Harriet Walker: Feminism didn't make us fatter

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In the great evolutionary scale of blame, women and fat people pretty much vie for pole position. There isn't much that can't be laid at the feet of the ladies and the layabouts. Imagine, then, the extent to which blame culture has eaten itself with the recent declaration that fat people are women's fault. In her latest book Kitchenella, food writer Rose Prince attributes our current obesity epidemic to the women who left their stoves 40 years ago to make something beyond someone else's dinner. In other words, feminists created fatties.

Quite aside from the bizarre apportioning of blame for a physical state that our society is notoriously blubbery about as it is (So-and-so's too thin, how gruesome! Now she's too fat, how repellent!), there's something very odd about fingering an overwhelmingly positive social movement for a rather specious social "problem".

Fat is a fact of modern life: you might just as well blame it on the industrialists for making cars and televisions available and affordable; or you could attribute it to video games taking over from outdoor sports; or it's the fault of soft furnishings merchants, for making us sit in ever comfier chairs. All of these things, I might point out, have been created, popularised and purveyed, for the most part, by men.

Prince's argument – that healthy eating was scratched off the menu when women forsook their dining rooms for desks, and that's when the rot set in – relies on the inexplicably stubborn consideration that the past half century occurred in a bubble that wasn't punctured by any other social developments.

Convenience food, for example, did not come about because every kitchen in the land was suddenly devoid of a feminine presence and no one could figure out how to work the oven. It was marketed first and foremost to housewives. Bad food – that is, food that makes us fat – was born in the Fifties, when women were rarely anywhere but in front of the cooker. The Feminine Mystique wasn't a call to distract women from creating happy and healthy families; it was an alarum against the sinister creation of a family myth that left men, women and children automata in their own homes.

By the time women had even awoken to the fact that there were options beyond the Aga, convenience food had saturated consumer markets across the world. That is what makes us fat – the culture of a quick meal with no washing-up, our constant search for the easiest solution to all things culinary as well as calisthenic, our reliance on food that resembles less and less its primal, natural state.

That isn't because of women, it's because our latter-day tastebuds are jazzed up on synthetics and sugars – and that was a government-advised strategy during the war. It makes us needy and pliable (not to mention a bit tubs), just like a wobbly-lipped and downtrodden Fifties housewife.

Prince's logic is further evidence of the remarkable and oft-peddled belief that modern culture is still staggering around the edges of the crater that the women's movement left at the heart of society. That we're still blearily rubbing our eyes and wondering what the hell just happened to us. We're not: we're fine. We're all better off thanks to feminism – men included. From better education all round, to equal and minimum wages for everyone, to representation and tolerance of minority cultures and the pleasant normality that exists between genders when one of them is not subjugated (for this, read "flirting at the pub"), we have all benefited from that strike away from the stove. Anyone who considers feminism at fault for anything might want to try renouncing everything it won for us, and then reconsider.

And it isn't constructive to blame an increasingly obese population on any specific thing; any compulsive over-eater will tell you that guilt gets you nowhere but further into the cookie jar. Let's leave blame out of it and have a cup of tea, shall we? With skimmed milk and no biscuits, of course.