An Analysis of the Role of Women: Within and Beyond the Household

Image 1. Girl Power. Digital Image. “Girl Power” White + Pink Shirts. Web. September 27th 2017. “”

‘Girl Power’ is often the statement emblazoned on so many of today’s companies, slogans, and products that seek to capitalize on the recent popularity that the feminist movement has garnered in mainstream media. For many young women, the idea of girl power is linked to the feminist movement.  The feminist movement’s definition of an independent women has changed throughout the different waves of feminism, and varies across different communities of women. However, is this statement really as progressive for women as it claims to be? Is being a career woman as liberating as neoliberal feminism claims it is? This essay will look at the writings of Nancy Fraser, its critique by Brenna Bhandar and Denise Ferreira da Silva, as well as the feminist perspective on food studies by Arlene Voski Avakian and Barbara Haber in order to better understand the issue and provide a solution.

When one thinks of Girl Power, often the image that springs to mind is that of the successful career woman, earning wages and working outside of the household.

Image 2: “How to Become a Successful Career Woman.”

However, despite having her own job, she is usually expected to cook and take care of her family to ensure their happiness. This extra labor is the unspoken part of being a modern woman, work that is often denied as labor by the Modern Woman herself, due to pressures from the trace expectations of womanhood that remain from past generations. But how did the ideal of womanhood transform from being the guardian of the household to the career woman who is also expected to perform housekeeping tasks?

With the rise of neoliberalism, feminism began following in its footsteps, and transformed from a movement that focused on the solidarity of women to one that focused on the advancement of individual women (Fraser, 2013), which is the critique of feminism offered by Nancy Fraser in her article, ‘How feminism became capitalism’s handmaiden – and how to reclaim it’. However, Fraser’s argument is weakened by the fact that she classifies her feminism as the struggle of all women, when in fact, as Da Silva and Bhandar critique in their essay, ‘White Feminist Fatigue Syndrome’, the struggles that Black and ‘Third World’ women face is very different from the women Fraser advocates for, who have a greater degree of emancipation than those of women of color and women in ‘Third World’ countries (Bhandar & da Silva, 2013).

Image 3: Spiegel, Ilana. “We can do it!” January 2013.

Since the ‘struggle’ for women of color and women in third world countries differs from the struggle that white women and women from developed nations face, the way to be ‘feminist’ varies among the different communities of women. For some women, not being involved in household duties is freedom from the traditional roles they’ve been shoehorned in, while for other women, namely women of color, or women coming from previously colonized nations, cooking is a way for them to retain their importance within their culture, (e.g. the women bread makers from Lebanon) as well as to retain their culture from being completely taken over by the colonizer (Avakian & Haber, 2005, pg. 8).

In countries that have been colonized, they often find their own food ‘colonized’ by their colonizer, i.e. their ethnic dishes neutralized, watered down, and essentially altered to fit the tastes of the people in the colonizer’s country. As discussed in ‘Feminist Food Studies’, after India was colonized by the British, many of them took back several Indian dishes, and simplified the various types of food into one all encompassing term: curry, when in their native country those dishes are known by other names (Avakian & Harber, 2005, pg. 10). By delving into the role of being chefs and cooks, and authors of cookbooks, women of colonized nations can reclaim their country’s culture

Armendariz, Matt. “Authentic International Dishes and Their Easy Shortcuts.” The Food Network. 2015.  

and preserve their culinary heritage. Recently, ethnic dishes, such as Korean kimchi, and Japanese matcha, have been lapped up by trend-savvy instagrammers, and this can count as food colonialism if the people profiting from these foods are not those from their native countries. Therefore, cooking as a method of preserving culture is highly important.

Recently, feminists have argued for the idea of paid housework, with Patricia Hill Collins writing that for ‘African American women, work in the home that contributes to their families’ well-being can be understood by them as a form of resistance to the social and economic forces that collude to damage African-American children and families’ (Bhandar & da Silva, 2013). However, they did not specify in what way this could be implemented, or from where the funds to pay women for housework would come from. Steps need to be taken to make sure that women are not taken advantage of in these previously mentioned fields. For women who cook, there should be a greater opportunity for equality in the fields of food production, with greater numbers of women being well paid head chefs in restaurants, as well as more recognition for native chefs cooking their native dishes. As da Silva and Bhandar mention, it is important for feminists to understand that while we struggle as women, our issues are not the same, and that the idea of an independent woman and ‘Girl Power’ may vary. In some groups, it may be a single woman working a high paying, high ranking job. In others, it may be a cook creating dishes from her native country to preserve its heritage. The important thing is to lend other groups of women our support, and to recognize the struggles of marginalized groups, as well as amplifying their voices, so that we can someday reach true equality.

Links & References

Nancy Fraser, How feminism became capitalism’s handmaiden – and how to reclaim it. The Guardian, Monday 14 October 2013

Brenna Bhandar and Denise Ferreira da Silva, Critical Legal Thinking: Law and the Political. 21 October 2013.

Arlene Voski Avakian and Barbara Haber, Feminist Food Studies: A Brief History. (1-23)

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