Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Madame Noir Strikes Again: Single, Looking and Don’t Know How To Cook: No Wonder You Don’t Have A Man

I know, I know.  Every time I write a post about an article at Madame Noire, I swear that I am going to stop reading the rag, but the truth of the matter is that there are so few magazines aimed at a Black female audience that it is difficult to simply walk away, even though I am disgusted. In their latest bit of failure, Madame Noire published a piece by Charing Ball, about the importance of being able to cook, to get a man. Are your eyes rolling yet?  Wait until you read the following quote.
However, outside of a few friends, I am somewhat shocked to discover that not that many women today really enjoy cooking. In fact, not that many women actually know how to cook.  Okay, I have a few girlfriends that are on Top Chef-status and can really – and I mean really – thrown down in the kitchen. However, I also know of quite a few girlfriends, who can’t even figure out how to turn on the stove properly let alone boil a pot of water. And who could blame them? Especially with the wealth of fast food, deli and frozen packaged food, upscale restaurants that now do deliveries, why go through the trouble of learning to cook at home?  Unless of course you are trying to snag a man and if that is the case, than you might be in trouble.

It may sound like I am just perpetuating the male dominated patriarchal culture but as many guys will tell you, and believe me I asked a bunch,there is nothing worse than dating a woman who doesn’t know her way around the kitchen. I don’t care how physically bad or astute you are in your sexual prowess, a woman who doesn’t know how to burn it up in the kitchen is a definite turnoff.  As my friend and fellow writer Ricardo Hazell said, “Charing, that country thickness would make me think she could cook in the first place. I would be sick if she had “cakes” and “cookies” and didn’t know how to bake real ones. NO! Cooking is a top 5 quality for wifey.” And that, ladies is a hard truth coming straight from the horse’s mouth.

Sure there are many men, who enjoy cooking just as much as some women. And sure if she was on Halle Berry or Beyonce status, a man might be willing to overlook it – at least for a short time period. However, for men, the idea that a woman without culinary skills sparks an instinctual impression that she might be selfish, not very independent and less than nurturing, which is a deal-breaker for any man looking for a relationship of the long-term value.  As the old saying goes, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” It may sound cliché but at the bases of any formula is a universal truth. (source)
Let's just start with the obvious shall we, not all women are looking to catch a man.  Some women choose to remain single and others are simply not sexually attracted to men at all.  Leave it Madame Noire to turn to a reductive understanding of what constitutes 'woman'.

For me, cooking is an act of love, but there are many ways in which I show my family that I love them. Cooking should not be a determination of how much we love them.  It is one thing for a woman to re-claim cooking from patriarchal forces and another thing entirely to be told that cooking is a requirement to be a good mate.  Ball suggests that one is only unable with getting away with not being able to cook if one is as beautiful as Beyonce or Berry and this suggests that unless you fit a very narrow stereotype, that the only way to be deemed of value is to perform gender through servitude.

As Ball was writing this piece, I wonder if she thought about the fact that the only time women are actively encouraged to cook is in the home. Once cooking because elevated to a business, filled with chefy nonsense, suddenly, it becomes the preserve of men.  A simple day of watching the Food Network is evidence of which gender is elevated.  In professional kitchens across the globe, head chefs are more often men than they are women.  When it comes to Michelin stars men still outnumber women and is it any wonder when you have chefs like Gordon Ramsey saying things like, “There are huge numbers of young women out there who know how to mix cocktails but can’t cook to save their lives,”while having the nerve to suggest being enlightened for promoting a woman to head chef.  The prestigious Beard awards are also extremely male centric.

In fact, speaking on the controversy of this year's Beard awards, Chef Amanda Cohen had the following to say:
I’ve been wondering about this for a long time, and I’ve never said anything before, but recently what I suspected was finally confirmed: women can’t cook. I thought they could, but after this year’s James Beard awards, I realize: nope. 24 people received awards this year, and three of them were women (one chef, one pastry chef and Ariane Batterberry shared a Lifetime Achievement Award with her husband). But it’s not like women started sucking yesterday. Last year, three women got James Beard Awards (one was a pastry chef and another got a Lifetime Achievement Award). In 2008, 5 women got James Beard Awards out of 24 winners (a shared pastry award, a shared service award and three regional awards). In 2007, four women got James Beard Awards (two were shared), and they couldn’t even hold onto pastry.
In four years, 93 James Beard Awards have been given out, and 15 of them have gone to women. And it’s not just the James Beard Awards. Food & Wine recognizes 10 of the best chefs in America every year. Since 2000, they’ve celebrated 110 of them and only 15 women have been good enough to make the cut. Or maybe that was just some kind of tricky affirmative action thing?
With only one, tiny, nine-table restaurant to my name, I don’t expect to be nominated for a James Beard Award anytime soon or to be one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs, but this past year I did get a Rising Star Award from StarChefs, which honored 15 of the best, up-and-coming New York City chefs. The only other woman who made the grade? Claire Paparazzo of Blue Hill and, as talented as she is, she’s a sommelier, not a chef.
Grub street responded to Cohen's commentary with the following:
The more a chef is written about, the more likely he is to win awards, and vice versa — so being excluded from the media-awards continuum hits female chefs coming and going. "Why would an investor back a female chef in a restaurant?" asks Cohen. "He knows that she won’t get the hype and attention a male chef will get." Hype seems to be the key here, not talent: Women just don't seem to come by it as easily as men do. That points to there being an outside bias, not an inherent problem; it's a system wide failure of inclusion. If Bloomfield, Grieveson, Hamilton, or Cohen were given the kind of attention (and subsequent funding, and subsequent more attention) lavished on young turks like Nate Appleman or David Chang, they could easily achieve comparable rock-star status. Even better, it would be without being ghettoized as "women chefs."
So I suppose the reports of the sexism that women face in the professional kitchen has absolutely nothing to do with their inability to garner awards.  Women like Chef Paula Forbes had the following to say on sexism in the kitchen.

The professional kitchen is, of course, a boys club. The Anthony Bourdain phenomenon created more monsters than it quelled, and in my eyes, many male line cooks actually aspired to join his drunk, dick-joke making fraternity after reading Kitchen Confidential. These things have actually happened to me: I have witnessed kitchen managers lending 14 year old busboys porn. I have had jokes made about my 10-inch chef's knife being a surrogate penis. I have had cooks who were assigned to me for training tell me that they had no intention of listening to anything I said because they did not feel women should work in kitchens. I've gotten easier shifts and been continuously encouraged, even pushed, towards working in pastry*.
So the long and the short of it is that the suggestion that women need to march into their kitchens and cook for their man is absolutely insulting.  When it does not make a profit or garner any kind of fame, then and only then are women encouraged to cook.  The idea that men can and should control when cooking becomes a worthy pursuit is absolutely sexist and there is no way to look around this fact.  It does not make you any less nurturing because your idea of cooking is scrambling some eggs and eating them hot right of the pan and if you are able to create superb meals, you deserved to be recognized for this. 

I am sick of Madame Noire producing this gender essentialist nonsense, and then presenting it as though it has any basis in reality, or constitutes legitimate discourse. Internalizing sexist ideals and then presenting this as dating advice is purposefully sabotaging the advancement of women because it obscures the ways in which sexism continues to hamper women economically, as well as socially.  They didn't stop to question for a moment why it is that there is no pressure for a man to learn to cook well, though they are just as dependent as women on food to fuel their bodies.  The only time men are encouraging to enter the kitchen is when it constitutes full paid employment and that is why learning to cook, is something that each woman must negotiate for themselves without added pressure.  Eating food is essential to survival but the relationship of women to food should never be simplified as something to do to get a man.