I can hear the cries of a Second-Wave Feminist from the ’70’s about how a woman’s place is in the workforce, and how she need no longer be a slave (yes, there were problematic word choices) to the kitchen. The bra-burners and flag-wavers fought a good fight (for the most part), but I gotta unpack this whole kitchen thing a little bit.
I’m a feminist. And I’m a mother. And I love baking and cooking. So.
There are a few reasons that I like being in the kitchen. One is that I legit like making shit. I love experimenting with new flavours and textures, new combinations of staple ingredients, or new techniques in the kitchen. In the summer heat, I have been experimenting with fried biscuits (similar to First Nations fry-bread) so I don’t have to turn on the oven.
The second reason is that it makes me happy on a budget level. I love finding excellent values for ways to feed my family fresh, delicious food. I build relationships with local farmers and am happy to purchase their products. I am confident feeding my family local, sustainable (reason number three) and healthy (reason number four) food. The fifth reason sort of swings back into the first, which is that I love yummy delicious food. I love filling my belly with food that I have made from scratch, and that I know will taste delicious.
I suppose the sixth reason is that I am hella good at it. We went on vacation in Prince Edward Island, and I did a grocery shop at the outset (while my spouse wrangled the squirrelly children in the shopping cart), and it cost barely more than a week’s groceries at home. I had to use all of my kitchen ninja skills to produce amazing-quality food with the handful of random kitchen implements in the cabin. I was proud of the taste and the freshness, and the quality, and the economy of the meals (as we were eating our meal, I announced how much the meal cost).
Now, you could argue that if my spouse cooked food along the same lines as what I do, many of these reasons would still apply. That is true. However, I am legit better at it than he is. I can multitask better, and I can generally time the food better (the exception being bacon—he is generally unimpressed with my bacon. He thinks I over-fry it).
Now, you could say that everything should be 50/50 in a marriage. But I think that is a little bit silly. There is value in using the skills that you have so that you can do the jobs more quickly and easily than your partner, thus saving your total amount of energy as a duo (or as a group if you’re poly).
But I understand why that argument may ring a bit hollow to some. After all, one of the main reasons women have been so conditioned to remain at home is that, gee whiz, you’re so good at it, darling! Sure, your brains aren’t suited for industry or business or politics, but you can’t have it all, deary. The men have to work in their dreary jobs to earn real money, but you get to stay home, cleaning the toilets and chopping onions. You can see how this line of reasoning gets oppressive really fast, especially considering that, at that time, 100% of the positions of power were occupied by men.
So I get why we can’t just say that we like being in the kitchen and be done with the discussion. Our homes (and especially our kitchens) are where we live out our political values. Feminism seeks to make visible the things that have been previously hidden. Our values show up (or don’t) in our daily interactions, and we need to challenge ourselves and our loved ones to make our domestic lives more in line with the values that we ascribe.
All that said. I struggle with all this ideology when it is clear that one of us is much better suited (as an individual) than the other to a certain type of task. (And, yes, I know that girls are expected to do more housework from an earlier age, so they have more opportunities to get better at household tasks than men of a similar age. But it works this way in non-kitchen tasks, too—I am the queen of multitasking and he is the monotasking master. He does really well at focusing on one task, like washing dishes or vacuuming carpets. I am a master at managing multiple tasks within a tight time-frame.)
I don’t know what the answer is for sure, but here are some tips that I have developed for ensuring a (more) equitable kitchen workload.
1. Make it Visible
As women, we are taught to downplay our achievements and to be discrete about our skills. It is important that we mention the work that we do. Housework is called “invisible work” by feminist theorists. This is because people don’t tend to notice when housework is done; they only notice when it is not done. If you’ve got someone in the household who tidies a room, chances are you don’t notice when your shit gets moved from the middle of the room to its proper place, but you DO notice when your shit is still sitting in the middle of the room in a mess.
Part of making our work visible at home is to make sure that our loved ones understand what we do. Even simply mentioning what we’ve done helps make house work more visible. Sometimes it is necessary to say, “This is really important to me. I’m really proud of X.” There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your work at home (running a household is a fekking lot of work!), as long as you make sure to share your successes.
2. Divide the Work
Listen, I am 34 (I think) years old, and I have only started becoming comfortable with verbally dividing work with my partner. We have been married for 10 years, and it has been a long road for us to divide our work equitably.
Even saying something like, “Do you want to wash or dry the dishes?” goes a long way to divide the work. Talk about the work division. A very natural way to divide labour is to have one spouse care for kids while the other spouse cooks, or to have one spouse cook and one spouse wash up.
While you want to aim for equity, part of being in a domestic partnership is accepting that there is no such thing as a truly 50-50 division of labour. What you want is something that feels like an even divide.
3. Be Kind To Yourself (And Your Partnership)
As much as we would love to snap our fingers and undo all of the patriarchy’s influence on us over decades, it doesn’t work that way. Unpacking gender roles inside (and outside) of a partnership takes a ton of time. Talk lots and open up lines of communication—wonder together and ask questions together.
4. Be Sure To Develop Skills Outside the House
I would consider my relationship to food preparation to be a core part of who I am. But there is definitely much more to me than that. I write and I am a professional (and I’m durn good at my job!). I am involved in local politics (as much as I have energy for), and I like to be a gym rat whenever I can get away from my house. These outside-the-house endeavours give me energy and confidence in who I am. Ensuring that I have a variety of positive interactions with folks outside the home means that my view of the larger world stays more positive than it would otherwise (and, heaven knows, my depression is happy to interpret events for me).
Your brain thrives on building new neural pathways; learning new skills and doing new things. Getting outside of the home and outside your comfort zone can have fantastic effects on your mental health. As much as we like to think that we can be proud of ourselves for working in the home, the truth is that the positive effect of feeling achievement outside of housekeeping is immeasurable. There’s a big beautiful world out there!
It doesn’t have to be something huge; just doing some cardio at your local Y or or volunteer for a local politician whose views you support. Or if you are really down for cooking, start a batch-cooking club out of your local community centre or cook frozen meals for folks in need. Something that will help you feel like you have a place to be outside the home, and that you can feel proud of.
If you’re feeling discouraged about all of this, don’t worry. I don’t think any woman feels like they are successful in the way household chores are divvied up. It is sexist to even assume that women should be the ones to start the conversation. How do we even start a conversation that we feel that we shouldn’t be obligated to start? It feels like a self-reinforcing cycle—how do you even know where to start? I don’t have an answer to that.
It’s great when you feel kick-ass in the kitchen—that is a super-important skillset, and you should be proud of that shit! But you gotta play the long game here, and make sure that you will stay healthy in the long-term (as much as possible—sometimes good health is not possible, and in those times, just do what you can). You don’t need to feel that your feminism suffers because of your kitchen badassery—rock that shit out!
What do you think about all this? What steps have you taken to work towards an equitable (hetero) partnership? Let us know!