Can You Be A Feminist & Like Baking Cup Cakes?

When I was younger, much younger (in my childhood), much as I loved the idea of equality for women, my idea of what that might be was flawed. I still thought it meant being able to behave like a boy and have the freedom and opportunities that the boys had. In my very young days I also thought that, at some point, I would get a turn at being a boy too, as that seemed only fair!

That said, as I got older I still misunderstood at times the idea of feminism; I thought it meant I couldn’t do anything that girls liked doing, that I had to embrace boy type things. I began to feel disdainful of girls and their toys – and this was pre the awful pink revolution when Lego was just Lego and not fraught with sexual politics! At that time I wasn’t much bothered about cooking, sewing, knitting and homemaking in the way that I am now but I did, and still do, love frocks and soft, silky fabrics, and I’ve never really liked trousers. I felt a little guilty about this as if I was being too frivolous and betraying ‘the cause’.

University Bias

When I was 18 that began to change; I had an interview at Sheffield University, in the days when British universities routinely interviewed students before offering them a place. I wanted to study English Literature and I was taking three A levels in English, Sociology and Home Economics. I met with some grandee from the English faculty and spent a pleasant half hour telling him why I thought Thomas Hardy was a woman hater and tedious to read ( I later learned he was one of the foremost experts on said Mr Hardy…) when he said:

One of your A levels isn’t academic; the University won’t accept it so you won’t be able to meet our criteria.”

Now, if truth be told, I didn’t really have my heart set on going to Sheffield so I wasn’t especially concerned what he thought of me so I replied:

So you’re penalising girls then as I don’t know of any boys who take Home Economics at A level.” (Remember this was pre any equalities legislation and 1974).

He replied that he wasn’t penalising girls at all but it wasn’t a very testing subject and didn’t tell him anything about my ability.

I asked him what he knew about the topic and how it was taught. He knew nothing at all. So I told him about Home Economics A level and just how flippin’ testing it was and how it was the hardest subject I was taking and how they should absolutely accept it as an academic subject as, along with the 6 hour practical exam (think Great British Bake Off but not being allowed to talk or have a cup of tea), I also had to take three written papers involving science and economics! (Pause for breath-phew!)

A few days later I got a letter offering me a place at much lower grades than they usually demanded, i.e they wanted me to come, and a separate note saying that they had reviewed their position on Home Economics and were now accepting it…

It made me wonder in 1974 and I still ask myself the same question today. Why are things that girls and women like often held to be lesser in status and importance than things men like?

For more in a similar vein see Football and Invisible Women and Is Feminism on the Change?

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Posted on November 28th, 2012 by

8 Responses to “Can You Be A Feminist & Like Baking Cup Cakes?”

  1. Graham Smith says:

    I do admire you for taking such a principled stand in what must have been a very intimidating atmosphere. I don’t think I’d have the nerve to say that now (I’m in my late fifties), let alone as an 18 year old.

    Well done. Well done, indeed! You have great strength of character.

    • Jane says:

      Ah thanks Graham. Blame it on my Dad; he taught me to speak up for myself (and others). With hindsight the chap was clearly testing my mettle. Late fifties? The prefect age!

  2. I so enjoy your blogs but this one especially. How lovely to be reminded of all the behind the scenes effort that went into educating people about women and what they can do.
    Well done you you may not think it but how much easier it must have been for the women who followed you to university

  3. Jane Lewis says:

    I remember at a milk round interview (with shell), the male interviewer asked me why he should employ me when within 5 years i’d leave to get married and have babies (this was in 1978). I told him a) it was unlikely and b) I could think of plenty of other reasons why I might leave within 5 years. I didn’t get the job.

    • Jane says:

      Good for you! The problem is, as I’m sure you know, is that it still goes on, albeit much more subtly. Although not always….I chaired an interview panel where the funding was coming from another organisation and the HR manager said he’d like to ask each candidate a question. His question of the first applicant (female): “Do you plan on having babies?” Argh, we said, you must not ask that. Ok, he said. next candidate, his turn: “I see your husband is in the forces. Doesn’t that mean you will leaving us soon?” Third candidate, a man. No question from him….

  4. Hannah Gordon says:

    I think this is an interesting closing question:

    “Why are things that girls and women like often held to be lesser in status and importance than things men like?”

    Is it that men and woman actually like different things, or that society encourages us to think that we should? I think perhaps there’s a deeper point to be explored here.

    Good work on speaking up and changing things at Sheffield. I’m glad i never took Home Ec. it sounds like seriously hard work!

    • Jane says:

      Hi Hannah, I suspect it’s a bit of both. I hate it when people say to me ‘that’s a bit girly’. So what? Why is my sex used as an insult?

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