‘Simmering’ by Margaret Atwood

Simmering by Margaret Atwood, 1983

The magic trick:

Presenting a new normal where the fundamental problems remain the same as the old normal

Yesterday’s SSMT feature – “Cooking Lesson” by Rosario Castellanos – looked at gender relations from a cooking angle. In today’s story, Margaret Atwood does the same, albeit with a decidedly more satiric bent.

I love the way we get a mix of brand new and same old same old. The new normal here in gender dynamics finds men of the future (of the past? of the future past?) really, really into cooking. They want to spend all their time in the kitchen, relegating women to the office. But of course much of this new normal is actually the old normal – and this is where Atwood’s razor sharp wit really kicks in. The men might like cooking a lot here, but they still have the macho affectations and uniquely male insecurities.

So, while the surface mechanisms might seem different, the fundamental norms remain. Men and women are still boxed into their categories. And that’s quite a trick on Atwood’s part.

The selection:

Exclusive clubs and secret societies sprang up. Men meeting for the first time would now exchange special handshakes – the béchamel twist, the chocolate mousse double grip – to show that they had been initiated. It was pointed out to the women, who by this time did not go into the kitchens at all on pain of being thought unfeminine, that chef after all means chief and that Mixmasters were common but no one had ever heard of Mixmistresses. Psychological articles began to appear in the magazines on the origin of women’s kitchen envy and how it could be cured. Amputation of the tip of the tongue was recommended, and, as you know, became a widespread practice in the more advanced nations. If Nature had meant women to cook, it was said, God would have made carving knives round and with holes in them.

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