Saturday, May 5, 2018

Marzipan and Sexism

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, men were married to their jobs, and women were married to their homes — hence the term “housewife.” A housewife’s job was to manage the running of the household, while a man’s job was to care for his all aspects of his employment. While the woman’s title reflected very directly her place in the larger scheme of things (the wife of the house), her husband (for they, too, were married, but in a different sense) was simply called a “man,” denoting his gender. This was because men did men’s things, like working outside the home, while women were defined by their marital status — which included both marriage to a man and marriage to a home. 

Within the home, a housewife was hoped to be extremely competent at a number of tasks — money management (called, confusingly, “husbandry”), decorating, gardening, cleaning, washing, child-rearing, and cooking. In her home, the housewife was a “cook”; she cooked things. If, however, a man engaged in the same tasks outside the home — at work, say — he was known as a “chef,” which means “chief.” He might also be known by any number of professional titles pertaining to the type of “cooking” he did: baker, butcher, etc.

But if a man attempted to “cook” inside the home, it ceased to be “cooking”; his work with foodstuffs became a “hobby.” The one exception to this was the assumption that the man handled any cooking of meat accomplished outdoors, in which case, he “manned the grill.”

In this 1955 Pathé film featuring a baker named Paul demonstrating how to make the ugliest and least-appetizing cake decorations that humankind has ever been subjected to, we find these distinctions taking pride of place in the narrator’s account, for this activity is for “the housewife, or the man who finds it an intriguing hobby.”

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