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I take bananas from the dining hall whenever I go, wait for them to ripen, and bake banana bread. For me, baking is a social act, a gesture of care without expectation, an attempt at nourishing the relationships around me. My apartment always smells like sugar, my peers are well-fed at least once a week, and my friends know well that there’s no pick-me-up like simple carbohydrates after a panic attack. From where I stand, this small act of domesticity is met with awestruck appreciation.

When I baked for a boy I was seeing, his best friend was convinced I was trying to “lock him down.” Then, he saw that I do this for everyone. It sometimes seems like being kind is expected to have an ulterior motive, and the domestic nature of the act often remains linked to outdated ideals of femininity.

Why is domesticity seen as exclusively feminine and viewed so negatively?

I find this campus adamantly resists both domestic behaviors and spaces, perhaps as a response to the historically oppressive nature of domesticity being forced upon women. There are signs in the Broadway Lounge, which is clearly built for silent studying instead of socializing, that read “Don’t leave anything in here; open a window if you’ve eaten.” There’s bright, fluorescent lighting in every single bedroom, which seems to me conducive to two activities: work and sleep. Can’t we move past the point where tender and weak have essentially become synonymous? Can’t we reach a point where taking care of each other is neither feminine nor shameful, but expected?

It is a difficult thing to grapple with, but I argue that baking for each other, or just taking care of each other, are not anti-feminist acts of self-oppression. Yet it seems the idea remains that somehow, by finding a campus family and a space to make homey, we will become gentle or idle—unable to keep up our drive and ambition.

Domesticity shouldn’t be gendered. I learned how to cook in my dad’s kitchen with our family. He showed me how to mix cinnamon and vanilla into beaten eggs and fry soaked bread delicately in a pan greased with whipped Breakstone’s Butter. My dad has the same energy as Liam Neeson’s character in “Taken,” yet he knows how to build a family. He knows how to make a space feel like home.

I feel that this is the kind of masculinity we should be supporting in order to grow as a community—a safe, homey masculinity. This summer, a boy said he was going to make me “really good muffins.” He then proceeded to take frozen English muffins from the refrigerator, put them in the oven sans baking sheet, served them up with about a quarter cup of Jif and Country Crock margarine, and ate them all himself. I mean, honestly, is knowing how to make eggs and toast going to emasculate you so severely?

I know that Columbia’s aesthetic is often portrayed as cutthroat, hyper-focused on the future, and unkind. Some may think that domesticity simply cannot survive in a place like this. Instead, I would argue that in such an aloof, cold environment, carving out some space that feels like home is a survival tactic.

It can sometimes feel like there’s a buildup of negative energy that permeates this place. Being over-stressed, sleep-deprived, and under-fed may contribute to the fact that everyone is constantly at each other’s throats. While baking can be an unconventional solution to stress culture and is certainly no replacement for professional help I see incomparable value in devoting some time to improving your community: your space and the lives of those around you.

Radical empathy is necessary on this campus. However, advocating for empathy without acting upon it is pointless. There must be some course of action, however small, that can be taken by every single individual here.

For me, enacting empathy is about making an environment accepting, comfortable, and warm. My kitchen is, at the very least, a place my friends know they’ll be fed. It’s also the site of countless important discussions about relevant topics on campus, a place to mathematically model the probability of finding a happy marriage or complain about the stupid frat boy who gave you an STI. It’s a place where people know that, at least for a few hours, they have a place to come home.

Natalia Queenan is a senior studying neuroscience and English. She is very excited to one day have an oven that preheats reliably. She would love to share her baked goods with you, but you’ll have to ask before her roommates come home. Check out what’s cooking on her Instagram @natalia.queenan, or send her recipes at Sugar, spice, and amateur advice runs alternate Wednesdays.

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baking empathy friends femininity domesticity
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