In today's Wisconsin State Journal, columnist Bill Wineke took a stand against a new line of dolls for young girls. These dolls look normal enough, except that they come with a Bible lesson, cookie cutters and a recipe, and a list of activities. In his column, Wineke argues that such toys could have a deleterious effect on the upbringing of girls who might, as a result, aspire to a life of traditional domesticity.
Fair enough. All children, whether boys and girls, should decide for themselves what kind of life they want. For many, this involves some balance of a career and a family. Others may ultimately decide to do one or the other. It's not clear to me that one choice is inherently better than the other. Feminism, after all, is about giving women the right to work as their skills and desires dictate, not about women working. Toys play a role in that upbringing. I played with a lot of GI Joes when I was little, and for the longest time I wanted to attend the Naval Academy. So it's not unreasonable based on my personal experience with toys that a domestically-oriented toy might encourage girls to place too much emphasis upon family life, just like GI Joes maybe encouraged me to develop too much interest in military struggle.
What is unreasonable is Wineke's many unwritten assumptions throughout his article. For one thing, it's not clear to me that Leah, Elisabeth, and Abigail are really all about staying home, never thinking about working outside the home, and smashing the many contributions of feminism. They're dolls, and children impose their own narratives onto them -- not the other way around.
Since this is a food blog I'll go into but one of thing that gave me pause. Wineke wonders if "making cookies is the highest aspiration we can set for our daughters."
Since when were cooking and baking trifles, spurious activities that should not be taken Seriously? Learning to cook is good thing. It encourages healthy eating habits, independence, and gets you doing something with your hands. And it's a craft that anyone can take pride in, and whose product appeals to everyone. It can lead to an increasingly respected profession on top of that. Cooking can be incredibly simple or incredibly complex. I'm sure if they were instead Science Dolls that came with a protractor, Wineke would ask if drawing circles was "the highest aspiration we can set for our daughters." It's not like Science Doll owners would be deriving Euclid's Elements with it.
It bothers me that most people view cooking in the context of home economics, rather than a craft. This approach, reinforced by public education, seem bass ackwards to me. The food I made in home economics was not stuff that I'd ever want to eat. We made pizza by toasting some bread, spreading some canned pasta sauce on top of it, along with some pre-grated cheese, and pre-sliced pepperoni. Could you imagine coming home from work and making that for dinner? Yeah, I can't either.
Cooking is an important skill, and an important component of a cultural identity. If that identity is reflected by the "pizza" I learned how to make in junior high, then it's a sad state of affairs. Children should be taught to make food that tastes good and that they can take pride in. When I taste the difference between a canned product and one I've made myself, this little lightbulb has always gone off in my head telling me "so this is what it's supposed to taste like." Once you taste the difference between something as simple as homemade stock, as opposed to the canned stuff, you're hooked. Not because someone made you to combine ingredients somehow or because it's good for you or because it saves money. But because it's what you actually want.
If Proverbs-reading, feminism-crushing, cookie-baking dolls motivate children to actually make a cookie... well... that's something important, isn't it?