Baking is a form of chemistry in which one uses dry heat in an enclosed space (typically an oven) to cook foods such as bread, pasta, meats, vegetables, desserts, and much more. But if you’re anything like me, you probably associate the word baking with desserts. In fact, baking (of the dessert variety) was the first cooking skill I ever learned, and I’m reasonably confident I’m not alone in that. And I also believe I’m not alone when I say that it was my mother who taught me.
Domestic baking, particularly the sweet variety, is a cooking skill most associated with femininity. This is likely because throughout history, most of the cooking, including baking, was done by women and girls as they were expected to perform roles involving domestic tasks and care. Baking has also been seen as an invisible labour since it was considered just another part of running a household. Household chores are commonly seen as more of a “woman’s role.” Thus, the idea emerged that it was a woman’s job to bake.
Indeed, popular culture also plays into this stereotype—an example is the Betty Crocker brand, primarily known in the United States. Betty Crocker was an invention of the American Washburn Crosby flour company (now known as General Mills) in 1921. Much like any recipe, the process of gendering Betty Crocker was done in several steps.
Crocker came into existence when thousands of women began sending letters to Washburn Crosby as part of a campaign where the company had puzzles you could solve and send back to them to win prizes. However, many baking questions were sent along with the puzzle answers. Rather than the company heads signing their names, they used Betty Crocker and had them all signed by a woman secretary.
The nineteen twenties also saw the introduction of the electric kitchen, and Washburn Corby saw that introducing new technologies was proving difficult. Because of this they decided to make her a figure of womanhood. She would be the one to teach women how to use said applies and become homemakers. This era also introduced the “Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air,” which first aired on Minneapolis radio WCCO before being a nationwide show in the United States. A cookbook was also introduced in the nineteen fifties that would become a cultural phenomenon and further aid in the recipe for what it meant to be a good housewife.
Now, when you hear the name Betty Crocker, you might think of the red spoon with cursive handwriting. Yet, her influence has been baked into baking and how people look at it. The red spoon itself still serves as one of the beacons of more readily available domesticity. And, of course, the brand’s name alone reminds us of who companies thought should take part in the activity.