Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Apron Mystique or Thinkin' About it Thursday

I have long considered myself a feminist. At times, even considered myself a feminist in a way that was fierce and off-putting. In high school I wore out a t-shirt that said "Women hold up half the sky". Interestingly, the most frequent question I got about it was "So, what do men do?" I usually answered, "I don't know. I doesn't say." But, what women do or don't do has always been a key component to the ways in which men define themselves. For this reason, I feel like we are all restricted when women's roles are strictly defined.

Over time I've come to feel that feminism, for me is about choice. The choice to be a parent in the best way I can, the choice to follow my interest in sewing for the home and family and the choice to cook foods I love for the people I love. I do it all from a sense of loving to do it rather than feeling it is an obligation or a duty or hoping to appear a certain way to the outside world. I find cooking, sewing, and even baking (!) satisfying to the part of me that needs a creative outlet. I also work outside of the home both for financial and personal reasons.

In this context, feminism for me often moves toward grappling with how to bring broader freedoms of choice to everyone. Sometimes this moves me away from concerns about women; mens' choices are severely restricted from fear of appearing 'gay' and people living in poverty see most aspects of their lives defined for them, particularly if they are receiving welfare benefits. This doesn't come from any feminist theorist and, perhaps, wouldn't pass muster in an academic context but it is where my life's journey has brought me.

So, what does this have to do with aprons? Well, to be honest, I've been a little perplexed about my fixation and love of making aprons. I mean, aren't they the symbol of women's servitude....look pretty and stay in the kitchen! For a while, I just chose to ignore that voice and enjoy making them but kept wondering 'where is this coming from?' I could claim that they are just fun and easy to make, that they require just the right amount of fabric that I can get create with my stash and not have to buy new fabric for a project. All of which is true but it wasn't the full story. I've been making aprons for the women in my family and thinking about the food they make very fondly. I've been putting loving thoughts into each one and purposely making them very feminine. With ruffles and pom-poms and ric-rac, these are not gender neutral aprons. I'm celebrating something purely feminine that joins the kitchen and cooking and womanliness.

But, I think I figured it out. Or at least I'm closer to it. Aprons could be viewed as symbolic of servitude in the kitchen OR recognized as celebrating the amazing things that women do to sustain their families. Because, as it turns out, the work traditionally done by women in the kitchen is pretty important. As childhood obesity, adulthood obesity and the global climate rises, we are taking a second look at food and the importance of food. Just ask Michael Pollan. His recent article in the NYTimes magazine explores, among other things, how eating at home can stave off obesity.
Did you know that the best way to fight childhood obesity is for meals to occur on a set schedule? That's it. Eating at a set time is even more important than what is eaten. And, no, it doesn't matter who mashes the potatoes or puts the napkins on the table. But, for a long time, and without much gratitude it has been women. Suddenly, we are looking back and saying "Oh right, that sweat that used to go into breakfast, lunch, and dinner...THAT was a really big deal."

I'm lucky to be of a generation that cooks for fun and is appreciated for it. My husband also loves to join in the fun. I hope I'm passing this onto my sons...a passion for food. But, the aprons. Well, the aprons are for the uncelebrated efforts of the generations before me and the hopes for the future. And, in the same way that I consider sewing a feminist act, so is cooking. Because, if you so choose, we should all be able to cook and eat good, healthy food.

And, I'm not alone. EllynAnne Geisel, who considers herself an apron archeologist, is collecting apron stories from all around in her effort Apron Chronicles. And Michael Pollan, is collecting food wisdom that has been passed down for his Food Rules. I love when the answers we are looking for have always been there. Others are exploring whether healthy eating is even possible on Food Stamps. If you have a bit of time, check them out. And, let me know what I am missing, what else is out there?

The apron in these pictures, is my latest. It's all vintage fabric, the top half is an adaptation of the Lotta Jansdotter reversible apron and the bottom half is from the Anna Maria Horner book Seams to me. I used ric-rac around the pocket and along the curve of the top. The gingham is from an etsy seller, beautiful living, that is good fun for the vintage hoarder. The body of the apron is from my local yard sale!

And, there is more to come. Got a big apron project brewing!


Beth said...

What a fantastic post. You've captured many thoughts I've had as well. I will try to write a response in the next month.

AlwaysCreatingSomething said...

Great post and commentary! I've struggled through some of the same things. After being educated, and starting my own business, I decided that being a mother was the most important thing I could do for my family and in its own way, empowering. So, right back at you sister!