Earlier this week, I stopped into a local store to buy some cookie cutters. My Mother has a killer sugar cookie recipe, and I thought that I would make a batch for my co-workers. As I was sorting through a basket of ceramic baking stamps, trying to decide between stars and snowflakes, I ran into a neighbor of mine.
9th Floor is a mid-thirties attorney who clawed her way to the almost-top of the country’s biggest firms, and never misses an opportunity to dispense career advice, wanted or otherwise. So it didn’t surprise me when on the walk home, our conversation turned toward my purchase.
“You bake for work?” Her tone was less curious than it was accusatory. “I thought you were more ambitious than that.”
It’s surprising how many times I’ve had this conversation over the last five years. I’ve had it with a co-worker who’s obsessed with the book Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. I’ve had it with a parishioner at church who’s an Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Something or Other. And I’ve had it with a woman in the security line who saw me toting a cupcake carrier into the Cannon building and almost threw herself upon it like it was a live grenade, such was her horror at the idea of a professional woman who can roll fondant with her eyes closed.
The doctrine that these ladies espouse is best explained by the author of the book mentioned above:
“Hillary Rodham Clinton may have been lambasted for her comment about not staying home and baking cookies, but her point was well taken. We don’t ascribe a sense of impact or importance to people who feed others. It may seem like a small or inconsequential thing, but the fact is, you rarely see food on men’s desks.
The act of feeding is equated with nourishing, and nourishing is definitely a stereotypically female attribute.”
Over the last decade, I’ve met a surprising number of women who have decided (consciously or not) that in order to climb the corporate ladder to the highest rung, you need to minimize the things about you which are feminine and act a little (or a lot) more like one of the boys. And frankly, I think that’s mostly #?%! advocated by women who worked hard to get where they are, but who need to believe that the path they chose and the sacrifices they made were the best option.
This crooked philosophy is then passed on to younger generations of women who aspire to be like the powerful female bosses. But these young women often fail to notice that in most professional environments, the glass ceiling isn’t quite as thick as it used to be and the women at the top didn’t all use the same blueprint to break through it.
Rules like this one make professional women who don’t cook or bake or take part in the “stereotypically female” pastimes, feel better about the fact that some people think their lack of prowess in the kitchen is a shortcoming. Because, even in our supposedly evolved, gender neutral, 21st Century society, we still see a woman who can’t boil water as a malformed genetic mutant who has failed to live up to expectations.
Every woman who has ever advised me not to take baked goods or other foodstuffs to the office has had two things in common: professional success and complete and utter ineptitude in the kitchen. So just like hearing the rhetoric of your own political party is designed to make you feel like you’re on the side of right, hearing that you’re inability to braise, brine or baste is a professional asset must be something of a comfort.
Now, I’m not hating on women who can’t cook. Some of my best friends are hopeless in the kitchen. But I don’t think that women who are not culinarily-inclined should try to discourage those of us who are with threats of professional-suicide by whoopie pie.
I work in an office where a few well-timed cookie deliveries keep us all from strangling each other to death during the stressful times, and give us something to bond over during the good times. I bake for birthdays. I bake for recess Fridays. I bake because I decided last night that eating 48 molasses cookies seemed like a self-destructive idea, and I just happen to have a eleven captives who would be happy to take those empty, but delicious calories off of my hips. And the only commentary that I’ve ever heard about my baking is that it’s delicious and that I should bring things in more often.
The point that I’m trying to make is this: Every workplace is different. Sure, there are still some depleted, wastelands of testosterone and prejudice where cookies would be seen as a sign of weakness, but most offices are fueled by the sugary social lubricant that lightens the mood and allows us to break bread together like colleagues. So bake or don’t bake based on your unique professional circumstances, not because an author, a colleague or a mentor prescribes a one-size-fits-all map for professional advancement. Just remember, Martha Stewart started out making pate for her husband’s work parties and now she’s a billionaire and he’s not.
So what do you ladies think? Do you bake for your office? Or do you think that baking would lead others to view you in a less than professional light?
And if you’re a man, do you ask your wife to bake goods for your office? How do you view female colleagues who bring in bake goods?
The comments are open, and I’m anxious to hear your thoughts. But right now, I need a cookie.