Sometimes A Cupcake Is Just a Cupcake, Not A Subversive Feminist "Statement"

by moderndomestic on August 23, 2008

Strawberry_Cupcake_at_Sweet_Occasions_by_Tammy_Green
Cupcake, courtesy of Wikipedia

A ModernDomestic regular sent me this Jezebel post, which was responding to a Guardian article that asked if domesticity could ever be a subversive, feminist act.

I was actually surprised that this article even made it by The Guardian editors, given the fact that this “debate” has been going on since at least I was in high school back in the 1990s. In my view, women have been dealing with this tension between their love of old-style domesticity, and their guilt that this makes them “bad feminist,” for at least the past decade. Bust Magazine has been covering the rise of feminist knitting circles and other feminist domestic pursuits since it was started in 1993; the first Stitch ‘n Bitch was published in 2003; and Martha Stewart has been embodying the duel role of 1950’s-style domestic goddess and modern feminist business tycoon since her magazine was first published in 1990. I just assumed that everyone had come to terms with the fact that some women just like to make cupcakes, second-wave feminist critique of homemaking be damned.

The Guardian article lays out all the usual concerns about the domesticity vs. feminism debate: can real feminists embrace the homemaking duties that the second-wave feminists condemned as the shackles of gender roles? Is interest in domesticity just an act of rebellion against old-school feminists who rejected domesticity as “unfeminist? Can domesticity ever be subversive, given that women share a disproportionate amount of housework?

I was relieved that Jezebel pointed out that we’ve heard all these arguments before, and that articles like these pit “frivolous ungrateful 20-something[s]” against “Debbie Downer old-school feminist[s],” which just makes all women look bad. In reality, I doubt that any of these young domestic goddesses would say that women had it made in the 50s, and I doubt that any old-school feminists would deny that making cupcakes can be fun and fulfilling.

Personally, I find it frustrating that articles like these seem to think that domesticity isn’t valuable in and of itself—that women only bake cookies to be ironic or subversive or to make a statement about the state of feminism today. As Jezebel points out, a lot of women, myself included, make cupcakes “unironically.” After all, sometimes a cupcake is just a cupcake.

I understand why second wave feminism rejected domesticityThe Feminine Mystique was written as a response to a culture that trapped women in the home, and it makes sense that the first step in the modern feminist movement would be to reject homemaking.

But how we keep our homes and how we cook our meals is an ancient tradition that is an incredibly important part of every culture. For me, domestic life is a huge part of what makes us human, and has value far above and beyond merely making a statement about feminism.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

manupmen August 23, 2008 at 11:22 pm

That’s a very thoughtful post about feminism and domesticity. I think it is inevitable that women will be a little self-conscious about what it means to be feminine, after all the years of oppression and having few opportunities outside the home.

What is surprising is the hateful anger of some modern feminists. My own blog is under attack from women who object to the subtitle, “Be the man you were meant to be.” What is objectionable about that?

Still, I would have to say in fairness that most women I encounter are not angry, hateful nor bigoted. It is easy to get tangled up in the bad examples of the few extremists who try to appropriate the term “feminist” for their own negative purposes.

John Bryan Stone

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alice August 23, 2008 at 11:27 pm

Do boys get invited to the cupcake baking parties? They should. Most boys I know who cook at all cook better than I do…

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moderndomestic August 24, 2008 at 12:29 pm

Hi John,

Thanks for the comment. I also find the level of anger surprising and a bit alienating. All in all, the feminist movement did make great strides and improve the situation of women overall (especially the middle class), and I wish that there was more of sense in feminist discourse that women should celebrate successes while also seeing what else needs to be done. Although, I suppose that anger has always been a powerful motivating tool for people who think their role in society is unfair and want to change the world, so it makes sense that this would crop up in the feminist movement too.

Still, that just makes me want to stay out of the fray and bake my cupcakes in peace . . .

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moderndomestic August 24, 2008 at 12:30 pm

Hmmm, boys at cupcake baking parties? I don’t know. It kind of sounds like a really good singles mixer . . .

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manupmen August 24, 2008 at 12:38 pm

modern domestic, can you help me understand something? What is a troll? Every time I make a comment on two feminist sites, I am banned and called a troll. My comments could honestly be classified as contrarian, but the nasty name calling, the locking out, and the venom really made me feel sorry that the blog owners felt the need to control input so drastically and angrily.

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moderndomestic August 24, 2008 at 1:17 pm

Wikipedia has a definition here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet)

The New York Times also recently had an article about trolls, which also has some good background and definitions: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/magazine/03trolls-t.html?_r=1&sq=troll&st=cse&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&scp=1&adxnnlx=1219583822-40TQFlSQi3OR2G1hstIF7Q

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exelizabeth August 25, 2008 at 5:31 pm

Manupmen: You should also try to look at it from their perspective. Speaking from experience, because I speak up for a feminist viewpoint on the internet, certain men have suggested that I deserve to be raped, beaten, and otherwise violently “put in my place” (which would presumably be baking cupcakes? Which starkly illustrates one reason for me to be a bit leery about it, no? On top of the fact that I just really dislike cooking). Likely, your “contrarian” comments permutations of misogynistic/anti-feminist attitudes that women are used having to tolerate all the time in their lives and so they are probably not that interested in your attempts to appropriate the conversation on their own blogs, which are meant to be supportive communities and safe spaces. I am curious what your motives for being on these sites are. Do you want to learn? Or do you want to convince the community of your opinion? Or at least get them to listen to your opinion? If it’s the latter, you are being labelled a troll because you are trying to hijack threads and make them all about you and your opinions. Every feminist blog I read tolerates contrarian opinions if they are actually respectful. They rarely are; the commenters usually seek to dominate the conversation.

If you’re truly interested in learning, I suggest starting here: http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/ I don’t agree with everything on that blog, but it’s an excellent place to start learning about various feminist concepts, and to learn why some feminists react the way they do to your opinions and actions.

As for being an “angry feminist,” it’s perhaps ironic that it is being told I shouldn’t get angry always really pisses me off. It’s like, “Whoa there, little lady! It’s okay if you have opinions and all, but your passion is starting to get a little unbecoming, how about you back it up there now? You’re making me uncomfortable!” With the implication being that one should never be uncomfortable discussing historic power imbalances and privilege and lots of inherently uncomfortable topics. Man. It makes me angry just thinking of it.

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manupmen August 25, 2008 at 6:58 pm

Elizabeth,

If you would read the comments on my blog entry “Man up doesn’t mean Woman down” and give me your evaluation of the anger, I would appreciate it.

John Bryan Stone

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