Sugar and spice and all things nice

// 22 January 2008

I hate feeling that I ought to start a blog entry with a disclaimer, but I want to be very sure that I’m not misconstrued. So let me say that I think learning to cook is a Good Thing. Everyone should be able to boil an egg and make a cup of tea by the age of ten, as far as I’m concerned, and grown-ups should be able to cook a week’s worth of different meals for themselves without resorting to takeaways. I’m not saying everyone should enjoy it; I’m not saying everyone should be good at it. Personally, I quite enjoy making meals as long as they don’t take too long, otherwise I get bored and wander off to read a book and then everything ends up burning. But that’s by the by.

I am very pleased that cookery lessons will be compulsory in secondary schools. I don’t remember doing any cooking when I got to upper school aged 13, though I’d had lessons at lower school and middle school, and been rewarded with my Cook’s badge at Brownies. It remains to be seen whether or not knowing how to cook will encourage young teenagers to boycott McDonald’s in favour of putting together a nutritious broth, but it’s a useful skill that they’ll use when they’re older, so I’m very much in favour of it.

What I’m not in favour of is those terrible, terrible adverts for the Strawberry Shortcake collection. If you’ve seen them, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Nauseatingly pink glossy mags for little girls are one thing – encouraging them to learn to cook “just like Mum” is another entirely. (And don’t even get me started on the way it’s presenting motherhood…) Presenting cooking as such a gendered activity means that little boys and girls will see it as feminised – and something only females should do, thus perpetuating those insidious old stereotypes.

It’s not like a gender-neutral presentation of useful household skills is impossible. Bob the Builder may have been providing practical DIY hints and encouraged children to take an interest in fixing stuff, but he remains as popular with girls as with boys. So there’s a challenge, media publishers. Go and talk to Jamie Oliver – he knows how to communicate with primary-school age children. Then print a mag aimed at girls and boys that encourages them to cook. Not so they can stay at home for ever with only cooking as a string to their bow; not so they can be “like Mum”; but so they can feed themselves, stay healthy, be independent, and make a good home – whoever they share it with.

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