A new generation of feminists have been won over by the Women’s Institute after re-embracing the domestic and realising work “isn’t quite as much fun” as they thought, a historian has suggested.
Maggie Andrews, professor of cultural history at the University of Worcester, said the WI had benefitted from a “shift in culture” which has made domesticity fashionable once again.
Speaking at Hay Festival, sponsored by the Telegraph, she said certain elements of work in the home, such as baking, had become “much sexier, much more popular, an escape from the horrors of society”, leading to a reassessment of the merits of the WI.
She first released her book about the WI 30 years ago, and experienced something of a backlash over the title, The Acceptable Face of Feminism.
When it was republished last year, for the institution’s centenary, it was much more warmly received, she said.
Prof Andrews said: “I think actually the WI is benefiting from a shift in our culture. 30 years ago, in the 1980s, the assumption was that feminism was about escaping the domestic, getting out of the home, getting a job and being financially independent.
“People are more sceptical about that now – they see a much more complex picture.
They see the domestic space as one area of women’s power. Certain elements of the domestic have become much sexier, much more popular, an escape from the horrors of society.
“Part of it also must be that more men are involved in it; cooking is less low status.
“There’s been a real shift in our attitudes to domesticity, within the feminist movement and scholarship, there’s been a lot of people looking at the domestic in the way they didn’t 30 years ago.
“Feminism and the WI have sort of come together. Maybe domesticity isn’t a bad thing, or possibly work isn’t quite as much fun as we all thought.”