Family Circle's Presidential Cookie Poll is easily among the most sexist of election-year political institutions.
The tradition of pitting potential First Ladies against one another to see whose cookies are the most First Lady-like dates back to 1992. Bill Clinton was running for his first term as president, and Hillary Clinton was under fire. The public wanted to know why she had continued her law career after her husband was elected Governor of Arkansas.
"I could have stayed home to bake cookies and have teas," she told critics who believed that pursuing her career was a conflict of interest, "but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life." You go, girl.
But instead of applauding Hillary for this remarkable feat of female empowerment, the press and the public instead made her atone. Hillary's remarks were viewed as an assault against women who did make the choice to stay home and bake cookies. And to repent, we forced Hillary to bake.
That year, Family Circle magazine ran a contest pitting Hillary Clinton’s cookie recipe against Barbara Bush’s. Every election year since, the magazine has continued the tradition—one that each time around is rightfully criticized as a remarkably dated, sexist routine, born of an even more misogynistic and deeply embarrassing moment in American political history.
This year, Family Circle had a chance to redeem itself. With Hillary running for president and Bill running for First Mate, the magazine had the opportunity to turn an offensive, glaringly dated tradition into a joke. We already know Bill can bake, or at least replicate a recipe from the back of package—in 2008, he submitted a recipe for oatmeal cookies to the competition, before Hillary dropped out of the race.
Instead, this year Bill dutifully did his part, submitting a recipe for chocolate chip cookies to go head-to-head against Melania Trump's star-shaped sugar cookies. But instead of promoting a contest pitting Bill's kitchen prowess against Melania's, Family Circle's 2016 Presidential Cookie Poll pits Melania against the "Clinton Family."
Close observers of the Presidential Cookie Poll may notice a striking similarity between the recipe Bill submitted this year and Hillary's first cookie submission back in 1992. They are the exact same recipe, a vegetable shortening-based chocolate chip cookie with oatmeal and brown sugar. This recipe is as politically precise as it is delicious: in 1992, it was a hipper, more modern chocolate chip to Barbara Bush's Tollhouse basic. It was a good-natured wink and a nod to the fact that we had made a brilliant, accomplished woman put on an apron to prove her worth. News reports from 1992 discuss Hillary throwing herself into the cookie competition wholeheartedly, asking friends to help bake and passing them out to rack up more votes. It was a special cookie, layered with rolled oats and a determination to smite the patriarchy even if she had to play along with some bake-off fantasy in order to do it. Obviously, Hillary's cookies won.
Bill could have submitted his own cookie recipe, maybe some vegan-Southern fusion thing. But I imagine that he instead submitted Hillary's 1992 cookie recipe—the "Clinton Family Cookie Recipe"—with symbolic purpose. It is the Clinton family's way of passing the baton. In 1992, Hillary was expected to shut up, smile and bake while her husband concerned himself with more gentlemanly matters. And now, in 2016, armed with the recipe that started it all, Bill is ready to play the supporting role. It is another wink and a nod, suggesting to us that we've come full circle and maybe—at long last—it's time for all this highly politicized cookie business to come to an end. (I reached out to the magazine several times about the cookie contest, and have not heard back.)
Instead, Family Circle chose to promote this year's cookie contest as a family affair. We might let Hillary Clinton into the Oval Office, but we still will not let her out of the kitchen.