A CULTURAL RETURN TO FEMININITY AND DOMESTICITY
Excerpts from the guardian: "A new breed of young women is embracing the image of the 1950s housewife, celebrating baking, afternoon tea and knitting.
For Nikki Shail, the aesthetic of the 1950s housewife has always been attractive. "My mother was not remotely like that, so for me it's a glamorous, romantic thing," she says. "I love the way it's very feminine and I find a strength in that femininity." The events marketing manager from Kingston, Surrey, devotes her spare time to dressing up as her alter ego, Cherry Bakewell, a 50s goddess who whisks up batches of fairy cakes for the good of humanity.
Together with friend Lorraine Williams, aka Fondant Fancy, Shail hosts the Great Cake Escape - part-hobby, part-performance art - which involves the 25-year-olds "releasing" cakes on to the street, to be found by unsuspecting passersby."
"Cherry Bakewell and Fondant Fancy are just one part of the resurgence of interest in the domestic arts among young women. In Shoreditch, east London, a group of twentysomethings have founded a thriving chapter of the Women's Institute; in Bramley, Hampshire, there is "WI Lite", a group expressly for young women, whose 29 members describe themselves as "funky" and, perhaps inevitably, "jammin'."
Self-proclaimed "domestic artist" Jane Brocket believes that in this day and age it has unwittingly become a provocative act [to engage in domesticity]. She produces a cult blog, Yarnstorm, which covers cooking, sewing and knitting, and attracts 50,000 hits a week...When her book, The Gentle Art of Domesticity, was published last year, she was horrified to be dubbed a purveyor of "pinny porn", as if she was committing some kind of sacrilege by knitting her own tea cosies. "One of the reasons I put "gentle" in the title of my book," she says, "was to signify that there is nothing bossy or hectoring in my brand of domesticity, the type of domesticity that I know so many women - and a few men - enjoy."
"Jazz D Holly, 24, an aspiring playwright from east London, is the president of the Shoreditch Sisters, the youngest branch of the Women's Institute, which has 20 members who meet regularly to swap recipes and knitting patterns. For her, domesticity is about rebellion: "I think it is a reaction to 1990s ladette culture and the sense of androgyny around that. I don't like the idea that we are exactly the same as men. I think it is damaging to women's self-respect."
She started hosting a "tea dance" evening called Viva Cake at club nights in London a few years ago. "I was really interested in the return of ideas like going for tea and cake and all this stuff that was considered twee. For my generation, girls in their 20s, all my friends, it's a cultural shift, almost a movement: many people are fascinated by retro ideas. I have always been fascinated by the postwar mentality." Part of this feeds into the thrift movement. "It's coming back to something with a bit more value when everything today is so fast, and technology is so advanced."
In Holly's case it is also a personal stance. "My parents were punks," - her father was Joe Strummer of the Clash -"so I had a chaotic childhood. You try to be subversive by not doing what your parents did. It was not rebellious for me to go out drinking and taking drugs because that was what my parents did. I've always been fascinated by knowing how to knit but I had to learn it from my great-grandmother because my mother did not do anything like that and my grandmother was part of the whole 1960s women's lib thing."
But there are consequences to being counter-cultural:
Holly feels disappointed that not everyone understands her passion. "I get so much negative feedback," she says. "People think I'm an idiot and have no interest in feminism. For me, it's about reclaiming traditional values and still being able to call yourself a feminist. That's how I class myself but still people say, 'How can you say that when you like to bake cakes?' But I don't like having rules and I don't like the idea that you can't do something because it's un-feminist. We've been socially persuaded into being embarrassed about our femininity and now we want to embrace it.""Williams, aka Fondant Fancy, agrees that it's about reclaiming something you happen to enjoy.
"To me, it's not drudgery. I will happily sit there for hours decorating the cakes. It's not a chore for me. We love the big flouncy dresses, we love seeing people's reactions to the cakes. It's just a nice little thing that brings us joy."
There is also an aspect of historical re-creation here, says Shail. "It's about being allowed to be ultra-feminine. I think there is a real beauty about that time [the 1950s] because it's so far removed. I love looking at photographs of my grandma and what she wore at the time."
She agrees with Holly that this new movement has a social conscience too. "There is a whole community of women out there who are into this scene: reclaiming baking, sewing and knitting. It's a choice and an aesthetic: it links into environmental concerns and is a sort of a rebellion against consumerism. I see it as a very empowering thing to do as a woman."