This is the Oakland Local archive. To find more stories like this, you can search our main site.

Oakland Local is a news non-profit that relies on community funding. Please donate.

Questions? Send them to

Sexism in the DIY culture (Community Voices)

My latest DIY project - a baby quilt.

My latest DIY project - a baby quilt.

So you know how my first post wanted to give a context of class as a frame for the DIY culture? Well, it looks like someone went ahead and wrote a whole piece about gender and DIY culture.  

It’s a great analysis of the heavy hand of sexism that infuses the DIY movement. This is really important to look at because as a dude (admittedly a queer dude) who cooks, cans, gardens and quilts, I continually ask, “Where are the guys?”

I see the DIY culture all over my North Oakland neighborhood as I walk my dog. There are vegetables growing in folks’ front yards.

Phat Beets has a working vegetable garden in a playground on the Dover Street playground. I now have to keep my eyes out for random chickens that my dog would be more than happy to chase. 

I’ve found a canning section at my favorite hardware store that often sells out of my favorite 8-ounce jelly jar. My friends at Piedmont Fabric tell me that business has been steady and sustainable, if not booming.

Before I talk about the gender aspects, I do want to say that many of those DIY activities are not fun - especially for people who do them as a way to get food on the table - as opposed to an enjoyable hobby. My husband’s grandfather grew up on a farm, and he writes in his memoirs that he was so happy to buy his food. 

The salon article points out that all this nostalgia for homegrown food is historically inaccurate. 

“People were happy to work in factories and get off the farm!” said Chris Bobel, a women’s studies professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “The factory girls from Lowell (Massachusetts, one of the earliest textile mill towns), it was esteemed work, to be able to put on shoes and go sit at a sewing machine all day.” 

Author Emily Machar also points out that processed foods were present during our mother’s and grandmother’s generations. As much as we would like to think that the actual rise of DIY food culture is connected to the rise in processed foods, junk food has been around for a while. 

It took going into the 21st Century for food nostalgia to take root. 

With all of those factors in place, the answer to the question (and it’s a problematic question assuming a gender binary) gets clear - all of this nostalgia is focused squared on the shoulders of straight women. The aforementioned Michael Pollan spends his entire 2009 New York Times Magazine article opining about how awesome a cooking career Julia Child had, with nary a mention it was probably a pretty great career for James Beard, Jacques Pepin or Graham Kerr. 

Pollan also writes that second-wave feminists were often ambivalent on the gender politics of cooking. Simone de Beauvoir wrote in “The Second Sex” that though cooking could be oppressive, it could also be a form of “revelation and creation; and a woman can find special satisfaction in a successful cake or a flaky pastry, for not everyone can do it: one must have the gift.” 

Notice the audience? Women. Nowhere in the article does he ever single out men as people who should take to the kitchen and start cooking from scratch. 

If this “gee thee to the kitchen” sentiment was only Michael Pollan's, then it would end there, but let’s acknowledge that DIY food culture overall is often very gendered. 

I wanted to use this piece to start a discussion. For the men out there, am I wrong in seeing the culture of DIY food as the realm of the ladies? Are there spaces that are more mixed in gender that I am overlooking? If not, what is keeping you personally from canning, quilting, knitting, baking etc.? 

For the women who participate in these spaces, how would it feel to have more diverse spaces gender-wise? What has happened when you have tried to involve the men in your lives?