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In an article in the New Republic, columnist Alysa Levene, the author of "Cake: A Slice of History," explores the concept that certain foods parse the gender dynamics of pastries — and what it means for feminists in the kitchen.
The first mention of the cupcake can be traced as far back as 1796, when a recipe notation of "a cake to be baked in small cups" was written in "American Cookery" by Amelia Simmons.
Levene explains that “it is no coincidence that the small and dainty cupcake became popular in Britain at the same time as mass production of the corset. The presentation of little cakes in their own paper cases gives us another idea as to why they were becoming popular: they were fashionable and well turned out”.
Cupcakes, according to the author, catered for a new sort of femininity, one which put ever-increasing emphasis on appearance, dress and physical beauty, including, from the 1840s, the desire to stay trimly corseted into an hourglass shape.
So we have to wonder if this philosophy is what led to the rise of cupcakes, and mini cupcakes.
And what about the men? Does eating cupcakes indicate a male who is metrosexual? Or more feminine?
The article explains that shop-bought gourmet cupcakes are a sure signifier of modern good taste and disposable income, another attribute which makes them appealing to women in particular.
Levene insightfully points out that “women’s food” consists either of low-calorie and dainty foods like salads, or alternatively, of treats which are seen as emotional crutches — like cupcakes. They are contrasted with hearty, meaty fare sought out by men to fill them up and to assert their manly status as "consumers of hunted rather than foraged food."
You probably won’t remember, but when Hillary Clinton declared that No. 9 of her top 10 campaign promises in her 2007 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination was that everyone should get a cupcake on her birthday (seriously), she was using this as a way to try to reverse the popular view of her being unfeminine. Now, as she runs for president, she is silent on the issue of cupcakes as she makes a strong statement about gender equality.