When I was growing up, my parents taught me that being a feminist meant believing that women have the right to do whatever they want. I was never pressured into doing something just because I was a girl, and I was never dissuaded from doing something just because it was associated with boys.
So, when I taught myself to bake in high school, I never thought of it as a ‘girly’ hobby. I loved chocolate chip cookies, and I wanted to know how to make them. I flipped through one of my family’s cookbooks, found the dessert section, and started mixing. From that humble beginning, baking has since grown into one of my biggest passions.
Recently, upon moving to Dublin, I began sharing my baked creations with co-workers. This served both to help me make friends in the office and to feel more at home in a new country. Yet according to Colette Sexton of The Sunday Business Post, I am doing myself a disservice, professionally, by bringing in treats to share with my colleagues.
“The office is not somewhere to play house,” she noted in a recent interview with RTÉ Radio. She’d much rather that her co-workers hit their targets than make chocolate cake. My issue with her statement is twofold: baking is not “playing house”. It’s a hobby, just like karate, knitting, rock climbing or any of the other myriad pastimes that people have. While baking might place me in the kitchen, an area of the house historically associated with women, it isn’t pigeonholing me into some antiquated definition of what a woman should be. Indeed, I don’t consider it to be gendered – it’s simply something that some people, whether male or female, choose to do in their spare time.
Baking also doesn’t prevent me from performing well at my position; on the contrary, baking is relaxing, a way of winding down after work that helps me recharge so I’m energetic and able to focus on my to-do list the next day. It also doesn’t make me the office mammy, because baking isn’t gendered.
Me bringing in a batch of biscuits for my colleagues does not scream ‘maternal’ to them, nor does it make them more likely to give me the clean-up and administrative tasks around the office that no one wants to do.
Colette mentions that if a woman truly loves baking, instead of sharing it with co-workers, she should share it with family, friends, or the homeless. While her suggestion to donate baked goods to the homeless is a good one, and one I plan on pursuing, I won’t stop bringing in a pan of brownies to the office on a given Friday, because after centuries of society telling my female peers how we ‘should’ act, I’m not going to let worries about my career prevent me from getting the mixing bowls out.
It goes against my feminist morals to stop doing something I enjoy because of my gender.
Last month I flew to England for my mother-in-law’s funeral. It was a bittersweet occasion – a celebration of a magnificent woman, as well as the start of a grieving process for someone we all loved. People handle grief in different ways, and, as with so many of life’s most difficult moments, I turned to the kitchen. The week of the funeral, I made: a loaf of whole wheat banana bread, a batch of lemon ginger shortbread, and a freshly baked lemon drizzle cake – all to take with me on the flight across the sea. I had to pay extra for priority boarding to make sure there was enough room for my bag in the overhead compartments where it wouldn’t get squashed, but it was worth it when, the day after the funeral, we all sat curled up on the sofas, ate lemon cake, and reminisced about Fiona, a clever, vivacious woman.