Tonight I baked a blueberry cobbler for a political campaign. It’s one of a number of recipes I’ve been learning and making with Matthew a few nights a week in our shared home in Seattle.
I’ve been learning to cook since high school, when a combination of my step-dad, social events requiring food, and Baking Illustrated‘s luscious paragraphs explaining the chemistry of cooking connived to take over my weekends and evenings.
As a feminist, I think that learning historically gendered disciplines is an act of resistance. I believe women have always been important, and though most of our achievements were not noted down in history books, we have been hacking and making and organizing and designing for as long as humans have existed.
When I’m sewing a dress, I like to think I’m using tools and skills honed by generations of women. The engineering of a corset, the craft of a quilt, those contain hidden histories of women’s intelligence and struggle to create in a world where they had fewer options for expression than the men in their lives.
When I was cooking tonight, I was thinking about the chemistry of the blueberries and the cornstarch. I was thinking about the politics of sourcing, since the blueberries are from Washington state and the butter from Oregon while the cinnamon is from outside my country. I was thinking about the campaign staffers I’m going to feed with my cobbler, and the best ways to cook for a large group that won’t have time to sit down to eat.
The logistics, politics, and chemistry of baking a cobbler are fascinating in the same way the logistics, politics, and chemistry of beer-brewing are fascinating. But, in my experience, the former is more often coded as female and in the same breath as a lesser skill than the latter.
This is one of the simpler forms of sexism to see. Seeing it is simple: at their core, any argument which predicates that something that women have nearly always and almost exclusively done is less valuable than something men have nearly always and almost exclusively done is a sexist one. War-fighting over family-rearing: a sexist judgement.
I say “female coded” and “something that women have nearly always and almost exclusively done” because of course in the history of people, men have baked cobblers and women fought wars. But one of the powers of sexism is that it makes us forget a truth, that women are people and have always been important. Sexism holds our noses while we swallow the lie that women’s disappearance from history books signals our disappearance from matters of importance.
There are few records of women’s achievements when compared with men’s only when we only look for records in official histories. But look at cookbooks, at dress patterns, at folk songs and family stories, and our histories come to life. I think that learning the trades that historically consumed the lives of women while living a fully emancipated life allows me a deeper connection with the history of women than ignoring that past to focus only on the brightening future.
As a feminist, I stand astride two kinds of histories. I engage in the formal histories of my country, to see and understand how we’re viewed and how we’re taught to view ourselves. But I also engage in the private histories, in the clothes and the folk songs and the recipes which are treated sometimes as light-weight, as inconsequential, unworthy of serious understanding, because they tell the stories of women. To me, baking is a political act, not just in the personal politics of choosing to feed and love the people around me, but the broader politics of raising up the standard of living for women. I live my feminism by treating the work of women as valuable.
I try to take that respect for historically female undertakings and bring it with me into the world that the work of the grandmother and mother gave me. A world where I can volunteer for political campaigns, where I can work for female members of Congress and the state legislature. Where I can live in a state where both of my Senators are women.
I see a responsibility to bridge these two experiences, to bring my cobbler to a political campaign. It is my way of respecting the many ways of being a woman in the past and today, of bringing the work of generations of women to the work that women today are privileged to do. It’s my way of remembering while moving forward.
“Privilege is not in and of itself bad; what matters is what we do with privilege. I want to live in a world where all women have access to education, and all women can earn PhD’s, if they so desire. Privilege does not have to be negative, but we have to share our resources and take direction about how to use our privilege in ways that empower those who lack it.” ― Bell Hooks