Homeward Bound

Why women are embracing the new domesticity

Are You a "Cupcake Feminist"?

Do you love retro looks and 1950s domestic styles?

I just devoured this fascinating essay by UK-based author Meryl Trussler, on the rise of “cupcake feminism.” Cupcake feminism (a term I use in my book as well), as Trussler defines it, is the cute-ified new face of feminism. The opposite of the angry, hairy feminist stereotype of the 1970s, the cupcake feminist wears an adorable vintage cardigan while reclaiming baking, knitting, apron-wearing and the like in the name of women’s empowerment. As Trussler writes:

Twee and retro have been seeping into feminism for a couple decades now, gaining potency. It’s all about cute dresses, felten rosettes from Etsy, knitting, kittens, vintage lamps shaped like owls, Lesley Gore. And yes – a lot of cupcakes.

It would be hypocritical to dismiss cupcake feminism outright. As outlined above, to tell women they are letting down the cause is vomitously snide and unproductive – and I like the associated aesthetic as much as anyone. (Except for knitting, which for me could only end in injury.) Admittedly, too, the cupcake feminist is a sophisticated invention. Rouged, lipsticked, cinched at the waist, she performs big-F Femininity as the drag–show that it is. Her 50s-housewife schtick sets off everything about her that is radicalised and new. And, importantly, she emphasises that typically ‘feminine’ pursuits are no less worthy or important than their ‘masculine’ counterparts.

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Still, Trussler worries that this reclaiming of women’s work is “more nostalgic than ironic,” which is something I often think about as well. She also points out how the cupcake feminist aesthetic has become commodified by mainstream corporations. She uses British examples, but I think a good American example would be how the punk-rock Riot Grrrl crafting movement of the 1990s begat the hipster craft marketplace Etsy in the mid-2000s, which begat faux handmade product lines at places like Target and Wal-Mart.

Do you love retro looks? Into kitschy 1950s-style aprons? What do you think about the idea of "cupcake feminism"?

Emily Matchar is the author of Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity.

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