If I like to Bake can I still be a Feminist?

This weekend I baked. It isn’t the first time it has ever happened. It is the second. The first time occurred after I became so enraged at a frozen black banana falling from the freezer door onto my toe for the zillionth time that I decided to finally but my pristine loaf pan to use. I was told the banana bread was good, but I have noticed fewer frozen overripe bananas in the freezer, and those we do collect are quickly used for smoothies. But I digress. This weekend I came across a recipe for Snickerdoodles, the best cookie on earth. It seemed easy enough, even for me, so I decided to go for it. While I was at it, why not bake a carrot cake I thought, another favorite. Armed with my recipes and my ingredients (who knew cream of tartar was used in baking??) I set out to bake. There were a few hitches along the way. I learned that a blender was not a good choice for pureeing carrots. I also learned why most people who bake have electronic mixers. My arm is still sore. But in the end I had 30 delicious cookies and a wonderful carrot cake. I was giddy with pride. I could almost understand why people would want to do this regularly. I patiently waited for my fiancée to come home so I could force my creations down his throat. After he had tasted both, I heard myself turn into my Oma as I said “Don’t you like them? You only had one piece of carrot cake!” He had also had 3 cookies, but he’s a big boy. The joy of baking had dawned on me. It’s not necessarily the process that is enjoyable, but the end result, a product to share with others, to bring happiness to people you care about and to nurture them. When I think of fresh baking, I always think of my Oma whose cinnamon buns and shortbread cookies are unrivaled as far as I am concerned. Baking had always seemed like a maternal, female oriented and dated pastime to me. I think this is why I have avoided it for so long. I just don’t see myself as a woman who bakes. So then I asked myself: what kind of woman are you?

I have always thought of myself as a forward-thinking, modern woman. I am well-educated. I have a good career. I make a good salary and since I have started to work have always been able to support myself. I am currently engaged and live with my partner, also a successful professional. We split the rent and utilities. We both take turns paying for groceries. We both work full time so we split the household chores like cooking and cleaning and walking the dog. I lucked out. According to the most recent American Time Use Survey: “On an average day, 20% of men did housework-such as cleaning or doing laundry-compared with 49% of women. 41% of men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 68% of women.” In our household, we try to split things 50/50. At one point we thought about hiring a housekeeper, but if we hate cleaning our apartment so much, why should someone else have to do it? It seems wrong.

My parents divorced when I was in elementary school, and both of my parents worked out of financial necessity. This is the case in many situations today where a family’s financial situation is such that the income from both parents is needed to make ends meet. I am fortunate in that if we have children my partner could support a family on his salary alone. When I have complained about work, he has told me I can quit my job. Since I know he respects my career and work ethic I believe he says this mainly to pacify me when I am worked up, but I also know it is a viable option. However I have always seen myself as a working woman. When the show Mad Men hit the air it triggered a pop culture phenomenon where people everywhere wanted to live like it was the 1960’s again. Websites and blogs devoted to glamorizing the housewife role a la Betty Draper were abundant. But besides the amazing clothes these women wore, and the idea of antiquing all day to turn your home into a retro museum, are these women’s lives all that covetable? Betty Draper seems to sit at home a lot doing housework and chain-smoking while her husband has a grand old time at the office where he doesn’t appear to do a whole lot of work. I think most would agree Don Draper is the real winner in the relationship, drinking and smoking at the office, having business meetings over gimlets, and sleeping around with any beautiful woman he sees fit. It’s no wonder more and more women started to enter the work force in the 60’s and 70’s. Today it is the norm for women to work. After WWII 31.8% of US women worked, while in 2010 69% did. In Canada in 2010 75% of women worked. In the US 80% of college educated women work, 67% with a high school diploma, and 47% without one. It is now much less likely to meet a woman who chooses to or has the opportunity to be a stay at home mother or a full-time housewife than a woman with a full-time job.

January Jones as Betty Draper

Speaking for myself, I enjoy the structure and mental stimulation that my job gives me on a daily basis. It makes me feel challenged and as a result I feel like I am a more satisfied individual. I know many would disagree with me, but I feel that you can be a good wife and mother and also have a career. When you have a life outside of the home, you have something to bring to the table every night.  This is also why I believe it is important for women to have a social life, friends and hobbies apart from their significant others. Believe me, you don’t want to be stuck at their “guys night” any more than they want to listen to you talk about your feelings or how hot Zac Efron looks in his new movie over wine with your friends. Even worse, don’t take him to the movie. You need those nights apart. If you are fulfilled as a woman, you are happier, leading to a happier marriage. I also believe a woman should be financially independent from her spouse. While no woman expects their marriage to fail, the truth is that many do. Do you want to be the woman who after 35 years of marriage, after you have raised 2 children, emotionally supported your husband while he climbed the corporate ladder, did all of the domestic chores, gets left for a younger woman. This woman has no experience in the job market, no marketable skills, no knowledge of new technology, and her alimony cheque will not pay her rent. I know this woman. You don’t want to be her. I want to feel like I have earned everything I have. The traditional role of woman as housekeeper and childbearer and man as provider would make me feel like a kept woman, and I for one am not going to feel as though I have to ask my husband for the credit card to buy myself a new pair of shoes. I already get “the look” when a UPS box arrives containing something I’ve ordered online with my own money. When it’s OUR money? We’ll see.

Based on the above, many would consider my views feminist. But I’m not a feminist. The more I think about gender roles, and my role in my own relationship especially, the more I realize that a lot of my beliefs contradict themselves. For example, I believe both spouses should financially contribute to the household. I enjoy financial independence. But when we go out for dinner, more often than not, my fiancée picks up the cheque. And I am OK with that. Even back in my dating days, when I was asked on a date and a man would reach for the bill, I wouldn’t protest. It might be old-fashioned of me, but I enjoyed being courted. I also find it to be a nice gesture when a man opens a door for me, pulls out my chair, or offers me a seat on the bus. Some would say these actions indicate he believes me to be weak in need of protection, but I just think it’s a nice action that has become customary for some men. I am always the passenger in the car when with my partner, I like it when he drives even though I have a license. If something needs to be hung or changed in the apartment, it’s his job. Similarly if there is something wrong with an appliance it is up to him to take care of it, even though he is just as inept in that department as I am (almost). If there is a bug to be killed, also his domain. I like flowers in the apartment, and am perfectly able to buy them myself, but I am happiest when my fiancée comes home with a bouquet for me ‘just because’, and I feel he should know when to do so. I believe there are such things as “chick flicks” and “dude flicks”. The fact that I am getting married at all is very unfeminist of me. Looking back at the history of marriage, in almost all cultures such as ancient Greece, Rome and Israel it was a transfer of property (the woman) from her father to her husband who then owned his wife. In medieval Europe, the engagement ring came to be. It was the symbol of a successful “bride sale” and it was really just a down payment of the dowry, given to the bride before the wedding after which the full bride price was paid. But even knowing this, I still love my big shiny diamond ring. And I still want to be married, even if symbolically I will become property. I even plan to take my husband’s name. And now, I like to bake.

So, am I a hypocrite? Maybe. But I’m not trying to fit into a box. I am striving for happiness, not holiness.

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