Reclaiming the Kitchenspace

by Raina DeFonza

The kitchenspace, once a place of oppression and seclusion for American women, has transformed into a place of empowerment. Through a culmination of innovative technology and changing social norms over the past century, women have been able to step out of the kitchen . Women no longer have to spend their days cooking and preparing food, and few do.

Still, women have ties to the domestic space: they often are the primary decision makers when it comes to home décor, cooking and food shopping, with men usually having limited interest or knowledge in navigating the world of domesticity.

Taking this connection into consideration, technology has evolved to make the domestic chores easier and more manageable for women, freeing them from burdensome and painstaking drudgery of the kitchen. And in doing so it has opened up a new world for women; the contemporary American kitchen is now a place where women can be traditionally domestic, but do not have to be.  Being domestic is a choice, a choice which allows women to freely navigate between the public and domestic spheres, empowering them with the renewed sense of mobility. A new wave of women (those who consider themselves feminists and those who do not) is reclaiming the kitchen as a space of creativity, indulgence and pleasure without the pressures of traditional domesticity hovering over them.

Domesticity Regains Popularity

In recent years, domesticity has regained popularity. Professional housewives, like Martha Stewart and Nigella Lawson, have their own television shows and magazines. Entire channels have been dedicated to the domestic, such activities as cooking, crafts and home decorating. Women are reclaiming these traditionally feminine and domestic activities and embracing them.

Through cooking and the like, American women can regain the sense that they are providing pleasure and nourishment for their families and friends, looking to famous “domestics” like Martha Stewart and Paula Deen for inspiration. The domestic empowerment they achieve is through personal fulfillment, pleasure and comfort. The women who are reclaiming the kitchen as a feminist space are finding it to be particularly so because they are able to reclaim the activities and the fulfillment enjoyed from cooking a family meal or baking a batch of cookies. Mary Drake McFeely, author of Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? wrote that when the authors of cookbooks in the 19th century shared their recipes, they

“left unstated the satisfaction of accomplishment when the sugar-cured pork, smoked with apple of hickory wood, finally was packed into sacks. They did not mention the silky texture of kneaded dough or the delicious smell of bread in the oven or the crunch of the bread knife cutting through the brown crust and pale render inside of a new loaf (McFeely, 17).”

These American women are finding pleasure in traditional female activities, in a space that was at one time “a woman’s place”, and only a woman’s place. Domesticity is filled with tradition and nostalgia for a time where women controlled the kitchen (though some have since gladly handed over such control). They are able to reclaim the domestic space and all the glory, yet happily leave behind (most) of the traditional labor.

New Era

The new era of domestic women reclaim the kitchen, making themselves markedly different from the feminists of the 60s and 70s; rather than admonish the kitchen as a place of oppression, they celebrate it and fiercely apply themselves to all things domestic. Charolotte Brunsdon says in her article Feminism, Postfeminism, Martha, Martha, and Nigella, “just as second-wave feminists were not like the housewives and sex objects they saw in the media… the next generation of feminists felt compelled to declare their lack of identity with second-wave feminists”  (Brunsdon, 112). These women are separating themselves from the second-wave feminists who declared the kitchen as a space of patriarchal oppression, showing both anger and disgust towards the domestic.

These new-era feminists treat the kitchen as a feminist space, seemingly moving on from all of the feelings of angst the past generation of feminists felt towards it. These women do not need to spend time in the kitchen, nor do they have to prepare the elaborate meals exhibited in Martha’s shows, nor complete the pretty table settings from Sandra Lee’s Food Network show, “Semi-homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee”. Instead, these women find pleasure in preparing the ingredients, taking the time to artfully decorate the dining room table and cooking sometimes-elaborate meals. Even if they do not go all-out with the meals they prepare every night, they still make time to do it on occasion, making the elaborate meal’s appearance even more meaningful. It is a “treat” in a sense, and a sign that the cook wanted to put extra effort in, had the time, and was able to do so simply because she felt like it and not because she had to.

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.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.