“Get back in the kitchen,” say terrified men

To misquote Ghandi, Robbie Williams and the great Mike Buchanan, “first they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then you fight them, then – well, then you get told to get back in the kitchen, make them a sandwich and iron their shirt”. Sound familiar? It should do if you’re a feminist. “Get back in the kitchen” – a command that even my dad thought was a bit sexist in 1976 – is back in vogue. Got embroiled in a heated online debate? Getting a bit too uppity and clever for the likes of your designated mansplainer? Well, then, it’s “back in the kitchen” time for you, missy!

As argumentative techniques go, I have to say, this one’s a total bummer. Men only ever say it – or one of its many minor domestic servitude-related variants – to annoy you. No other reason for it. It’s not as though you can literally make your opponent a cup of tea and deliver it via a tweet, or iron his shirt and present it, crease-free, in your next CiF comment. They just want to make you cross in a really minor, low-level way that isn’t permitted to spill over into full-on rage because that would just be silly. I mean, seriously! “Make me a sandwich”? You want to install a twitter alarm button for that? (Actually, I do. The stupid domestic requests alert. Only it would be misused and you’d end up barred from all social media just for saying you fancied a custard cream, so it’s never going to happen.) Anyhow, people only say “get back in the kitchen” etc. to rile you but the trouble is, it works. Then you get extra-cross at yourself for feeling riled. Then you get even more cross with yourself for being meta-cross with yourself (or maybe that’s just me). Whatever, it’s really annoying.

There’s never been a time when women weren’t wanted in the kitchen. To be fair, it’s not that bad a place, providing you’ve stocked up on your coffee and bourbons. Moreover, even the most equal households have kitchen-based tasks that need doing. I don’t mind that. If my partner asks me to make him a cheese toastie, I don’t storm off in a huff at his privileged assumptions regarding my domestic role (but I don’t make him a cheese toastie, either, at least not at first. I wait until he’s making one and ask if he’ll make me one, too. Half the time this works, which I guess is more or less fair). Real domestic labour can be divided up however you like it. In practice it’s often not divided equitably, but that’s a different issue.

The sandwich-request-as-bid-to-stifle-debate is a different matter. I find it surprisingly hard to deal with, not least because I find it so belittling. Why? you might ask. It’s just a sodding sandwich. I know. That’s part of the problem. On the one hand it’s so trivial and daft that you’re not allowed to feel belittled. On the other the context in which it’s uttered – and what’s really meant by it – is completely enraging. But how to express that? You can’t ask a mansplainer “so are you telling me to …?” because all you’ll get in return is “ah, but I didn’t say that, did I?” Argh! Sometimes I bloody hate subtexts, I do.

Years ago, when elderly male relatives made quips about modern women needing to get back to home and hearth, there was at least an element of self-deprecation. These men were not (by and large) simply saying “I need my tea making!” but expressing their own puzzlement at a changing social order. I don’t hear this now when the same phrases are used. Young men – men who supposedly never grew up at a time when men expected their wives to wait on them – use “back in the kitchen” as a straightforward put-down. It’s a shorthand for telling women they’re still viewed as interlopers. We might now have given you rights but we know where you came from. You’re only here on sufferance, and on borrowed time. Even when it’s not coupled with an aggressive follow-on, it’s still nasty, entitled bullying. It’s a way of saying women won’t ever be viewed as equals, no matter what they do. It’s got nothing to do with who actually irons the shirts and everything to do with whether women’s voices and contributions are taken seriously in the outside, supposedly male world.

Of course, men who use insults like these are probably a damn sight more scared than you are. What if one day you are taken seriously? What if one day pretending it’s a level playing field while talking over women stops working? What if bit by bit the edifice crumbles? Who will cook tea then? To be honest, I don’t know. But the next time I’m ordered to make a virtual sandwich, I’m scoffing it myself.

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17 thoughts on ““Get back in the kitchen,” say terrified men

  1. I want to say something witty in response to this, but I can’t. You’re right – it’s a completely enraging insult. In real life, the whole ‘women in the kitchen’ thing causes problems too.

    Like when I go to the in-laws for a family get together. At the end of the meal, the women all rise, clear the table and do the washing up. The men just sit there. So I decided that, me being a guest, I was going to take my cue from the males and also just sit there. I do this every time and every time it’s uncomfortable. None of the men notice, actually, but the women do and I can tell they resent me not ‘doing my share’ – which in my books is ‘doing my share and the share of all these men sitting here doing nothing’. So I don’t move.

    This affects me in my own home. I make it a rule now that guests can’t help me clear away and wash up, to make me feel less uncomfortable when I’m in their home not offering to do my share. But still, the glares…

  2. I usually take it to mean that they’re pretty much admitting that they’ve run out of ways to rationally engage with the debate. It’s the marginally less teenage version of “Yeah well um… um… your mum!” So if that’s the best line they can come up with, they’re all but saying overtly that they’ve lost the argument.

  3. I would love to see a woman retort by making herself an amazing sandwich, then YouTube-ing herself eating her own sandwich, complete with orgasmic sex noises, taunting the offenders with both sexy-times and delicious sandwich.

  4. The sandwich comment feels a lot more sinister to me since I saw those hideous pictures from facebook where women were victims of violence with comments like “Next time don’t get pregnant” or “Next time make my sandwich properly”.The thoughtlessness with which these comments are made is so sad (and infuriating) esp, as you say, from young guys who didn’t live through the times of stay-at-home-as-the-norm mums. Great post.

    1. I have a similar reaction to the comments — I always feel like they’re a not so veiled threat, most likely made out of fear. I guess I’m glad not to be alone!

  5. Ha…”meta-cross” with yourself about making a sandwich–that’s funny.

    Care should be taken not to fall into meta-meta-analysis of your self-absorbed crossness. If you do enough self-absorbed abstraction, you may create a singularity, falling into your own black hole of solipsistic narcissism.

    That’s a price too high to pay for a sandwich. You should probably stay out of the kitchen.

  6. Just look at it how I do (not that specific, insult but insults in general).

    (S)He who offers first insult has run out of arguments.

    The fact that you drove someone to do means you won the argument. It’s bad form to offer an insult, sexist or otherwise, but you have to rise above it because the internet is full of uneducated fools who will very quickly reach the stage where they’re just insulting you. If you bite, you’ll just end up in permanent slanging matches.

  7. today some one commented on a borgore status that said ” if all women stop having sex till weed is legalized then we’d be high af” (something along that line) and some dude commented on it saying

    lol Ross Exile Weaver They’re to big of whores to stop spreading their legs for that long lol or it would probably be effective
    Like · Reply · 3 · about an hour ago

    Ali Renaux why does having sex make them whores and what does that make the men fucking em?
    Like · about an hour ago

    Ross Exile Weaver You ask to many questions…go back to the kitchen and do something useful
    Like · 1 · about an hour ago

    Ali Renaux so you’re saying you’re incapable of debating so you resort to an age old stereotype OK that’s cute
    Like · 16 minutes ago

    that’s how i replied… just try to turn it around on em and make them sound simple minded it is annoying or when you state an opinion and they are like… someone must be on their period …. ugh. lol after i commented my retort someone called me a feminazi -.- aaanddd there goes any desire to lay with a male.

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