Remember "sexist air-conditioning"? Misogynist men designing office thermostats set to male comfort zones so that women freeze during the summer?
Well, here's something even worse: sexist kitchen counters!
And once again, as Atlantic writer Rachel Z. Arndt reveals, it's all the fault of misogynist men:
Today’s kitchens may have more machines, but they remain abuzz with structured and artificial femininity, from aprons to pink KitchenAids. Everything matches, even the woman, whose body the kitchen has been designed to fit—albeit inaccurately—since almost a century ago, when engineers measured thousands of women to try to make housework more comfortable.
Over the last 100 years, kitchens have grown, walls have fallen, and appliances have multiplied, but the kitchen protagonist—a woman, standardized—has stayed the same. So has the height of the countertops, sink, and oven.
Until the 1930s, kitchen-surface heights, like clothing, varied as people did, with kitchens and clothes matching the women in them, rather than the other way around. Engineers even sought to bring precision to the task. Kitchen work would be less back-breaking, they said, if the counters and sinks were the right height for the women using them.
But of course, since those engineers were mostly men, when they stadardized the height of kitchen counters, they picked a standard–36 inches–that, at least according to Arndt, was too high for most women!
That didn’t bode well for the woman for whom this new, uniformly-sized kitchen was being designed and made. The sink was the first kitchen object to be standardized. It became part of the continuous countertop—a single height dipping or lifting for no appliance, a look that fell in line perfectly with modernism’s minimalist lines. Everything else rose to meet the sink—the counters, the stove, the cabinets all converged at 36 inches above the floor, writes Leslie Land in her study of modernism and kitchens. That was much too high for the 5-foot-3 average-height woman of the time (and too high even for today’s average 5-foot-4 American woman).
Aren't men awful? They're always doing stuff like that.
These new kitchens may have looked different, but they posed the same dilemma: They were either a way to make unavoidable work less onerous, furnished with objects that supposedly fit women specifically, or a way to make sure the kitchen was fit for only women, specifically. Was the new kitchen a realistic response to the existing societal structures that held women in kitchens? Or did it end up reinforcing sexism by pronouncing the kitchen a space made specifically to fit women’s bodies?
I thought Arndt just said the new standardized kitchen counters weren't "made specifically to fit women's bodies" because they were too high. Make up your mind, Rachel!
With designs based on simplified ideals, not reality, women became misfits in their own kitchens and clothes alike. Today, our kitchens still have 36-inch everything, and they still have women in them, mostly; in heterosexual couples in the U.S., women cook 78 percent of dinners and buy 93 percent of the food. And though we eat fewer home-cooked meals and more commercially prepared foods, the ads for these foods still feature, for the most part, stereotypically nurturing women, smiling mothers whose primary concern is caring for their families and who, in their caricatures, stand for a commercialized version of the modern woman: someone who is productive but still feminine….
The solution, then, must be the opposite of uniformity: customization. The best way to fit everyone, like the best way to make kitchens more comfortable, is to make objects tailored to individual bodies, rather than tailored to the idea of an individual body. Perhaps we should follow the DIY craze, with its jam-making and pickling, its hand-knitted sweaters and backyard-raised chickens; perhaps we should travel back in time 100 years, moving perversely against the expansion of women’s rights (but keeping those rights all the same), to a time when each kitchen was made for the person within it and each shirt for the person inside.
Yes, let's make kitchens so expensive that only a writer for the Atlantic could afford one!
And won't all that "jam-making and pickling…hand-knitted sweaters and backyard-raised chickens"–not to mention the kitchen counters at just the right height for each female within it–mean women will be spending even more time being "stereotypically nurturing" inside their customized kitchens?
I thought feminists were against the idea of being chained to the stove–especially a vintage-1915 stove into whose customized belly you, the non-"commercialized" woman, had to load the wood yourself in order to get the oven going.