I did not understand the significance of the KitchenAid mixer. We have one — it’s white, on the old side but still functional, and my housemates use it on occasion to make cookies. We got it from Craigslist, knowing that brand new mixers are super expensive — even without all the fancy attachments, the Quart Bowl-Lift Stand Mixer model is $700, before shipping, if you buy it online.
I was aware that this was a useful object, but I didn’t realize, or appreciate, the deep power with which it was associated. “I’d love to get one for myself,” a friend told me recently, “but I’m afraid that if I do, it means I’ll never get married.”
Once I heard this, I could not stop thinking about it. Was this a thing — associating this particular device with marriage? Why? Were people not buying this for themselves, and waiting to get it as a gift in their wedding registry? Is there something particularly Jewish about this waiting, this superstition?
In order to suss this out, I posted on Facebook: “Looking to talk to unmarried Jewesses about KitchenAid mixers.” The result was a deluge of Jewish ladies who wanted to talk about the KitchenAid and the role it played in both their actual lives and their goals for the future.
“It’s funny that it feels like such a marker of adulthood,” said N, whose parents bought her a KitchenAid when she finished graduate school, which made her feel “really validated. It meant that my parents knew enough about my needs and wants to get me a gift that they perceive as tied to marriage.” Since KitchenAids are so expensive, N wouldn’t have bought one for herself, but she didn’t feel anxious about having someone buy it for her, because she’s not particularly concerned with getting married. However, the association between the mixer and marriage makes sense to her, because anxiety around marriage and partnership, particularly in Jewish communities, is so pervasive.
Another friend, J, has bought herself a number of high quality kitchen supplies, but she hesitated when it came to getting the mixer. “I told myself it was something you get when you get married, so I just needed to wait. This was when I was 22. I don’t think I had some magical age in mind at which point I would be married, but I guess I also didn’t think it would take that long. And yet, I am now 29 and unmarried. There are a lot of ways that marriage equals adulthood in the Jewish community and somehow the KitchenAid became a symbol of that for me, even though I feel like an adult. So, last summer I asked my family to get me a KitchenAid mixer for my birthday.”
The notion that one should hold out for the “someday” of marriage in order to get things like a KitchenAid (or, in K’s case, a new couch, which she told me she needs, but always thought she’d buy with a partner) is the source of much ire for Jewish women. It’s not just about the thing itself, but the fact that the lack of it suggests that you’ve failed.
“I have an MBA,” said M, “and I moved across the country by myself, but because I haven’t been married, no one is offering to buy me these things that I need.” She did buy herself a KitchenAid, although her female Jewish friends gave her a hard time about it. “They told me I was a lunatic for buying it myself, that I should wait until I get married.” It was a pivotal moment for her. “I didn’t care about the superstition, I was angry.” She emphasized that she’d never heard this notion that buying the mixer for oneself could sabotage her future marriage from any of her non-Jewish friends.
Most of the women I spoke with for this piece told me that while they’d never heard this superstition articulated directly, but they definitely understood it, and it made sense that such an idea would be voiced by Jews. “This is just a new version of the same old ‘you’ll never get married’ superstitions that older Jewish women project onto younger Jewish women,” said S, a rabbinical student in her final year.
E and her husband registered for a KitchenAid when they got married, because her husband is a baker, and although she doesn’t bake, “I looked at it longingly on other people’s countertops when I was single.” For her, the Jewish connection to the mixer seems clear. “I think about it through the lens of a classic Jewish evil eye formulation,” she said. “A Jewish person really wants something — in this case, marriage — buys something towards that goal, like a KitchenAid mixer, which alerts the evil eye, keinehora, which takes it away because we aren’t allowed to have nice things.”
The longing for marriage and a traditionally gendered and domesticated life, even if one is living, or wants to live, outside a normative model, is what elicits the anxiety. E also likens the mixer to a hope chest, or a trunk where an unmarried woman collects items she’ll use in her married life — linens, lingerie, etc.
There’s a legend that in 1982, an assistant at Glamour magazine made a roast chicken for her boyfriend. A month later, said boyfriend proposed, and when the recipe was passed on to other women, more proposals ensued, resulting in this particular recipe being deemed “engagement chicken.” When I discussed this story with R, who’s waiting to buy a KitchenAid until she has more counter space, she wondered aloud if buying the mixer for yourself is the equivalent of saying that you don’t need marriage. “I’ll admit,” she said, “it kind of is for me.”