When I think of “feminism”, Nigella Lawson doesn’t really come to mind.
Not because I don’t think that she’s a strong woman, in control of her own career and destiny, but because the stereotypes that she plays to use a certain kind of femininity that puts women barefoot and back in the kitchen.
Most of the female chefs I know have had to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to be taken seriously. Women who opt to make pastry for a living – whether because they genuinely enjoy it or because the hours and physical demands are easier – are considered cop outs. It’s utterly unfair, but it’s still a stupid stereotype of the industry. And even the women who do choose to make pastry for a living do so in a professional context – wearing a proper uniform, hair tied back, back and neck and shoulders aching at the end of a day bent over a cake doing hours of icing work.
Nigella sets these ladies back, if we want to be honest about it. Because even if she IS running her own empire and selling lots of books… she creates a stereotype of a woman and a bowl of frosting that the rest of us all have to live down (or up to, depending on how insecure you are). Nigella causes people to assume that real pastry chefs flit around sticking their fingers in the bowl, making sexy face as they test their new products. And for the home cook, Nigella creates food porn aspirations that can never be achieved, causing men to wonder why their wives and girlfriends don’t wear sexy sweaters over tight-laced corsets while they bake cupcakes (yes, Nigella, we can tell you’re wearing a corset… come on honey, let that belly hang out!), and causing women to compare themselves unfavourably to someone with a team of assistants that undoubtedly not only includes photographers and food stylists but hair and make-up people as well.
I’m not saying that you can’t be a pretty feminist. I’m not saying that feminists shouldn’t bake. Hell, I’m not even saying that feminists can’t/shouldn’t own their sexuality and use it to get ahead. But let’s not kid ourselves into believing that Nigella posing with a bowl of batter and a tight sweater actually helps move the cause forward at all, okay? That’s she’s out there representing all the women trying to break free of the sexist stereotypes. And let’s really not pretend that real female pastry chefs don’t cringe when her name comes up because of the imagery she employs to sell some cookbooks.