'The sweetest gender': Feminine subjectivities and the gendering of sweets in Barcelona (1650-1800)

Research project
Early Modern History
Still Life with Sweets and pottery (detail)

The project examines the metaphorical and material dimensions of sweetness and gendered taste in the context of seventeenth and eighteenth-century Barcelona. Specifically, it explores how the taste for sweets became feminized as well as the ways in which the production and consumption of these food products, made mainly with sugar, formed feminine subjectivities. By addressing the agency of urban Catalan women —aristocratic and bourgeois housewives, convent nuns, informal street sellers—this study seeks to elucidate tensions between social conventions, cultural representations and everyday practices in the crucial period when sugar was becoming a semi-affordable commodity.

Based on a large set of textual, visual and material sources, this research project seeks to determine the extent to which women, both as individual and collective actors, engaged in gendered practices and representations connected to sugary food. The first part of the project addresses how the connection to a supposed female ‘sweet tooth’ was represented and described in a public arena dominated by male authorities. Here, it interrogates the extent to which scientific, philosophical, religious, and culinary authorities might have shaped feminine subjectivities in relation to their bodies and eating habits. The second part concentrates on the ‘feminine’ practices of making, offering and displaying sweets, as acts of self-expression and empowerment of women both in private and public spheres. By focusing on individual experiences and local practices, this study will offer a new reading of sweet food, one that moves beyond grand narratives dominated by men as central actors in the substantial historiography on global commodities.

This post-doctoral research project is led by Dr Marta Manzanares. It is funded by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and supervised by Dr Melissa Calaresu.

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Image: Still Life with Sweets and Pottery, 1627 by Juan van der Hamen (detail)