(Editor’s note: This is another guest post from my friend Kimberly Wilmot Voss, who has written a number of excellent pieces for the Feminist Kitchen in the past year or so. Voss, who is working on a book about the history of newspaper food editors, writes the blog, Women’s Page History and teaches at the University of Central Florida. )
February marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan’s landmark book, The Feminine Mystique, which examined the role of college-educated middle-class wives and pondered if they wanted more out of their lives than what was found in the home. After five decades, there was debate about whether the book still has relevance. I think from the sexism of the Oscars ceremony to the continual stories about women making less than men, discussions of feminism remain important.
Friedan’s book has been cited as the catalyst that got women out of the kitchen. There is no doubt that her book is significant. Her papers at the Schlesinger Library include piles of letters from women who felt the book changed their lives. (For a great assessment of the book when it was first published, read A Strange Stirring.)
Three years before Friedan’s book, it was cookbook author Peg Bracken who had a similar message. She wrote the I Hate to Cook Book. In it, she allowed women to admit that they would rather have a drink with the men than toil over the stove.
As her New York Times obituary noted: “Three years before Betty Friedan touched off the modern women’s movement with The Feminine Mystique, Ms. Bracken offered at least a taste of liberation — from the oven, the broiler and the stove.”
Bracken explained: “This book is for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry Martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of the day.” It went on to be published in various editions and sold more than three million copies.
Her humor-tinged message resonated with women who longed to leave the kitchen and join a bigger conversation. In fact, it was a lunchtime chat with professional friends that led to the book. The busy women complained of the task of making meals and the idea for a new cookbook was born.
Her recipes were easy and her writing witty. Consider Bracken’s recipe for Cheesy Rice: three cups of hot cooked rice, a third cup of grated Parmesan, three tablespoons of melted butter and a dash of pepper. The instruction: “Just toss these items together.”
Just as Friedan’s book still has its place, so has Bracken’s book in our history of modern feminism. An updated version of the I Hate to Cook Book was republished on its 50th anniversary with a forward by Bracken’s daughter, Jo Bracken. She wrote: “My mother was the one person you would absolutely want at a dinner party. Mom was at her social best when seated at the dinner table.”
The women’s liberation movement was not about just one book; it was a collection of books and voices that recognized inequity when they saw it. And, those women were going to do something about it.