The Kitchenspace in the Julie/Julia Project

Julia Child's Kitchen at the Smithsonia

Celebrating the Kitchenspace

The kitchen is a place of obvious importance in the Julie/Julia project, and the discourse surrounding it is compelling. In feminist theory, the kitchen has often been seen as a place of oppression and isolation for women. It is a “sexist” space that limits the mobility of gender through its walls. As a domestic space, it is designated as a woman’s space, both limiting her to the domestic sphere and excluding others.

Yet in this body of work, the kitchen has a profound and positive significance.  Child’s physical kitchen is immortalized in the film and in real life. Her status as a renowned master of French cooking has made her kitchenspace famous, and it is kept on display, completely intact, at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. Her kitchen is a symbol of her triumphs as a woman and a cook. Other women, chefs, cooks and homemakers travel from everywhere to gaze upon her kitchen. The space is powerful and meaningful; it is not simply a kitchen, but also a place of transformation, empowerment and growth for Child, and others look to it for inspiration.

Powell’s kitchen, on the other hand, is substandard: an inadequate vessel for completing the complex recipes of fine French cuisine. The drab, ill-equipped kitchen is punctuated in the tight quarters of her even-more-drab Brooklyn apartment. Though her kitchen is the antithesis of Child’s kitchen, the technological considerations being far inferior, both spaces served the purpose of empowerment and growth.

The physical space of Powell’s kitchen was not nearly as inspiring as Child’s. Technology and customized interior are two elements of the American kitchen that are thought to be empowering. Being a domestic space, women have control over the kitchenspace. Not only do women have power over the foodstuffs, they have control over the interior, physical space. The kitchen can be a place for women to express themselves. Through décor and outfitting, the kitchen announces the status and the desires of women. Material success can be expressed in the innovation of technology, taste in décor and even the quality of foodstuffs.

As Kristin Jacobson discusses in her article, “Renovating The American Woman’s Home: American Domesticity in Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” material acquisitions can be a symbol of achievement and success. Powell, with a stale career and stifled creativity, her less-than-spectacular kitchen represented the stage she was at in her life. She found little success in neither her creative nor her career ambitions.

In the case of Child, she had already achieved some level of financial success. Her kitchen, seemingly state-of-the-art, represented her class and achievement. However, the memorialization of her kitchen at the Smithsonian is the true acknowledgement of her success as an individual and as a woman. Her achievement as a chef, cookbook author and television show host led to the consecration of her domestic space.

The Kitchen as a Space of Transformation

The body of work surrounding the Julie/Julia project explores Powell’s great transformation and existential experiences. It chronicles one woman’s adventure of self-discovery and empowerment through cooking and the domestic. It portrays the kitchen as a space of purpose, meaning and strength. It defies the conventional image of kitchens as a place of simple, monotonous domesticity. In fact, it defies the monotonous and goes beyond to the profound.

For both Powell and Child cooking and food serve as means of self-discovery and empowerment. Both women set goals to achieve a better sense of purpose and self at a time when they felt empty, unsure and frustrated. Cooking was fulfilling, and both women tackled head-on what seemed to be impossible goals. Their achievements were both tangible (Child’s cookbook and memoir and Powell’s blog, book and eventual film option) as well as immaterial.

Positioning: Connections to the Postcolonial Kitchen

The dichotomous nature of the kitchenspace in the Julie/Julia project presents important connections to the discussion of the kitchenspace in postcolonial feminism. Women in postcolonial nations find both empowerment and control in the kitchen, as well as are met with obstacles of isolation and burdensome duties. The kitchen arouses ambiguous sentiments in postcolonial feminism due to its rather ambiguous nature.

In the Julie/Julia project, the kitchen is a place of transformation and empowerment for both women. Yet in its empowering role, the kitchen presents elements of isolation as well, the women having to separate themselves from their male companions and counterparts in order to achieve satisfaction. For Powell, her confused yet supportive husband is exempt from the kitchen space. Julie takes on the tasks of cooking and blogging about her experience in a way that does not intentionally exclude her husband for any malicious or apparent reasons; however, in committing to such the tremendous undertaking of examining and potentially changing one’s self, the feat itself is by default exclusionary.

For Child, she had to work harder than her male classmates in order to prove herself. Her femininity and inherent connections to domesticity did her no good in the world of fine French cuisine. Though the task was empowering and delightfully challenging, learning the art of French cooking breathed life into some of the more typical gender biases in art: fine cuisine, like fine art is reserved for men, leaving for women the “domestic” and the “craft.”

The contradictions of the kitchenspace transcend culture and borders. The American kitchen is far more similar to the postcolonial kitchen than one may think. The dynamics of gender and power find themselves at home in the domestic sphere, despite location or echelon.

This page is part of a larger project entitled “Domesticity and Kitchens” by student researcher Raina DeFonza. Please go back to the Table of Contents to further explore this project.

Photo credits: Columbia Pictures / Sony

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