May 4, 2014

Cookers vs. cleaners

We hear the phrase "cooking and cleaning" so much that we might think the two activities naturally go together. All they share, though, is their private, domestic setting — the phrase usually signals how domestic or not-so-domestic a woman is, or is expected to be.

Cookers are more corporeal and in touch with their senses, capable of feeling joy, and attentive to others. Cooking can be a social activity, at the very least the meal is social (unless you're dining alone). The cook makes a choice to include others in the meal (they could have prepared a smaller quantity of food), which shows their thoughtfulness.

Cleaners are more cerebral and cut off from their surroundings (which they feel are dangerous or contaminating), rarely experience elation, and are more self-focused. Cleaning is never fun, social, or for the benefit of others (always for the self — get those yucky germs away from me / straighten up the living room, and if it happens to benefit others living here or passing through, then lucky for them.)

Cookers are more likely to be found in pastoralist cultures, while cleaners are more likely to hail from farming cultures. Farming leads to sedentary high-density living, making for a dirtier and more infectious environment, and putting farmers more on their guard for tidying up and napalming household surfaces. Livestock herding allows people to spread out more thinly and to pick up and move away from a nasty area, not to mention the central role of hospitality and providing meals for guests. The culture of honor is the culture of hospitality -- an obsession with reciprocity, whether in a helpful or harmful manner.

You don't find too many symmetric-stackers and containerizers in Southern Europe, where they'd prefer to prepare sensual meals that hit the spot. Farther toward the Balto-Slavic Northeast, people are more likely to be vacuum junkies and make a point of showering every day. Along the faultline running through Germany, folks are known for both — the Swabian housewife who is always sweeping outside her house, in between preparing homecooked meals for her family and the community. Even if they're outside their native habitat, like the Alpine Amish in America.

Southern cooking, but Northern efficiency.

That ought to be a warning sign about women — those who bring up how much they like to clean, trying to lure the man in with dreams of domestic devotion, only to find out that she cannot and will not cook, and that her senses don't light up even when someone else prepares a sumptuous meal for her. Like, what response were you expecting from a neat freak?

Also ties in with the con-artistry of Balto-Slavic gold-diggers and Asian mail-order brides. The magazine holder is dust-free, but my belly is empty. A word to the wise.


  1. I vaguely recall you talking about your female relatives' cooking... What are some of your favorites. Personally, I feel just about everything can be dramatically enhanced by charcoal grilling :). Fried chicken and collards I fix all the time and if I'm really feeling indulgent, biscuits. My daughter made her first Communion today and I had pinned on pinterest some pretty cakes and whatnot, but said to myself "Nah, keep it simple" so my oldest daughter and I made her a pineapple upside down cake which is in the oven now... in a cast iron skillet which is only proper ;)

  2. Interesting idea. Though pretty sure women who like to cook generally also seem to like to clean - the difference you describe might be valid, but both seem much more linked to having a sensitivity to the senses and an active, hardworking and non-lazy disposition (e.g. not eating tasteless microwave meals and getting a cleaner in or living in squalor) than they are different. They're more correlated than they are uncorrelated.

    Most clean freaks I know are very sociable in the sense that keeping clean and neat is a lot about keeping up appearances, and is thereby “other oriented”. It might be a more aversive and less confident form of other orientation though - all about not looking bad in front of others and not letting them down, more than trying to look good in front of them, please them and lift them up. Cleaning in the sense of washing and ironing you kids clothes to help them feel neat and presentable is a lot more of a selfless act than cooking a meal for them, specifically because it is not really very fun, than messily preparing some chow that you'll enjoy and then asking someone else to clean up for you.

    I think the “cleaning lady” cultures in East Asia are Filipinos, whose stereotype is being conspicuously much warmer, kinder and more laid back than the other East Asians, and who don't really have any tradition of “fine cuisine”. Chefs tend to be male jerks who are focused on various kind of passionate but serious competition while cleaning ladies tend to be nice women.

    The most sensually food (texture, taste, etc) focused cultures I can think of are probably the French and the Chinese (although the Chinese hardly differ from the Japs or Koreans in this), and in both of them it is intimately linked with a kind of bourgeois respectability and dining and entertaining. The pastoralist Mongolians in East Asia are notorious for having the sloppiest and trashiest food in East Asia. I guess part of this may be that the culture of hospitality and feud stops you criticising whatever hot trash that your Mongolian neighbour offers you - "Insult the honah of mah mamma's grits, will you sah? Ah say, have at you, sah, have at you!" sort of culture of honor thing.

    Still you might be on to something the cooking vs cleaning difference between pastoralists and farmers. But I think it might be because cleaning is more of a "nose to the grindstone" responsible hard worker thing to do, something for the ethnicities who are adapted to enjoying hard work, like farmers, while cooking is more of a lazy but fun thing to do, appealing more to the ethnicities who like to work smart by getting an animal to do the hard work for them, like herders.

    Likewise there's that Conservative higher disgust reflex and higher conscientiousness and consequent focus on neatness and tidyness going on. I think there was some data on the old Inductivist blog where Cons described as having much cleaner houses. During some webchats I had a few years ago, I remember some Persians being adamant that clean houses (mainly for the sake of entertaining and appearances), supposedly in contrast to Anglos, was a huge deal in their culture, in spite of any signal of public decrepitude.

  3. Great post. I wonder if there's a similar difference between women who are interested in gardening and crafts and those who like to cook.

  4. Generally, I would guess that an interest in cooking is often motivated by a desire to be positively appreciated by others ("Sandra cooks the best roads!") while a beyond-the-norm interest in cleaning is often motivated by a desire to avoid condemnation ("Sally's house is always such a mess!")

  5. Is this also related to the best cuisines in the world?

  6. off-topic, but how does this fit in with cocooning?

  7. sorry to post it spontaneously, but I just saw something on it on Nightline and found the whole thing to be so disturbing that I had to post about it.

  8. Curtis,
    I've noticed that mistresses and "other women" have become much more tolerated and even celebrated lately. Is it correct that there is now or will be a show called "Mistresses"? It's still shocking to me that any girl would admire Marilyn Monroe, but they do nowadays. When I was a teen, there would be comments about how much men liked her, but women either didn't care about her or thought she was misguided or a skank.

    About that site. I'm surprised it's controversial. Aside from the mistress cohort who obviously wouldn't like it, I can't help but think that those women who find it "unhelpful", " unseemly", or to be some out-sized punishment are a cool and cerebral lot. The detractors are *not* hot-blooded.
    Back to M. Monroe, I always wonder whether these girls ever give any thought to Pres. Kennedy's wife (controversy about claim aside)?!? I've never been cheated on, but regardless, it strongly seems to be a generational thing.

  9. More thoughts on cheating and revenge in pop culture...
    1994's movie Speechless had all my female relative's cheering when Geena Davis's character chooses Michael Keaton because in a dilemma posed by her, " What would you do if I cheated on you?", he responds he'd push her off a cliff or some such; his rival (Christopher Reeve) gave a milquetoast response that he would talk it over with her.

    In the late 80's when I was a kid, I came across one of the women's magazines, Cosmo I think, that had a reader-response "Best Revenge" section (i don't think this was in every issue). I still remember a woman dumping leaves and dirt in her lover's clothes with a note, "So you wanna leave me?" No cheating, but most were worse and still there often wasn't cheating mentioned. The man just simply wanted to move on! Are "best revenge" sections still done? I read plenty others back in the day.

    Now a cheated on and angry person is "psychotic" or "just needs to get the f***" over it (see Jezebel)

  10. thanks, Dahlia. I kinda sympathized with the woman who had her picture put on the site, because she had a little boy out of wedlock, and seemed nice, whereas the woman who made the site didn't seem so nice. I guess the nightline team cherry-picked them - still though, considering that woman had a little boy with the man, I think that trying to shame her was still over-the-top and vindictive.

    I'm not sure if there is less or more tolerance for cheating during cocooning or outgoing times - it might be more related to equality/inequality. something else I was wondering... you mentioned being people-oriented vs. thing-oriented. are those who are more abstract also thing-oriented?

  11. Cheating is a nut I haven't been able to crack. There's the quantitative side -- how common is it -- and the qualitative side -- popular attitudes toward it.

    My hunch is that cheating, adultery, abortions, and divorce become more common in times of rising inequality. I wrote a couple posts on that before. When people are more status-striving, men and women both feel more like trading up over and over. And the goal of self-advancement means that you can't care what happens to the other man or the other woman. In a dog-eat-dog word, it's tough luck for them.

    So I think adultery must have been falling and low during the Great Compression. There was a long article in Fortune from the '50s about how the life of American executives had changed since the peak of status-striving in the early decades of the 20th C., and they said that adultery was almost non-existent. I'm willing to take their word for it, given how humbling they were in the rest of the article.

    Interest in adultery was very high then, though. That seems like part of cocooning -- lurid fascination with famous people's lives (a la the post I wrote on gossip mags from the Midcentury and today).

    As for rationalizing why you should just coldly move forward vs. get worked up into a revenge fantasy, that seems like a cocooning thing too. Adultery was low in the Midcentury but not absent -- why didn't the women's mags of the times feature the kind of columns you mentioned reading in the '80s?

    I hear the same kind of cold rationalizing these days, btw, when girls (in public, with others listening) talk about why they're going to withdraw from and end things with their non-boyfriends. It's not from discovering cheating -- they just don't really connect in the first place. If they did discover cheating, I'm sure they would react in the same cold, "meh, didn't really like him anyway, now onto something else" kind of way.

    The flipside of the "you dirty bastard" feelings is the "...but I still can't get over you!" feelings. The era that created "These Boots Are Made for Walkin' " and "You're No Good" also launched the torch song.

    Breakup songs today are so flaccid and mopey, whether it's a guy or girl singing. And still-thinking-about-you songs are just whiny, not trying to stoke the flames of passion back to life.

  12. On cooking... What were some of your favorite family dishes? Cooking is also social in that people enjoy talking about it, sharing recipes, passing down recipes, and picking up something new in travels or in other places lived. It was kind of special hearing my dad describe his favorite thing his mother made, beef tongue sandwich (she was born in 1911), and how she made it, especially as it is extremely old-fashioned.

  13. Guilty pleasures for a paleo eater -- my grandmother made great chicken a la king over biscuits, home fries, and raspberry pie. My other grandmother made the best stock to serve with noodles I've ever had. They were born in the '20s and '30s.

    Baby Boomers dialed down time for home cooking as they dialed up time for status-striving ("career"). My mother makes the best pizza, though, where the dough is not too gooey nor too hard-and-flat.

  14. Oh, and tuna casserole. My mother used to make that a lot when we were kids, and I actually looked forward to "reheated leftovers" when she made that.

  15. Had forgotten all about the tuna casserole my mom used to make! After her final divorce, she seemed to never make it again. Somehow it fell out of use even for informal get-togethers.
    I just got her most used cookbook during my childhood when she down sized; will have to look for it.

  16. " and the qualitative side -- popular attitudes toward it."

    People get less angry about it in dangerous times, I think. First, you've written that people are less likely to hold a grudge in crime-ridden times, because there are real bad guys running around(murderers and rapists), so less serious transgressions tend to be forgiven. But also, remember that song, "I'm only human"?


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