From secret luncheons to microwave ovens : representations of women eating alone in twentieth-century American popular culture
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In this report, I examine representations of women eating alone in various sites of American popular culture, including 1980s women’s magazines, mid twentieth-century lifestyle guides, and early twentieth-century popular literature. Exploring the resonances between these various moments and sites of culture through which the meaning of eating alone has been produced reveals a complex pattern of signification, one that demonstrates the centrality of this mundane and often overlooked element of our daily lives to some of the most fundamental narratives about the place of women, food, and family in American culture and society. Taking as a starting point the existing scholarship on the food practices of women in the United States that demonstrates the existence of strong historical and ideological correlations between food, family and femininity, I argue that, for women, eating alone is necessarily marked as a non-normative and potentially subversive behavior. A woman eating alone in effect upends the family dinner table through which an entire system of economic, social and personal relationships based around heteronormative domesticity is imagined to be constituted. The figure of the woman eating alone, then, is a powerfully charged – even dangerous – symbol, a condensed site of meaning through which dominant ideologies may be reified, reproduced and resisted.