Women! Chefs! Sexism!

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Tired of hearing about gender bias in professional kitchens? That’s too bad, because the problem isn’t going away. Amidst the hubbub over the recent James Beard Awards, more than a few people noticed the nearly uniform lack of women on the winners’ list. Three out of 24, to be precise. In the four years of the awards, a whopping 16% have gone to women. Just because we still do most of the cooking at home, doesn’t mean a thing when it comes to paid, professional employment doing the same.

Much furious internet-stained ink has since been spilled. I won’t rehash all the discussions and the many very good points that have been made. Instead, check out the round-up after the jump.

Bonus points:

Meet Ruth Bourdain—all the sensuality girls bring to food with the foul-mouthed tough talk of the boys. Incidentally, Ruth Reichl is convinced that “RuBo” must be a man. Because of that whole tough-talking thing. Gender bias, anyone?

Girls Can’t Cook

(dirtcandy)
Amanda Cohen, chef-owner of New York restaurant dirtcandy, was the first to point out that while New York restaurants are full of women working in the kitchens, they’re not winning awards. Why? Because women can’t cook. (Duh.) Yes, there’s a line graph. Yes, it’s depressing.

Women write about food, sure. Gael Greene and Ruth Reichl are in the living legend column, Julia Child and M.F.K. Fisher are over in the dead legend column. Most women are smart enough not to say anything about this situation, and I shouldn’t be pointing it out at all because it’s embarrassing to admit in public how much we suck at cooking. But I think it’s time someone made it clear to the young ‘uns: if you are a woman and you are planning to make a career in restaurants, you won’t get the awards, you won’t get the press coverage and you probably won’t get the big opportunities. Why? Well, there’re only two possible answers and we all know which one is correct: if you’re a woman, you just can’t cook. So stop trying.

Happy Mother’s Day: Women in the Kitchen

(Roving Gastronome)
Zora O’Neill attributes the problem to our hang-ups over vegetables. Vegetables, she contends, “are not manly enough for male-run restaurants to bother much with, and neither are they sexy enough to get much media attention, which in turn leads to the deficit of awards among female chefs.” I’m torn—yes, vegetables are still seen as being more feminine, but the comparison of female chefs to mothers rankles, and begs a little more analysis. Because if women in restaurant kitchens are just glorified moms, the problem is more than just straight-up sexism.

In your average (run-by-a-man) restaurant, you get some deep-fried appetizers, maybe a goat-cheese salad if they’re feeling a little livelier than the usual token mixed greens… Then there’s the flip side: April Bloomfield is a well-known woman chef and gets praise all the time. And why’s that? Because she serves giant f-ing stuffed trotters. Women chefs aren’t popular, because they make you eat your vegetables, just like your mom.

Why Don’t We Pay Attention to Women in the Kitchen?

(Grub Street)
Thank you Grub Street for calling a sexist spade a sexist spade. They also point out that token efforts “like last year’s Barbie-hued “Women in Food” James Beard Awards, don’t exactly help.” No, I don’t suppose they would. Not as long as the women’s category is pitted against the so-called normal category (which, surprise, surprise, would only now contain men).

Flat-out sexism is almost never directly addressed in these articles, and so it is that the conversation tends to come back to wondering what it is that’s wrong with women, rather than what it is that’s wrong with the system.

Why I Quit Cooking: Women in the Kitchen

(Eat Me Daily)
Paula Forbes muses her own retreat from a cooking career, acknowledging the rush of making it in a rough, male world, but one which she ultimately chose to abandon.

There’s a discussion that occurs in feminist dialogue concerning choice: do women have a responsibility to improve the perceived status of their gender through working certain (influential, well-regarded) jobs, or does feminism mean that women have the luscious and heady freedom to pursue whatever career they choose? …it makes me wonder: do I have a responsibility to feminism to continue seeking employment as a cook? 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.

Female Chefs & the Gender Debate

(frites & fries)
What if Nigella Lawson pulled an Anthony Bourdain? We all know what she’d get called then. So does Annie Wang.

…a lot of the men nominated for James Beard was already well-known or at least under the radar—I would not be surprised if they all had PR representation. Not. at. all.
…Volatile chefs and chefs with temper tantrums seem to make a lot of appearances in food sites just because it garners so much attention. Interestingly, I feel like if a female chef did something similar it would automatically be attributed to PMS or that she’s simply “a bitch.”

 

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Comments

  1. says

    Hey, thanks for the mention, and…yes, of course I was being a bit glib with the vegetable thing. Maybe the real problem with press coverage is that only the chefs who happen to be doing the new hot thing (foam, offal, whatever) get in the spotlight–and there are always more men, being louder, doing whatever that hot thing is.

    And thanks for the link to frites & fries–I hadn’t even thought about the whole swearing/tantrum thing. Oy.

  2. Lea Zeltserman says

    Hi Zora, I guess vegetables just aren’t newsworthy. A lot of the articles I included talked about the connection between media coverage and awards – probably something that goes on in a lot of industries. Kitchen sexism just adds another layer to that. It’s interesting that it’s still easier for us to accept the idea of, say, a female doctor, than a woman cooking in a professional, rather than home, kitchen. Interesting and totally depressing.

    (Sorry for the misspell on your name. It’s been corrected.)

    Lea