My KitchenAid stand mixer is red. Empire red, I’m told, and it was a wedding gift. I feel fond of it. I’ve been divorced for a number of years and now it’s not tied to my former marriage as much as to the relative who gave it — I was a big baker in college, and they knew that I would want a good tool for my creations. It was a gift that, at the time, made me feel deeply loved. And even when the marriage ended, it kept spinning.
Sometimes, though, one of the throwaway thoughts that I toss up on Twitter hits a tender spot, and last week, it was a tweet about my KitchenAid mixer, whose red paint does, now and then, remind me of my ex. With 11,000 likes in 48 hours, the response suggested that saying the thing we’ve been ignoring collectively allowed everyone in the room to let out a long sigh of relief. About their mixers.
When I tweeted that I wished I could swap my empire-red KitchenAid mixer with another divorcée for a new color (teal, please), I had no idea that there would be such a well of emotion around these appliances. Responses poured in from divorcées, widows, the still-married-but-finally-owning-my-preferences; everyone had a tale, a KitchenAid that was a magnet for complex feelings around the identities they had forged in their relationships. People started swapping tips on how to airbrush machines in custom colors, or listed what they had and what they wanted and where they were located, finding matches in the replies. People who wished they could have swapped chimed in, too, about how they had finally bought themselves the color they had really wanted, years and years after the fact.
When a kitchen appliance is given to a new bride, it often carries the weight of gendered assumptions, a suggestion of a certain kind of role. Does the giver hope it will make the bride more domestic, as my friend Amy’s ex-mother-in-law did? (When my tweet went viral, Amy texted me about how she left the mixer to her ex in the divorce, rejecting the implied caregiver role and throwing off that version of herself along with all those paddle attachments.) So, too, the gift of a KitchenAid mixer (a robust object that with a little care will last you the rest of your life, as in theory your marriage ought to) carries with it a load of historical assumptions about housework and gender roles and who makes sure that the household runs smoothly. Appliances make it so easy! You can have it all — the job, the partner, the kids, the happy home — if you have the right tools. Or perhaps the bride puts it on the registry in hopes that having a shiny, high-powered tool in the kitchen will entice her groom into joining her in domestic labor. This 22-pound symbol of kitchen competence is literally and figuratively heavy.
When I was getting married, I was in the process of leaving a fundamentalist cult and severing ties with my controlling father. I felt alive, in charge of my destiny, and I wanted a red KitchenAid to match that mood. But others had very different reasons for their color choices — there were dozens of replies lamenting the decision to get a “boring” white or silver or black mixer to appease a spouse who didn’t like flashy colors. People had invested in their KitchenAids with the assumption that it would have the same life span as their partnerships, but when those ended, they found themselves realizing that they had backpedaled on asking for what they really wanted. But the KitchenAid is not an Ikea dresser or an old toaster. The mixer stayed around, functioning longer than the relationship, and it represented a smaller, shrunken version of the more vibrant self that had survived. I don’t hate my red mixer, but I’ve outgrown it. My household is not organized around me and my partner, and my KitchenAid is now a communal tool for me and my roommates and our actual color preferences. I’m ready for a fresh start without feeling guilt over replacing a working appliance, and it seems like many people like me are also ready.