Monday, November 3, 2008

When Cooking Becomes A Career

Like most women I was raised to believe that the kitchen is primarily a woman's domain.  My mother is an excellent cook, and to this day spends much of her time cooking elaborate meals.  The kitchen is where she is most at home. Following in her tradition, I also spend a good deal of time in my kitchen cooking for my family. I am well aware that the pride that I take watching them enjoy a meal that I have prepared for them has much to do with the genderized way in which I was raised.

As we daily sit together and share our evening meal,  I have not been blind to the ways in which this little ritual reinforces gender performativity.  The unhusband is extremely appreciative of every meal that I cook but that does not change the fact that I am fulfilling the nurturing role traditionally performed by women, and that our male children see this.  They have already professed a preference for meals made by mom. 

I know that this same scene is played out over and over again in households globally.  Cooking for the family is something that we have socially decided is woman's work.  There are some progressive men who do spend time in a kitchen; however as with most domestic labour it is a task that largely falls to women. 

When I came across an article in The Times Of India regarding the lack of female chefs I had to pause.  According to ITC Maurya, Delhi. Food writer Rashmi Uday Singhm, women are not chefs because, "It’s a physically demanding profession and calls for long hours. One has to be mostly on one’s toes, dealing with male counterparts."  So when a woman is at home cooking and cleaning for her family that is not to much of a burden, but suddenly when it comes to performing the same labour for money we are to fragile.  Do the pots and pans get heavier in an industrial kitchen? 

Executive chef Ananda Solomon, Taj President, Mumbai, feels that once saddled with the responsibility of children and domestic pressures, women are often discouraged from taking up the career of a chef. Some even change gears midway.

Yes, women are discouraged because patriarchy prefers that we perform the same labour for free.  This is a very key point.  Patriarchy has no issue with women cooking, they simply want it done under a condition that allows them to maintain control.  There are very few global constants but this fact is a certainty; labour is genderized differently from place to place but when a man performs it, its value is suddenly increased.  The increase is due to the gender hierarchy that is a global phenomenon. 

Men have a vested interest in the impoverishment of women because it keeps us dependent upon them for subsistence.  The feminization of poverty exists specifically to promote and support male hegemony.  The household labour of cooking, verses the commercial labour that a chef performs is a perfect example of the ways in which the patriarchal, capitalist system works to maintain  hierarchy. 

Cooking does not become more difficult because it is performed in an industrial kitchen, it becomes more difficult because men have decided to make a profit out of nurturing labour.  The next time you hear the old adage that the best cooks are men, be sure to respond that this is only true when money is involved.

12 comments: said...

It’s a physically demanding profession and calls for long hours. One has to be mostly on one’s toes, dealing with male counterparts.

FFS, has this person ever been in a kitchen (I am guessing that a "food writer" would know their way around)? I don't care if you are cooking for two or two hundred, you are on your toes and you have to pay attention. I guess when you move into an industrial kitchen it magically becomes more special?

I am grateful to have a partner who is equally as handy and equally as willing to share the cooking. We have the most fun cooking together. He also tells me I should consider being a chef, having grown up in industrial kitchens. Having been there, I don't see what is so different b/t their kitchen and mine. Wev.

robin said...

I love cooking. I do, when I was male partnered up, we had a deal, whoever cooked the other had to do the dishes. Since I was the better cook, I did most of the cooking, so he did most of the washing up. True to his socialized conditioning, yes, he did expect cookies after he did the dishes even though it was part of our agreement that was how we split the duties.

A frequent disagreement was that I was "enjoying cooking too much" so my share was not "really work" while he hated doing the dishes and was suffering while doing his share of the kitchen duties.

Somehow I was supposed to be just as miserable as he was while contributing to the functioning of the house.

Dori said...

I was really lucky, my dad loved cooking, so until I was probably 12 or 13, I didn't think my mom could cook anything but spaghetti and hotdogs :D

but then, my parents are one of the few truly egalitarian marriages wrt gender roles that I have ever seen.

Sheryl said...

Thanks for this post. This is something that has always bothered me but I have never seen anyone actually point out the money difference in cooking location/gender.

feministblogproject said...

I love cooking. I do, when I was male partnered up, we had a deal, whoever cooked the other had to do the dishes. Since I was the better cook, I did most of the cooking, so he did most of the washing up.

My partner and I have this agreement, too, but somehow, we end up with stacks of dirty dishes. Still, I am pretty good about letting the mess just sit there until he takes care of it, because it is NOT my job.

I do love to cook, but I get really tired of it every day. My partner and I make an effort to cook together on a regular basis, so that he can take over solo cooking more often. I figured if we cooked together, it would help him learn faster. But he's still not confident in the kitchen (well, it has only been 6 months). His brother half-jokingly said that he can't learn to cook because I am too powerful and have emasculated him . . . . say what? Seriously, I do NOT understand people.

The Unmarried Daughter said...

snip/he can't learn to cook because I am too powerful and have emasculated him/endsnip

Yeah, because learning the basics of taking care of yourself(cooking, basic keep yourself healthy cleaning, laundry) is such a emscalulating thing to do. cooking? Quelle Horror! Why next, your boyfriend will be wearing PINK scarves with matching shoes and asking his friends if those jeans make his butt look big!

I honestly never understood this if I learn the basics of running a house this makes me a woman idea. In this day and age, at some point living alone is a reality whether male or female and being able to sew on your own damn button will save a lot of time and money.

frau sally benz said...

This is something that also bothers me and that I've noticed a lot over the past couple of years, particularly b/c of the shows on Bravo, interestingly enough. The "best" contestants on Top Chef, Top Design, and Project Runway are often men. From the discussion that arises while these seasons are on, it seems that this is mostly a reflection of the gender breakdown in those respective fields. Yet, women are the ones that are supposedly into fashion; women are the ones who should stay home and cook, and women are the ones that make sure the home always looks beautiful. Once money is brought into the equation and it has a legitimate label (chef, interior designer/decorator, and fashion designer), men are suddenly experts in these fields.

It's so backwards and yet people don't seem to question it. Just another example of how gender stereotypes don't make any sense.

space said...

When I was little, cooking was Dad's job and cleaning was...either nobody's, or probably Mom's. We had a pretty messy house. Childcare was largely Mom's job though...Dad would often leave and not say where he was going right in the midst of it. Breadwinning was primarily my mom's job.

When I was a bit older, cooking older sister's job, or ours...we just nuke what we need, and cleaning was all of us kids' job. Laundry was my stepfather's job, but we kids had to fold it. Childcare...still largely my mom's, as was breadwinning.

As for this chef thing...whatever happened to the notion that women are innately better with cooking, cleaning, and people? Hmm. What's that, you say? Only if they do these things for FREE, or for dirt-cheap wages and no respect (as with daycare workers and cleaning ladies)? That if they actually can make good money off it, like being a professional chef or a psychiatrist, men are suddenly better suited to it?

Goes to show the holes in today's myths about gender roles. "Mother knows best, and that's why she has to do the cooking, cleaning, and childcare, because men have no clue with their testosterone-laden boy brains that are only good for sports, math, and drinking." But make these lucrative jobs and men will be "better" at them.

whatsername said...

The next time you hear the old adage that the best cooks are men, be sure to respond that this is only true when money is involved.

Or when you're talking about my husband. LOL. He does all the cooking.

The Unmarried Daughter said...


yes, it's only women's work when money isn't ivolved. I studied and trained as a midwife, and of course the same thing there, delivering babies only became a "noble" job for highly trained men when they found they could make money at it.

I also temped as a admin at the Nurse Anethetist Association. What was surprising or it really shouldn't been, was there was the same old story. Nuns were trained to adminster anethestia, and then women nurses, and no doctor would stoop so low to do women's work, because, "there was no money in it". Only when doctors realized they could make money at being anthesologists(and making most of their money quite literally on the backs of laboring women) did suddenly those CRNAs became uneducated dangerous nurses who were practicing medicine and they needed to be banned forewith.

So, somehow we need to make childcare(here in Duluth in home day care workers charge $2.50 per day per child!), and my pet peeve, the aides in adult foster care homes, where you are expected to be mother, nanny, housekeeper, behavioral nurse, pharmacist, behavioral therapist, psychologist for $8.50. Duluth seems to have this major Adult Foster Care home industry. If a person owns the homes, the money is excellent, if you are a worker there, the money and the job both sucks.

But if we can make that job into something "manly" well, I am sure the price would go up.

Sady said...

I agree completely. It's funny, because in the environment in which I was raised, women were responsible for cooking (along with the majority of domestic chores and the actual work of parenting) and I don't think this is unusual at all. Yet most of the food writers and famous chefs that I can name off the top of my head are men. I've also noticed sort of a masculinist tendency in "elite" or "professional" cooking - prizing difficulty, technical acumen and knowledge, and one-upsmanship. That's not to say that it's unfeminine or impossible for a woman to value these things, yet they are a part of a traditionally masculine attitude toward accomplishment (i.e., it's only worth doing something if it's difficult and you can do it better than the other guy).

Anonymous said...

Relatedly, I have been annoyed by the commercials for "Elmo's Restaurant" featuring a little boy "chef" and little girl "waitresses." I have seen plenty of ads for children's kitchen sets over the years, and they are always pink and pastel and always feature little girls cooking. But call it a "restuarant" and viola, suddenly it's ok to have a boy in the ad cooking. Erg, the ad just totally rubs me the wrong way.