|They look so innocent.|
First, you have to read Jennifer Steinhauer's story in the New York Times. If you don't have 7 minutes to spare, I'll offer a brief recap: People are bringing store-bought food to pot lucks and bake sales and Steinhauer is irritated:
"Nothing is quite as depressing as the modern bake sale, where amid the veritable celebration of poundcakes and misshapen cookies are the inevitable Ziploc bags filled with Oreos or perfectly formed bakery bought treats. In the countless sales I have attended over the years, I have been amazed by the number of packaged cookies, high-end cupcakes and impeccably round marzipan-covered confections that people plop down on the table, with no compunction, to be resold."
For the record, I think Steinhauer's tone could have been more diplomatic and I think that some of the people she quotes sound snotty. Moreover, I don't agree with her about pot lucks, another target of her disappointment. In my view, you can bring whatever you want to a pot luck, from a bucket of KFC to a homemade croquembouche, and everyone should say, thank you so much. With feeling. Acceptance and inclusiveness are hallmarks of the pot luck.
Bake sales are different. About bake sales, I wholeheartedly agree with Steinhauer. I don't think Oreos belong at a bake sale and I wouldn't buy them there. I'd rather just make a donation. I don't think anyone should ever be forced to contribute to a bake sale or guilted into it and if we can't drum up enough homemade treats from willing bakers, maybe we should scrap the tradition. I love a good bake sale and where's the fun when the merchandise is just repackaged from Ralph's? As Steinhauer puts it, "Look at it this way: You would not resell socks you bought at Macy’s on the art-sale crafts table. Respect the cookie!"
I saw nothing controversial about this statement.
Well, I am in a minority, at least if noise on the internet is an indicator. Over the last few days I've read many criticisms of Steinhauer's piece. The gist of most of them: she is scolding women who can't find time/can't afford/don't want to bake. And that her piece is sexist. Most critics have made lucid points even when I don't agree with them.
But in another category altogether are the vituperative Twitter and Facebook broadsides of the inimitable Ayelet Waldman, who went on a real tear after reading Steinhauer's essay. Some choice excerpts:
"This homemaker fetish is retrograde and anti-feminist and women like JENNIFER STEINHAUER are just PC, liberal Phyllis Schlaflys."
"When are these women going to figure out that this fetish for raising chickens and baking the perfect bundt cake is retrograde, oppressive, and nothing more than latter-day Phyllis Schlafley (sic) bullshit? You know what you don't have time for when you're obsessing over the candied lavender on your Christmas Cookies? Outrage over the political and economic crisis, that's what."
"Oh, I'm too busy baking and raising my own chickens for the fresh fresh eggs. I have no time to, um, work. Or be politically active."
But here's my favorite -- a real gem -- addressed to Steinhauer:
"Hey, you sanctimonious bitch, I have 4 kids, a fulltime job. I don't have time to bake cookies. Lucky you that you do."
It's not Jennifer Steinhauer who strikes me as the sanctimonious bitch.
First of all, I think Waldman needs to consistently spell "Schlafly" right if she's going to use that dated reference as often as she does. I know, it's a bear. But it just seems like good form for a chest-thumping "full-time job" writer to spell correctly in the same way that it's good form for a retro homemaking fetishist to, say, make the bed.
Second, I think it's hilarious that Waldman, a stay-at-home novelist who tweets endlessly about her weight, Devachan haircuts, and where she buys toilet paper (amazon), is sounding off self-righteously about her super-busy life to Jennifer Steinhauer. Jennifer Steinhauer! Who has 2 children, contributes to bake sales, writes a weekly column for Food52 and in her spare time covers Congress for the New York Times. Yes, she really needs to get a life. Good one, Ayelet.
But what really impresses me about these tweets is how Waldman is not just going after Steinhauer's mildly controversial piece. She's going after all us twitty bundt cake bakers and candied lavender fans.
I lost sleep over this for reasons I didn't understand until I got up in the morning and realized I felt personally offended. Baking has now officially been dragged into the stupid Mommy Wars! Great. I don't judge people who do not bake. I hope this is abundantly clear in my blog and in my book and in person. I do not judge people even to the minor degree that Steinhauer does in her article. And Waldman is judging me -- for baking! Except "judging" is too polite a word. "Sliming" is better. Slimed by a professional mean girl for a totally innocuous hobby.
Since then, I've thought far too much about bake sales, baking, the hateful, pointless Mommy Wars and Ayelet Waldman. Herewith, once and for all and hopefully never again, my thoughts:
I've been a parent in the California public school system for 16 child years. Bake sales are few and far between, at least in our district. We are asked regularly for money, rarely for brownies. Would that the two were reversed! In any case, all solicitations are gender neutral so there's no reason women should feel they are being unfairly targeted for bake sale bondage. We're not. No one is ever forced to contribute and anyone can bake those cookies -- Dad, the kids, Mom. You can buy the cookies if you want, though it's sort of a bummer for the customer, at least when the customer is me.
Still, it's true, I have observed, that females do most of the baking and "manning" of the bake sale booth. I've worked the bake sale booth myself. I've brought cookies. My husband? Never.
And yet it doesn't seem terribly sexist or unjust because it is also true that after every school walkathon and fundraiser I've attended, it is men -- dads -- who spend the remainder of their Sunday afternoon picking up grimy half-eaten hamburgers and smashed cupcakes off the basketball court, dragging around Hefty bags, loading dumpsters. You know what I'd love to see? A pissy internet throwdown between downtrodden dads who set up chairs for the silent auction and cool, ballsy dads who tweet that they're too busy with their fulltime jobs and political activism. Maybe Michael Chabon could weigh in.
Honestly. Bake sale duty has taken about 2 hours per year, if that, out of my precious life. My husband has spent many times that doing the various gross janitorial jobs the men get stuck with. I'd rather bake. Even if I didn't like to bake, I'd rather bake.
But I do like to bake. You don't? That's fine with me. My mom didn't bake unless she really had to, and when she did she used a mix. But baking is a little spot of grace in my life -- which isn't always full of grace. It's how I relax, a way I show affection and share. I truly like to bake for other people, including people who go to bake sales, and I expect nothing in return -- except, I suppose, a modicum of respect. I always thought it was a nice thing about me, the baking, something to value. I still do. So you can shove it, Ayelet Waldman. And you can shut up about the chickens, too.