Why does the kitchen loom so
large in Future Past? Why not equal space for the drawing room
of the future, or the alcove of tomorrow, or the crawl space of the
next century? The answer is that the development of kitchen appliances
did for the homemaker what automation did for the factory worker–and
in some ways the changes were even more revolutionary. These
were changes that liberated women from a task that had been theirs
since Og dragged the first mastodon back to the cave. It turned cooking
chore to a pleasure and gave gainful employment to a
generation of annoying celebrity chefs.
These changes are so great that
today that we often don't appreciate just what a tremendous boon things
like electric cookers, toasters,
dishwashers and mixers were for
families, and women in particular, in the last century. In fact,
if one makes a study of how people of today look back on predictions of
the kitchen of the future, one is struck by how condescending, even
sneering, many commentators are about the whole thing. It
generally can be summed up as something like, "Okay, they got the
microwave and the frozen food right, but these silly people missed out
on feminism." Or the welfare state, or gay rights, or the EU
directive on bananas, or the Spice Girls reunion.
It's easy to laugh at past
predictions, but it is also a bit prejudiced if we damn them for being
insufficiently feminist or whatever and arrogant to claim that they
fall short if they fail to foresee "us." There is something
absurd in condemning the designers of these kitchens for not
preemptively embracing the prejudices of a load of left-wing 21st
century academicians who imply that the designs embrace "patriarchy,
the nuclear family, and capitalism" and are therefore suspect.
Bear in mind that these amenities were aimed at middle and working
class women who took several back-breaking hours to do what their
granddaughters do in minutes, if at all. We easily forget that
there was a time without freezer to microwave meals, boxed convenience
dinners, fast foods, takeaways, or pizza delivery. A husband who bought his
wife a state-of-the-art cooker wasn't a lout; he was a man who
wanted to get his wife out of the kitchen, not be tied to it.
These devices weren't
shackles of some hateful (why hateful?) family, but rather
liberators from a job that had to be done and someone had to
do them. If you couldn't afford servants, that meant Mum.
Although even more devices have been invented to help reduce Mum's
duties to keep the home in order, there is still the option for
cleaning services, the
new version of servants.
In this context, these labour saving devices
were a revolution. It meant that women of modest means could
now enjoy freedoms that hitherto could only be enjoyed by the upper
classes. It meant leisure and choices of occupation. It
meant not a world where women merely should be equal, but one where
they could be equal.
Not a bad job for a crock pot.