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Push Button Magic: Gendered Labor and the Techno-Utopian Kitchen

Heffner, Kathryn, Castle, Nora (2022) Push Button Magic: Gendered Labor and the Techno-Utopian Kitchen. In: The Science Fiction Research Association: Futures from the Margin, 27 June - 1 July 2022, Oslo, Norway. (Submitted) (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:97533)

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Advertised with a techno-utopic fervour, the Kitchen of the Future came to prominence in the mid-century USA. These kitchens, which we read through Veronica Hollinger’s paradigm of sf as mode, were works of speculative fiction themselves, often featuring as-yetunavailable (or even impossible) high-tech gadgetry which offered housewives the ability to “conduct domestic labour with the push of a button instead of a heave of a back” (Wright & Nelson 1945, 209). Through sf-inspired marketing, such as the General Motors’ Populuxe short film Design for Dreaming (1956), the Kitchens promised increased leisure time: “you don’t have to be chained to the stove all day, just set the timer and you’re on your way!” Using utopian rhetoric in domestic technology brochures, educational programs, and women’s interest magazines, advertisers conjured up liberated futures for women, all while never suggesting that “men of the household might enjoy taking a turn at the hob” (Wilson 2012, 348). This leisure time, however, proved instead to be increased time for (re)productive labour, particularly for those already subjugated by gendered, classed, and racialized socio-political systems (see Cowan 1983, 192). In turn, women in science fiction responded to these false promises of utopia by creating counter fictions to reassess women’s agency in these spaces. This presentation will examine the techno-utopian promises of the Kitchen of the Future and the response by women writers of sf to this technologizing of the kitchen space. Drawing on the scholarship of Rachele Dini, Lisa Yaszek, and Laura Scott Holliday, it will argue for the importance of the kitchen as a locus for projecting dys/utopian futures within feminist contexts. It will do so through close readings of texts such as Pamela Zoline’s “The Heat Death of the Universe”(1967). The story, which juxtaposes the collapse of the universe with a domestic imaginary, highlights the hollow rhetoric of technological progress without accompanying socio-political change. That the climax of this story is set in the kitchen, historically a space of invisibilized labour, speaks to its importance as a place where the marginalization of women is contested. Tracing a lineage from texts like Zoline’s to contemporary sf like Catherine Lacey’s “Congratulations on Your Loss” (2021), we further extrapolate critiques of the utopian promise of the technologized kitchen to the contemporary context of class-based labor exploitation via apps like Uber Eats or Deliveroo, which recreate the “push-button magic” of the kitchen by outsourcing food production and delivery to predominantly precariously employed individuals

Item Type: Conference or workshop item (Paper)
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN441 Literary History
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN851 Comparative Literature
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Depositing User: Kathryn Heffner
Date Deposited: 21 Oct 2022 14:06 UTC
Last Modified: 24 Oct 2022 11:45 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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