And by “feminists”, I don’t mean the vast majority of nice and normal people who believe that men and women should treat (and pay) each other equally and with dignity but who also don’t fly into a paroxysm of rage when a fella holds a door for a dame. Or uses the word “dame”, for that matter.
Rather, I mean political feminists, those overgrown undergraduates for whom life is a constant search for something against which to take offense.
Let me back up: Last night I was riding to dinner and scanning the headlines when I came across this curious item, picked up by the Sydney Morning Herald from the UK’s Telegraph:
Writing the obituary of a renowned female rocket scientist shouldn’t have been, well, rocket science.
But it proved too much for the New York Times, which began its article about Yvonne Brill, a pioneer of rocket propulsion, with a tribute to her cooking skills.
“She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. ‘The world’s best mom,’ her son Matthew said,” the obituary began.
Within hours the article had provoked a storm on Twitter, where users complained that no male scientist would ever be discussed in terms of his spouse or his cooking.
“Toasting a late rocket scientist for her kitchen skills makes my head lean into my desk,” wrote one user.
The Times later changed the obit, disappearing the offending words in true Stalinist style (the ghost of Walter Duranty still walks the halls of the Grey Lady, even in their new HQ), but that’s not really the issue.
The issue is, so what if the obit began with a testimony – by the woman’s son, no less – to her cooking skills and her excellence as a mother? If I were to be farewelled by the Times, I’d be flattered if my scallops or short ribs got a mention. And opening any profile piece with a bit of colour is a time-honoured technique: Yeah, sure, she built rockets, but quirky details like a good stroganoff are what humanises a subject.
Ignoring the insult to all the “mere” mothers out there who never did advance the field of rocket propulsion, there’s a bigger question here as well. Namely, what is feminism’s problem with cooking?
Last week we saw the Herald’s Alecia Simmonds take out after cooking (in the course of a much longer rant in the paper’s LadyPages), making the bizarre claim that popular culture sees men in the kitchen as wusses, or, in her immortal words, “gay homosexual fops”. This hasn’t been true since at least 1965, when Len Deighton issued his very manly Action Cook Book.
Now we have a story of confected outrage on Twitter making the pages of newspapers around the world, all because of a detail about a dead scientist’s leisure-time pursuits provided by her very own son.
Weirdly, it seems as if the only people enforcing the stereotype of cooking as “women’s work” are political feminists. The reasons are complex, but let’s have a stab at it anyway: It may be that they’re desperately clinging to this antiquated idea as a fulcrum against which to leverage their desire to be pissed off about something, anything.
Or perhaps like Mecken’s Puritans, they’re annoyed that not only are men cooking, but that they are having a good time with it as well.
Either way, if one is truly concerned about a stereotype being perpetuated the correct move is not to whip up a froth of outrage at every opportunity but rather to look at a piece like the above-mentioned obit and say, “Hey, women cook, men cook, it’s fun, it’s delicious, sorry this lady died but it sounds like she had a helluva good work-life balance and was loved by all about it.”
But that’s not as much fun as being angry, is it?
Of course, as the saying goes, the dogs bark but the caravan moves on.
Oops. Probably shouldn’t have said that.