Greetings, Shapelings! As the resident grad student here at SP, I don’t have the time to post as often as Kate or Fillyjonk because I am too busy trying to read all of 20th-century literature in English in one go. (It’s taking a bit longer than I had hoped). At the moment, I’m reading Virginia Woolf’s outstanding anti-war treatise, Three Guineas, and I ran across something in a footnote that I thought y’all might enjoy, especially given some recent conversations we’ve had about portion sizes. Shapeling Spacedcowgirl wittily described what she calls “fake lady lunches“:
I don’t usually look at someone’s plate and comment on the portion size but I can’t resist saying something when my friend (for example) says something like “I had a [diet] yogurt and a banana for lunch, tee hee!” Even a “whole” Lean Cuisine is too little food for me so I don’t see how anyone can survive on a yogurt and a banana. I call it a “fake lady lunch.” (This is related to my view of unpleasant sales-pressure “parties” like scrapbooking, jewelry, Mary Kay, etc., and things like mother-daughter banquets–most of which are conducted while the men hang out at home and do actual fun stuff and/or whatever they please–as “fake lady fun.”)
Virginia Woolf actually has something to say on fake lady lunches (as she does on so many other topics), but what’s most interesting to me is how different the idea of what constitutes an appropriate lunch is. In a footnote to a discussion of problems facing working women in Three Guineas, Woolf gives evidence that professional women cannot afford to eat properly:
“It is a common thing to see the business girl contenting herself with a bun or a sandwich for her midday meal; and though there are theories that this is from choice… the truth is that they often cannot afford to eat properly.” (Careers and Openings for Women, by Ray Strachey, p. 74.) Compare also Miss E. Turner: “…many offices had been wondering why they were unable to get through their work as smoothly as formerly. It had been found that junior typists were fagged out in the afternoons because they could afford only an apple and a sandwich for lunch. Employers should meet the increased cost of living by increased salaries.” (The Times, March 28th, 1938).*
Woolf brings this up mostly to illustrate the injustices perpetrated against women, who are paid less for their work than men, and thus seem less competent because they’re, you know, ready to pass out by mid-afternoon because they can’t afford lunch. But what struck me most, having been a “business girl” in the 21st century, is that lunch itself: a sandwich and an apple. For Woolf, this fact stands on its own: that this is not enough food is meant to be self-evident. For many women I’ve known, in grad school or in the corporate world, that would be a fairly large lunch, if not an extravagant one. How many women do you know who just eat a microwaveable Lean Cuisine meal, or a diet yogurt, and nothing else for lunch? I used to share an office with a woman who ate a Lean Cuisine meal every single day for lunch. And every single day, she would look at my meal, whatever it was, and comment on how good it smelled or how awesome it looked. Why? Because I was eating something that was desirable to eat, and not just something I thought I should eat. And every day I felt so sad that my colleague and friend was depriving herself at each meal just because she thought there was a proper or a virtuous amount to eat. Meanwhile, the men we worked with were constantly running across the street for burgers and fries, constantly snacking to keep their energy up or because they just plain wanted to.
Women have gained a lot of power since 1938. We are, for the most part, no longer as dependent on our status as daughters as Woolf’s audience was. But there is still a pay gap. There is still widespread and insidious sexism. And even those of us who can afford more have been convinced not to eat more than a sandwich and an apple at lunchtime, even though our grandmothers were fainting away on that when they were our age. Not getting enough to eat is an injustice, whether it is because of poverty or because of the extraordinary disciplinary machine of fatphobia and sexism. Virginia Woolf knew this when she wrote Three Guineas, and she knew this when she wrote A Room of One’s Own in 1929:
One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.
Dine well tonight, Shapelings. And have a delicious lunch tomorrow.
*Woolf, Three Guineas, p. 179, n. 20. Harcourt, 1966.