Art by Daiana Feuer

Gender

Photo by Art by Daiana Feuer

From Pioneer Woman to Paltrow: The Evolution of the Domestic Goddess


Every generation gets the domestic goddess it deserves. And we got Gwyneth.



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The onus of holding down the homestead has typically fallen on the woman. Over time, she’s smartly pioneered ways to make her domestic workday more efficient.

In recent years, she has morphed into the Domestic Goddess—an enterprising woman who embraces, then surmounts, her wifely duties by repositioning them as opportunities to enhance one’s lifestyle.

The most recent candidate jockeying for this title is a very unlikely one: former club kid and sometimes actress Debi Mazar. Her Cooking Channel show, the cheekily named Extra Virgin, finds her providing the personality alongside her Italian-bred husband, as they cook robust meals for their two daughters. The series is surprisingly folksy and fits right into Mazar’s recent M.O. to reinvent herself as an activist who promotes healthy, yet affordable, eating habits.

As a wildcard, Mazar proves that the most compelling examples of Domestic Goddesses can deftly elude stereotypes. With that in mind, DAME presents a brief evolution of the modern Domestic Goddess.

Pioneer Woman

The pre-industrial frontier woman was a culinary MacGyver who relied on her own resourcefulness to put together meals under the harshest of conditions. Her story is so compelling that it still has traction today. Cook books by self-professed “ranch wife” Ree Drummond—who hosts her own Food Network show as The Pioneer Woman—have become best-sellers. Branching out from recipes, Drummond is also using her clout to advocate home-and-garden enhancements, in addition to home-schooling.

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Betty Crocker

This nom de marketplace became synonymous from the 1920s through the ‘50s with indefatigable wives whipping up miraculous meals in a pinch. That the fictitious Crocker’s creator, Marjorie Husted, was an economist and businesswoman should come as no surprise. This General Mills exec realized that marketing lifestyle through a carefully branded name could comfort women holding down the fort while their husbands fought in Great Wars—reminding these ladies that they weren’t alone in their domestic strife.

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June Cleaver

A testament to Betty Crocker’s influence before her, this quintessential TV mom’s devotion to her family on Leave it to Beaver was unwavering… much like her consistently perfect meatloaf. And while her persona was aspirational, it was also tragically untenable. (It’s the enduring reason why you hate Man Men‘s Betty Draper, a contemptuously flawed Cleaver.) This being the Kennedy era, the fictional Cleaver was the last vestige of the idealized housewife before the cultural fallout during the Vietnam War finally began to acknowledge a woman’s individualism as virtue.

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Julia Child

Although women were expected to put dinner on the table at home, men still ruled the kitchen professionally. With her cookbooks and TV shows such as The French Chef, the refreshingly un-femme Child changed all this. This well-humored host not only matched master chefs in skill, but also dared to bring then-lofty French techniques to the masses, encouraging them to use fresh food and spices. And suddenly the realities of dreary home life could be recast as artful.

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Martha Stewart & Gwyneth Paltrow

In the post-feminism world, we’ve had a codependent, love-hate relationship with some of our most omnipresent Domestic Goddesses. Stewart, the model-turned-caterer who built an empire hinged on WASPy perfectionism in cuisine and home-decorating, was mocked for her uptightness. (Oddly, her jail time for insider trading—a major kink in her master plan—humanized her, stabilizing her floundering company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.) More recently, with GOOP, Paltrow has attempted to imbue Stewart’s OCD model with a patina of hipster-foodie mom. While her newsletter boasts hundreds of thousands of subscribers and her cookbook became a best seller, the Oscar winner’s upper-class fixations (juice cleanses, $90 t-shirts and obsessive exercising) have earned derision from the 99% who view her awareness as an indulgence. Does this mean the golden age of the Domestic Goddess is passé? Certainly not—we just want her to be as pragmatic as her predecessors.

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