the distaff arts, but I don’t do country hearts, jello salads, or girlie whining. I think it’s a beautiful thing that inside that culture, men and women can be who they want to be without having their heterosexuality questioned.

  11. Kaimi, since virtually everything bakes at 350, your answer wasn’t much of a stretch.

    But am I wrong to wonder whether men who say “Look how much I enjoy showing me feminine side”–even as part of a regret that women can’t reveal their feminine side (assusming that’s true)–are to be suspected of not being entirely comfortable with what they are doing?

  12. Hello. The thing that irritates me about gender and cooking, is that when a woman cooks, it’s supposed to fall under “traditional domesticity.” It’s “women’s work.” When a man cooks, he’s a damned “chef” and “culinary artist.” And, that sucks.

  13. Jim, you made me smile. Maybe one day you will make me laugh.

    Kaimi, I love your writing and I love this topic. I am one who doesn’t see this as a gender issue, nor am I offended that perhaps you do. Everyone has things they love and things they don’t. Bill and I, for instnace, balance each other out in many ways that are untraditional.

    He is a creative and joyful cook. My stepson is also a wonderful cook, from his dad’s example. Sometimes I am, too, but it is more of a chore for me. Because every day I have to think of what to cook, etc.

    I’m reminded of an old Ensign article entitled, “Mama killed the Rattlesnakes.” I am the one who takes on calling businesses and waiting on the phone, Bill simply hasn’t the patience. I am the one who reads the instructions, so I can use all the appliances in the house. Bill hits the wrong button on the remote and he’s back to reading for a week till I come home.

    Esther Rasband wrote a wonderful book called Abandoning the Adversary Relationship. No, first it’s called, Man and Woman, Joy in Oneness. She, like Cheiko Okazaki, writes of the cooperation in her marriage which leaves ego out of the mix.

    I’m writing this from the cruise ship and feeling pretty homesick, give me a week and I’ll be back to bellyaching about my husband’s annoying habits.

    Kaimi, that chicken sounds wonderful. I don’t use olive oil enough. I’m wondering about the cinnamon, though. Hey, we’re right off the coast of San Diego, see that ship? That’s me in all white, waving, you can see me because I’m now a big round thing from all the food. I’ve eaten more than in the last ten years.

  14. annegb: If you are very light on the cinammon, it makes a nice addition to lots of dishes. You don’t want to aim for a small enough amount that it isn’t obvious what you are tasting, so that you leave those who eat it wondering “What was that something else?”

    Is there really anything to do but eat on a cruise? Not that I mind eating, but I like to have a break for something else occasionally.

  15. Great comments, all. Thanks for your comments. I just have a moment to answer a few, so this will be quick.

    Jim,

    You caught me – 350 is indeed a good default rule. (Though it’s not a universal rule — many a cake or pie or pan of biscuits goes at 375 or 400). And as for discomfort — I hope not. In my case, at least, it’s just a matter of saying “hmm, that may be bloggable.”

    Naiah,

    That’s an awesome trend, and I’m glad you’ve noticed it too. I think it’s one of the best things about current norms for Mormon men.

    Rusty,

    I’m sure there’s an explanation, but I’m not aware of it myself. Also, shame on you for making your wife do the cooking! :P

    Eric,

    I wish I were that smart.

    By the way, have I ever told you how much fun it is to clean my office? Really! Now, why don’t you come to San Diego and try it for a minute. See, isn’t that fun?

    Mark,

    As an eater, I’m with you. I’m not a big eggplant eater (though I’ve had some really good eggplant sometimes, such as at this one lebanese place in D.C.) But as a lawyer, you doubtless have clients who ask for advice on things you wouldn’t necessarily do yourself, right? What do you tell them then — “take that deposition testimony, put it in the oven at 1000 degrees, toss it in the trash, and find another defendant”?

    Elisabeth,

    You’re right, of course. (Defrosting is fun, though; toilets, less so). There’s more to life than baked eggplant. But I don’t think that necessarily undercuts this gain. The good isn’t necessarily an enemy to the better. If I’m cooking dinner, that frees up time for my wife, and she appreciates this.

    (She uses her free time to scrub the floors and iron my clothes and bring me peeled grapes, of course :P ).

    fmhLisa,

    When I have lame comments late at night, I put them up on the blog and let people make fun of them. You should try it some time!

    (Just teasing, of course).

    Anne,

    I’m glad the blogs are exciting enough to distract you from your cruise. And your relationship with your husband sounds great – every couple works out their own balance.

  16. Eric (#7), Elisabeth (#8),

    Perhaps someone pulled a Tom Sawyer on me in my early childhood, but in most cases, I’d rather clean than cook.
    So this (from Kaimi, #15):

    “By the way, have I ever told you how much fun it is to clean my office? Really! Now, why don’t you come to San Diego and try it for a minute. See, isn’t that fun?”

    might just work on me. I find cleaning–especially organizing–very satisfying. At the end, there is order. In spirte of periodic efforts to overcome my aversion to it, I find cooking risky and often frustrating. At the end, there may be something good to eat, and there may not. And in either case, there is disorder.

  17. Don’t let Kaimi fool you “(She uses her free time to scrub the floors and iron my clothes and bring me peeled grapes, of course ).” His wife is a very good shot (I’ve see her shoot), and if she wants peeled grapes I know who will be doing the peeling. On the other hand I have no problem with doing the House Elf jobs around the house and can even enjoy doing the dishes (nice quiet time and no one bothers you).

    I have to agree with Kaimi ” every couple works out their own balance.” That is what I have tried to do, Get Kaimi to tell you how he and his brother would go ask their MOM football questions.

  18. Kaimi, since virtually everything bakes at 350, your answer wasn’t much of a stretch that was my line. Even biscuts can be cooked there, though 400 is better.

    I’ve taken to folding clothes with Win, it is better done as a team. And granite counters are just fun to clean. Still.

  19. Kaimi,
    Some of your analysis and commentary ignores the problems that men have in breaking into traditionally female roles, such as nursing or teaching at the grade school level. Not to mention such things as bikini wax technician.

  20. Re #2, and Mormon men as caregivers: I’m all for it, but I’m not sure it’s a sign of a unique Mormon progressiveness in gender roles. In all societies in which monogamy is strongly enforced—-that is, in which the father’s reproductive success is tied entirely to one woman’s reproductive success—fathers provide strikingly more care, resources, and support for their offspring, because they’re effectively forced to adopt the female strategy of “quality over quantity.”

    That’s why child-support laws—in which the father and mother, almost by definition, are no longer in a monogamous pair-bond—are so notoriously ineffective.

  21. A review of a book on laundry commented that there are lots of books on cooking because men like to cook ( I have to differ from Kaimi. While there is a custom that women cook while men labor, I’m not aware of a stereotype that men don’t enjoy cooking), but no real books on laundry because this is still essentially a woman’s domain. For what its worth.

  22. ” In all societies in which monogamy is strongly enforced—-that is, in which the father’s reproductive success is tied entirely to one woman’s reproductive success—fathers provide strikingly more care, resources, and support for their offspring, because they’re effectively forced to adopt the female strategy of “quality over quantity.â€?”

    Amen to that. Which is why so many social policies of the last 50 years have been ill-considered.

  23. as to the “spot the mormon” thing, in the female dominated world of sign language interpreters there’s a theory that goes around regarding any male interpreter. “He must be either mormon or gay”

  24. My husband cooks 99% of all dinners at our house. He’s very gifted at it, whereas I have to have a recipe to know how to make a quesadilla. We’ve been married nearly 5 years, and this started while we were dating and has continued through both of us being in graduate school, to now when I’m a SAHM and he’s out working. His request for me is that I make the menu, and he’ll cook the meals. By default I usually end up washing the dishes, though this used to be split 50-50.

    Other than cooking dinner, though, I am the one in charge of all things domestic in the house. Luckily, his standards are about equal to mine, which means that I don’t have to spend all the day on housework. Even if I do, it’s hard to tell as the kids are such experts as mess-making.

    The best part of the arrangement is when I get to tell other women in the ward that my husband does all the cooking. Their envy is palpable. ;-)

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