In the kitchen

Guys, I'm trying my hardest not to let my academic work infiltrate the blog because I don't want to bore anyone to death. NOT that my academic work is boring. In the least. But I do have to sift through a bunch of boring stuff to get to the exciting bits. When I'm done with this you can just call me Dr. Sifter.

At any rate, my current chapter has much to do with the kitchen, how the kitchen is represented in contemporary culture, and how such representations affect cultural codes, roles, and perceptions. A very good professor once told me that all research is personal -- meaning that you will gravitate towards research interests that touch your own life. And thus it is for me. I have long wondered at and struggled with women and domesticity -- how to balance family life and work life, why domestic spaces are so aggressively assigned to women, why I'm the only person in the family who notices THERE ARE 73 WATER GLASSES ON THE KITCHEN COUNTER. You know, important stuff like that -- that's what I'm thinking about.

But more on point for this blog is how I talk about, teach, and pass on culturally specific gender roles to my own kiddos. How can I teach my son that the domestic is his responsibility just as much as it is my daughters'? How can I help my daughters navigate the tricky path between work and family? And whose job is it exactly to mow the lawn and empty the dishwasher?  How can I raise enlightened individuals who want to work together within their families to build the best life possible?


Unfortunately I don't have any get rich quick domestic-equality schemes. But I do think it's interesting and important to examine and discuss (with the kiddos) the way kitchens as geographic spaces function in literature and popular art. 

I recently came across this article, "Coming Out of the Kitchen: Texts, Contexts, and Debates," that positions the kitchen as "an improvisatory and rebellious zone." The author, Janet Floyd, isn't so much decrying the kitchen as some radical space to launch a feminist rebellion (cuz that's hard to do when the chicken needs to be done by 5), as she is utilizing the kitchen in popular culture to "generate arguments about gender, class and nation." There you go. That's what I'm talking about. Arguing. I do love to argue. And if I can do that while mixing up some chocolate chip cookies -- ALL THE BETTER.

Floyd talks about a number of specific kitchens. Surprisingly, she's interested in the kitchen Monica and Rachel share in Friends. Monica as the obsessive, detail-driven homemaker wanna-be is consistently contrasted with the frazzled and hopelessly sloppy Rachel. And audiences like both of them. Monica's over-achiever neurosis makes her less-than-ideal, and Rachel, quintessentially beautiful and hip, is beautiful and hip even amidst her failures in the domestic. So what's the message there? The beauty is that there is no one unified message. No, "GIRLS! Get yourselves into the kitchen." 

The point Floyd is making is that texts (including television texts) about or including the kitchen can both "insist on the richness of the domestic experience" while also transgressing social norms. And really, in the end, that's a good portion of what I want my kids to take with them into adulthood -- that the domestic can be a warm, creative, nurturing, and even transgressive space, but such an environment will almost certainly mean looking at the family dynamic in new and respectful ways. It will mean everyone working together to see that the dog gets fed, and the sheets changed, and the meals cooked, and books read, and art created.

Forget about Monica and Rachel. I'm all about Claire and Cliff. Remember Cliff's apron? He was a whiz at sandwich-making for Rudy.


And what about Elyse and Steven? A fair amount of sitcom action occurred in the family kitchen. Good stuff there.


What about you? Any fictional family kitchens you find fascinating?