Sometimes, I Worry About Marmalade

vintage_canning_posterMillenial women, I have concerns. It’s not a usual complaint—too many of us living with our parents or forgetting how to use our vocal cords, because of the Facebook—but something more insidious. I am worried about all the marmalade.

Have you preserved something lately? The internet says you have. Sure, maybe you just made some kumquat jam or harvested some green beans from your garden for later use. What’s the big deal, Grace? Everybody’s doing it. It’s not like I’ve set up a canning shed in the backyard yet. It’s not the jelly that truly worries me. If you want homemade apple butter, that’s your (delicious) right. If you want to spend all weekend stewing beets, stew away, my little ableskiver! What worries me is the canning movement.

Everywhere I look, our generation is celebrating domesticity. We’re making jam and knitting sweaters. We’re not only sewing our own clothes, but weaving the fabric from backyard cotton crops and creating chevron prints with handmade vegetable dyes. Flocks of children are being cooed over and homeschooled and raised on homemade organic vegan baby food. And that’s great! The domestic arts are important, under-appreciated crafts. For far too long, “women’s work” was reviled and treated as an expectation, not a honed skill. Knowing how to make things yourself is not only important, but freeing for both genders. De-stigmatizing the feminine is always a good idea, in my book.

Only…I’m less convinced that’s what we’re doing. Could this “new domesticity” not be busting gender roles at all, but reinforcing them? Look at your Facebook feed. Are any of your guy friends posting about the fruitcake they just baked or the new quilt they made for their son’s room? I’m betting not. Young women, however, are baking and sewing and quilting in droves. We’re sharing photos of our creations and blogging about them. Such hobbies are becoming the social norm for women.

canning_foods_vintageEven the look of our generation—the much reviled, but still copied hipster—falls into a gender dichotomy. The Millennial guy, the one who will be parodied at fraternity parties in twenty years, is hyper-masculine. He has facial hair and flannel shirts. He’s really into video games and philosophy and locally sourced bourbon. Meanwhile, our dear Millennial woman has long flowing hair, which she artfully arranges into a braided sock bun, and wears twee, collared dresses she’s made with her own hands. She bakes towering, photogenic cakes and uses homemade cleaning solutions to scrub the kitchen mess away.

That’s not radical, friends. That’s traditional.

If we’d reinvented domesticity, surely it would be split more equitably along gender lines? If our argument is that we’re de-stigmitazing women’s work, then these hobbies shouldn’t be confined to women. Just as many guys should be teaching sewing classes and making scones for their families on the weekend. And—I say this as a person who enjoys both of those things—they’re not. The revival of these arts is a vastly female endeavor. The people who are reading the blogs and pinning the recipes? Women.

We haven’t reinvented homemaking at all, we’ve returned to it. It’s not an inherently bad thing, because the traditionally feminine isn’t inherently bad, but it is a cause for concern. All too many women I know are getting involved with these pursuits out of a sense of expectation. All of their friends suddenly care about canning strawberry jam, so they must as well. The moment that pressure happens, we have a problem. Hobbies are all well and good. Choosing to stay home and raise your children is also all well and good, but we must keep it that, precisely: a choice.

We fought for our right to make pecan pie and kick ass in the working world. Little by little, women have bashed in the social constructs that kept us in the kitchen. The death of these societal expectations is what allows this “new domesticity” to exist, that allows a choice to be made. I’m worried that we’re getting complacent about keeping that choice. The same friends who learn to knit out of a sense of peer pressure, insist that feminism is no longer necessary. That is my marmalade nightmare, friends. Are we going to, slowly and beautifully, place ourselves right back on that pretty, homemade pedestal?

1950skitchenThere is still a war to be fought. The wage gap continues to exist; the gender roles continue to negatively affect both sexes. This is not the time to blithely saunter back toward tradition. Let’s bake our pies and care for our children, but keep up the good fight while we do so. Maybe our guy friends would like to make a perfect meringue or our sons would like to weed the garden? The feminine ideal shouldn’t be charming and pretty and accomplished. The feminine ideal shouldn’t be.

Canning fruit doesn’t make you a good woman. Sewing your husband a shirt doesn’t make you a good wife. You are good, whether you burn water or achieve perfectly fluffy souffles. The new domesticity is lovely, but it should never be an expectation. If you want to wear pearls and vacuum, then vacuum your little heart out. Just remember that you don’t have to.

Make your marmalade. Make intellectual war, while you’re at it.

– Grace

33 thoughts on “Sometimes, I Worry About Marmalade

  1. I’ve noticed a lot of younger women into knitting recently. I personally could give two shits if my wife ever vacuums, because quite frankly, I can’t hear the tv when she does. The issue isn’t man or woman in our house, but rather who can stand the dirty carpets the longest. I win that all the time. In my defense, I do make dinner most every night and clean the dishes.

    • Don, your household sounds eerily similar to ours! The dear professor makes dinner pretty much every night – because while I’m good at it, I hate it, and he both loves and excels at it – while I’m the one who throws up her hands and vacuums. It works for us. I can’t imagine feeling pressured to do a certain chore, because of my gender. He loves to cook, I love to eat food. It works for us.

  2. Gee, I’m so out of touch!
    I had no idea about this new domesticity thing. I just leave it ALL to my husband – bless his little cotton socks! (which he washes himself…). I thought we housewives were still giving our families ready meals and hiding the packets under something sticky and gross in the bathroom bin where they’ll never be found.
    Should I go and start chopping vegetables to make a batch of chutney or something? You’ve got me worried that I’m not post-modern enough.

    • This is what I thought, as well! I grew up in a household where my father did pretty much all the cleaning. My mom didn’t care and he’s anal retentive about such things. It worked well! Being a wife and mother, for my friends, seems to be tied up in cleaning and domestic work. I much prefer your version.

  3. are you reading my mind???!!!!! YES YES AND YES
    I knit because I LIKE IT
    if I cook is because I feel like it and I want to have a nice meal on my own or with friends but the moment my male friends took my cooking/knitting/baking for granted and EXPECT me to do it there is huge: FECK OFF!!! (yes I live in very rural Ireland, imagine!)
    I’m very good in the kitchen just not necessarily at cooking ;p
    I LIKE home made food and also at my age (40) I kinda need to watch what I eat (health) so yes to all that BUT when I see another young woman turning into Stepford wife (just yogi/vegetarian/superhpister version) it scares shit out of me-I can see how easy is to manipulate a woman into thinking that this is the way it should be…brrrrrrr

    • I think “Feck off!” may be my new favorite saying. We don’t hear that enough in the States. The next time I see that Stepford pressure happening, I may say it myself. We, as people, are entirely too easily manipulated into thinking tradition is important. In this case, it’s not. You’re precisely right: we should do things because we like them, not because we should, based on gender.

  4. I love all of your posts, including this one. I’ve noticed this as well, and it’s just possible that women are actually drawn to these activities…just weighing in, no biggie

    • Hi, Sabrina! Thanks so much for weighing in! It’s an interesting theory, but I my strongly 3rd wave feminist roots do make me buck against it. I tend to think that people are people and, if we left them to develop without societal gender expectations, we might be surprised by what they are interested in. It’s impossible to separate what may be innate in each gender, versus all the cues and pressure society puts on people. Do little girls really like pink, if they’re not told it’s a girl color? Do women like to knit inherently, or are we picking up on domesticity = virtue cues? People, at their core, like to create. That, I definitely believe. What they create, however, might be more easily influenced than we know.

      • Haha, I actually tend to agree with you. Probably the only natural thing is that it is natural to respond to cues that are all around us. My husband was taught to crochet by his grandmother and a Boy Scout who is in our troop also crochets. And very well, I might add. I have always loved their comfort level with this, the fact that they never ever considered that it was anything but fun and useful. I love, LOVE your posts but don’t comment nearly enough. Your post about the apathetic bride, OMG, laughed my butt off, and remember feeling the same way about my wedding planning. Thanks for welcoming my opinion, or rather, passing thought. I think you’re on to something here…

    • Yes! Yes, yes, yes. This post could have, alternately, been titled; STEP AWAY FROM THE PINTEREST. IT IS RUINING US ALL. In fact, I may write one. Right now.

      Increasingly, Pinterest strikes me as something that both fosters this domestic imperative and undercuts true creativity. I have an account, but in the last few months, I’ve been less pinning things and more analyzing the patterns of pins.

    • SO TRUE! I’ve had to step away from Pinterest in my wedding planning phase because it was making me want a picture perfect wedding I couldn’t afford (see Grace’s other post about couches in meadows) all while convincing me I need to flatten my abs in 30 days, bake scrumptious brownies, organize my makeup counter in a creative way, and knit fashionable scarves ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

      I’d rather have a nap!

  5. Argh. Great post, but it makes me frustrated — I’m not sure I can express why. I am very girly in my interests, but I don’t want them to be girly interests; they’re just the things I like. (Em, although I’ll take the cooking, but screw the cleaning.) Meanwhile, I don’t give two hoots (spent a while thinking of a word I could use there) about cars or sports or big construction holes. Being interested in that sort of stuff is what I feel more pressured to do. I just want them all to be things that different people like based on what they like and not on which set of bits they were born with.

    Think this might be a little incoherent. Sorry.

    • Stephanie, I completely understand where you’re coming from, as I have much the same dilemma. I have always enjoyed traditionally feminine pursuits, above others. Playing team sports and working on cars bores me to tears. Traditional domesticity can, all too often, provide instant creative fulfillment that is intoxicating. I love being able to sew clothes better than those in stores; I adore that my cake beats any box’s every time. But when people praise me for being so domestic? My anger, it seethes. I’m doing those things to make someone a good wife or be a good woman, I’m doing them because I like them. Other women I know HATE those things and dread them, but still feel compelled to attempt them. Can’t we all just gravitate toward things we naturally like, not those we are told – from day one of life – that we should enjoy?

  6. You’re not imagining just it. 
    “The true test of the woman who claims she can be a working woman AND submissive to hubby at home would be what would she do if Hubby said “you are not going to work today”. I think it is most likely that such types of females would have a face like a smacked arse to say the least, if not refuse to obey hubby, even when they ARE at home at his order! Reality is such women are almost invariably faking it. As many women do. Fact is every “dominant” man of the house knows he is only in that position by the consent of the lady of the house. Which she can and will withdraw at any time should it suit her to do so. Such is how the state of play is today in any relationship that exists in a “dual standards” society.”

    There is a whole movement. Try not to eat for a few hours before beginning the journey through the “domestic discipline” blogs- you’d lose your lunch.

    • Rebecca, why didn’t I listen to you? I have just eaten lunch and clicked on those links. I am so sickeningly enraged. Just reading the titles of these blogs’ posts make me want to yell on a podium for house. This notion of feminism – of gender equality – as something unnatural is abhorrent. I don’t understand how women can buy into these things, without recognizing patriarchal oppression in action. I just…can’t even…

      I need to go grumble somewhere now.

      • Tell me about it. In one of his better-known posts, Ian Ironwood suggests that if your wife uses the phrase “man up” you may offer to rape her if it upsets you too much. It’s nauseating. I just hope my future daughters understand their own value.

        • You blatantly misrepresent and mis-state what I said. I encourage anyone curious about what I actually said to go to my blog and read it. I don’t mention abuse, physical, sexual or otherwise, anywhere within.

          And anyone who thinks feminism is about “equality” clearly hasn’t been paying to what feminists have been doing for the last forty years. Some of us have been. I know a dose of reality is the last thing you ladies want right now, but I encourage you to try to think beyond the dictionary and more toward the consequences of the movement.

  7. I have noticed this trend as well. And then my life is so different that I have a tough time even relating to gender issues personally. For instance, I work and my husband stays home with the kids. He does all the cooking, cleaning, house maintenance, car maintenance, budgets, clothes mending, bread baking, the occasional canning, and he is teaching himself how to knit because he wants to make his own socks. He’s on the end of all the, “So do you not WANT to work or can you NOT find a job?” type of questions. People are always telling me how “different” we are. But it’s just the way it happened and it works for us. On the other hand, I really WOULD like to learn how to knit. Pass the marmalade, please!

    • Liss, I am such a strong believer in doing what works your relationship, on a couple by couple by basis. I grew up in a household where my dad retired early, when I was in high school, and promptly took over all domestic duties. He does the dishes, laundry, and vacuuming. My mom cooks and works and reads. That’s it! Whatever balance comes natural is what’s best. For Professor McGregor and I, that has shaken out to him cooking, me washing up. I vacuum; he launders. Our food wouldn’t be nearly as good, if I were in charge of it. Your situation sounds blissfully perfect for y’all. Why should society throw shade on it?

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  9. I’m a girly girl and homebody at heart. Truly, I love nothing more than a glass of pinot and a stack of new crafty/domestic magazines waiting for my perusal at the end of a long week. But I also bring in half of the income for my family and find a lot of fulfillment in my work. I’m working until I’m in adult diapers; it just makes me better and more productive on every front. Cooking, sewing, and crafting are creative outlets for me that just happen to serve my family as well.

    What has troubled me over the last year is the alarming number of posts and tweets by younger women (mostly former students and friends of my daughter) that show pictures of these little projects with hashtags like #TrophyInTraining or some shit like that. Who wants to be a trophy wife? Seriously, when did that become a thing again ? Trophy wives get left for younger trophy wives at some point. Why don’t you just bake those chocolate chunk cookies because you want to eat them?

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  11. RIGHT!?!?! Oh thank God for Grace and articulating my thoughts and feelings in a far more articulate, intelligent, and humourous manner than I ever could!

    I have been noticing this as well, and since I’m prone to crippling self-doubt (who isn’t?), I’m left questioning my value as a woman every time I see my crafty, domestic friends post pictures of delicious pies made from scratch, homemade quilts, and perfectly organized closets on Facebook.

    That is so messed up!

    How is it the fifties again, when our merit was based on our pie crust? Only now it’s 2013, and we’re expected to have a thriving career AND be perfectly domesticated wives and mothers, with rock-hard abs and ceaselessly shiny hair. All that pressure just makes me want to hide under a blanket with a good book, which is my default setting anyway…

    So thank you for a post that has given me the courage to say:

    I’m not crafty. I’m creative, yes, but not crafty. I cook (and not well) out of necessity, not because I particularly enjoy it. Every New Year’s I resolve to learn how to knit because all the hipsters are doing it, but give up each February. I’d rather read, write, and talk about pop culture than cook, clean, and talk about recipes and stain-removing techniques. I enjoy all that is homemade and handcrafted, but doing it myself only gives me anxiety. And YES, I’m still as much of a woman as the girl who can bake truffles and knit scarves!

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  14. This is an interesting observation!

    In my experience, I come from a background (and by that, I mean Asian) where both girls and guys are expected to excel in academics and careers. I think this is great and awesome and I am fulfilling my duty to be as ambitious as possible. HOWEVER, I noticed in my community of Asian-Americans that the girls are still pressured by their parents to be good cooks and clean and perfect at ironing clothing, while boys (such as my male cousins) do not hear a single word about it. I’m a full-time grad student and I cook my own food and do my own laundry. But all my Asian male friends STILL eat their mom’s cooking and have their laundry done for them. I think they are still being raised with the entitlement that there will always be someone in their life doing their chores for them. I actually “joke” that South Asian girls have to be successful, beautiful, clean and good cooks while South Asian boys just have to be successful. Annoying!

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