2013 Was the Year of the Domestic Goddess Train Wreck

What Women Really Think
Dec. 24 2013 11:42 AM

The Year of the Domestic Goddess Train Wreck

453992083OS00011_SECOND_DAY
Nigella Lawson, DGTW

Oli Scarff

As 2013 comes to a close, DoubleX is looking back on the year that was—the stories we covered and missed that captivated, puzzled, enraged, and delighted us. Review with us.

XX Factor year In Review

When a transcript of a deposition Paula Deen had made in a discrimination lawsuit became public in June, as you may recall, everyone went bonkers. This was mostly because sensible modern people were appalled by Deen’s statements, which seemed straight out of the Jim Crow era: She admitted to using the n-word countless times in her life, and she explained her desire to host a wedding with a “true Southern plantation-style theme.” But in addition to a legitimate sense of outrage, the nonstop media coverage of Deen’s racist utterances (and her ensuing PR implosion) was fueled by schadenfreude: There was something perversely gripping, even satisfying, about watching the public ruin of a woman who’d built her reputation on being domestic, maternal, and competent.

Advertisement

Turns out there was much more where that came from. In 2013, the flawless facades of many female celebrity cooks’ lives cracked and splintered. Nigella Lawson, the woman who ironically ushered the term “domestic goddess” into the lexicon, admitted to using cocaine in a tawdry trial involving her two allegedly thieving personal assistants and a maniacal, abusive ex-husband. Giada De Laurentiis sliced her finger pretty badly during a live television special, belying the perfect knife work viewers see in edited Food Network montages. Martha Stewart, our era’s original domestic maven, attracted negative attention for tweeting unappetizing photographs of food. (This transgression seemed to elicit more indignation than even her jail sentence in 2004—insider trading we could accept and forgive, but blurry, poorly framed iPhone snapshots of French onion soup go counter to everything Stewart symbolizes.)

The Stewart brouhaha in particular points to the tightrope we now expect cooking show hosts to walk: In the ‘80s and ‘90s, professional homemakers like Stewart could whip up gorgeous meals in dream kitchens on TV and then go home to their private lives. Audiences remained blissfully ignorance of the discrepancy between image and reality. (This isn’t to say anyone thought the Stewart we saw on television was real, exactly, just that we were complicit in the fantasy she peddled.) Now, with celebrities expected to stay in touch with their fans 24/7 on Twitter and Facebook, Food Network stars have to keep up the image off set—which is impossible. No one, not even Nigella Lawson, is as competent in real life as Nigella Lawson appears on television.

But as tempting as it is to blame social media for this year’s proliferation of TV domestic train wrecks, it’s not quite accurate. In two of the juiciest cases mentioned above—Deen’s and Lawson’s—unflattering details came to light not because of the social-media-era pressure for celebrity chefs to be on all the time, but because they were under oath in a court of law. Twitter may be the great equalizer, but there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned deposition to tarnish an impossibly immaculate image.

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

The Ludicrous Claims You’ll Hear at This Company’s “Egg Freezing Parties”

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM Going Private To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 1 2014 10:49 AM James Meredith, Determined to Enroll at Ole Miss, Declares His Purpose in a 1961 Letter
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 10:54 AM “I Need a Pair of Pants That Won’t Bore Me to Death” Troy Patterson talks about looking sharp, flat-top fades, and being Slate’s Gentleman Scholar.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 10:44 AM Everyone’s Favorite Bob’s Burgers Character Gets a Remix You Can Dance to
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 10:27 AM 3,000 French Scientists Are Marching to Demand More Research Funding
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.