Feminism in the kitchen


This is a post I’ve thought about writing for a long time. It’s not about whether you can be a feminist AND love cooking, although that is the post I set out to write before realising that the answer was only five words long: of COURSE you bloody can.

No, for me, the question is rather more basic. Having spent rather a lot of the last three years here in Turkey, where the public conversation about gender equality is at rather a different stage than it is in the UK, I keep butting up against issues that I thought my grandmothers had laid to rest for me. This has forced me to confront some of these critical debates myself for the first time, including the old classic: who is responsible for cooking the dinner?

I like to think of myself as someone who always takes a stand on what I believe in. I mean, that’s my job, after all. It might as well say Professional Stand-Taker, rather than Campaigner, on my business cards. In my whole life, I’ve never let being afraid stop me from standing up for the things I believe in – even when that meant getting arrested and going to court.

So my dilemma is this: when you are transplanted to another country, especially one where the culture is distinctly different from your own, I find it becomes so much harder to do this. Maybe some of you will disagree with this, but in a culture that is not my own it’s much harder – even impossible, sometimes – to take a stand. I can’t help but be painfully aware of my own foreign-ness, my outsider status, when I face these issues here – and this holds me back from reacting as I would if I were in England.

I struggle to confront (what I see as) blatant gender stereotyping simply because I’m not sure I have the legitimacy to do so. In my own relationship with M, the fact that we are equally responsible for household chores is very clear. He doesn’t like it much, having been raised in a family where the women do all the housework, but at least the equal division of labour is agreed. What I can’t do, however, is challenge this arrangement in his wider family.

Again, I’m not saying this kind of gender stereotyping, which keeps women in the home and responsible for all housework, shouldn’t be challenged. Of course it should. I’m just not convinced that me challenging it directly is the best approach. Sure, it irks me when I’m at M’s brothers, and his sister-in-law and I do all the cooking and clearing up while the men laze in front of the TV, and yes, I do sometimes wonder whether I’m betraying my deeply-held feminist principles as I’m pouring the çay

But what would my making a scene accomplish? My refusing to cook in order to make a point isn’t going to ‘solve’ anything. After much internal wrestling, I’ve come to the conclusion that doing so – with the implied criticism of M’s family’s values and beliefs that entails – would ultimately do more damage than good, especially when they have only ever been warmly welcoming and accepting of me and my strange foreign ways.

In the end, I’ve decided that, on this issue at least, I have to keep my stand-taking to my private life, hoping that somehow, maybe, M and I can lead by example. I still don’t know if this is the right way to tackle with such an age-old question. You may well think I’m naive or stupid or just plain wrong. But this is just where I’ve arrived at, after many months of agonised soul-searching. I’d LOVE to hear what you think, though. Have you ever confronted these issues, at home or in another country, and not known what to do? How did you deal with it?

Some other reflections on food and feminism