Today's Guardian explores the new movement of ironic 1950s Domesticity that's sweeping England. To Americans accustomed to the rash of Stitch 'n Bitch books, knitting clubs, the pastel oceans of cupcakes sweeping our city's streets and tongue-in-cheek hostessing like Amy Sedaris's I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, this will sound familiar. The article details the flights of domesticity of hip twenty-somethings who revel in tea dances and cupcake-based performance art (as distinct from the decidedly unironic domesticity of the also-British nutso "Time Warp Wives.") "The cupcake has become the symbol of this new movement, with afternoon tea and baking also seeing a renaissance. Much of this new domesticity is ironic - cooking and knitting carried out with tongue encased firmly in cheek."To these young women, the embrace of old-school femininity is ironic and, more to the point, fun. But, asks the author, "can domesticity ever really be subversive?" Plenty of more traditional feminists say no. Hold onto your aprons: It's the old argument, kids. To those who wish to defend the 'movement' on philosophical grounds (as opposed to, you know, just liking cupcakes), something like baking "has unwittingly become a provocative act." Says blogger Jane Brocket: "Anything which is very personal and behind closed doors and pleasurable for women is subversive these days." And, of course, as is often the case with women of this generation, it comes down to choice. Says one, "It's a choice and an aesthetic: it links into environmental concerns and is a sort of a rebellion against consumerism. I see it as a very empowering thing to do as a woman." These sorts of traditionally feminine arts can act as a means of feminine bonding - for women/by women, as opposed to centering around men - and act as an antidote to the fast food/clothes ethos of the culture. And in the case of this particular sphere, it's also a question of rebellion: Says Holly, '"My parents were punks" - her father was Joe Strummer of the Clash - "so I had a chaotic childhood. You try to be subversive by not doing what your parents did. It was not rebellious for me to go out drinking and taking drugs because that was what my parents did. I've always been fascinated by knowing how to knit but I had to learn it from my great-grandmother because my mother did not do anything like that and my grandmother was part of the whole 1960s women's lib thing."' The counter-arguments are just as predictable: fetishizing stereotypes makes it easy to forget "the reality of this period: that many women felt forced to stay at home, and performed these chores, not with delight, but in a fit of frustration that would later be skewered by Betty Friedan in her classic book, The Feminine Mystique." And as such, there's a childish perversity to rejecting the gains other generations fought for, especially when so many pervasive inequalities still exist. Says feminist author Natasha Walter, "I never want to judge another woman for the choices she makes and what gives her pleasure. But there is something more serious going on here. There are problems associated with domesticity because, in the past, there was the assumption that it was just 'what women did'...Young women don't understand how hard it can be doing this real work if you don't have equality at home. A lot of the freedoms and equalities women have won are quite fragile and at the moment we are in danger of moving backwards. We have to continue to encourage men to join us, and not exclude them." Look, we've heard it all before. If people want to dress up and make cupcakes, this is their prerogative, and one could certainly argue that I have a batch of cinnamon rolls in the oven right now. I seriously doubt that anyone reasonable of any generation seriously wants to prevent young women from baking, or wants to deny that the real existence of a 50's housewife was all cupcakes and glamor. As ever, what's more striking and depressing than any particulars of the individual skirmish is the stark perceptive divide of "frivolous ungrateful 20-something"/"Debbie Downer old-school feminist." And perhaps what begs this conflict is the aggressive insistence on "irony" - which, paradoxically, serves to heighten the insult for a more earnest generation of strivers and, also paradoxically, undermine these activities as yet another unloaded choice for the rest of us. It's this literal coopting - an almost willful reinvention of historical realities to suit ourselves - that can lead to the perception of young women as bratty. But the truth is, brattiness is also a choice - and one we're very lucky to have. And however loaded their reemergence, I think we can all agree that the frosting/cake ratio that is a cupcake is objectively delicious. Why can't we all just accept that, sit down together, and eat them (unironically.) Do Good Feminists Bake Cupcakes? [The Guardian] Earlier: Time-Warp Wives Opt To Re-Enact Depression, War Unicorns, Easy-Bake Ovens, And Vibrators, Or: I Believe In The Radical Possibilities Of Pleasure
I love cupcakes. I make cupcakes.
I don't think making, eating or thinking about cupcakes of happiness for hours makes me less of a feminist.
Hasn't this gone far enough? Are we now to judge one's feminist credibility based on things like baking?