Does Cooking Make You a Girl?
Recently, I was lucky enough to participate in a pro-equality rally here in NYC, protesting the passing of Proposition 8 and the de jure discrimination that it entails. I wrestled with the idea of allowing politics onto my blog, but I'm also a firm believer that nothing (not art, not culture, not food, nothing) can actually be separated from politics. And although I'm not here to talk about that particular rally, it did get me thinking, mainly about the systemic inequalities that have become so ingrained that we actually view them as natural.
Then, during a sleepless night, I was aimlessly surfing the web and I came upon this article, titled Does Cooking Make You Gay on Serious Eats, written by Adam of the ever-popular Amateur Gourmet almost one year ago (man, am I slow on the uptake or what?! But I figure, if it's new to me, maybe it's new to you as well!). While Adam makes some interesting points, ever the academic, I couldn't help but notice how his article fundamentally supported the binary structure that pits male against female and inevitably elevates the former at the expense of the latter.
Very unfortunately for me, I am crappy at math. Even worse, I have THE lousiest sense of direction. In fact, sometimes I'm amazed that I can navigate three-dimensional space at all. For those of you who grew up in the late 80's, early 90's and were subjected to the regular rhythm of standardized testing, do you remember the exercise in which you were shown how a piece of paper was folded, where a hole was punched in the paper and then expected to unfold the paper mentally and recognize the pattern that the hole would make in the paper? Well, I failed that portion spectacularly. I think I scored something like 20% which is near "can't tie my own shoes" level. Furthermore, here I am today, a PhD student in the girliest of subjects: Art History. And, to top it all off, I love to cook, write a food blog, and think endlessly about grocery shopping. So I am clearly not the example to disprove the rule. But we should all be able to agree by now that the rule has, in other cases, been disproved. (As an aside, I've also finished 3 Ironman triathlons and do not attribute my lack of ability in math to being a girl, but rather to being uninterested. Here, I am dividing my own activities up along gendered lines to prove a point: that such division is itself pointless.)
And yet this constant divide exists. Traditionally, women cook at home because it's expected, men cook as a profession out of choice. "Women's work," the kind done in the home, is not "real" work, it doesn't require a degree or specialized training other than that which can be self-taught or taught by another woman. And often this attitude carries over into the public workplace as well. In art, there has always been a divide between craft and fine art, and although craft is not a uniquely female pursuit (think woodcutting and furniture making), the feminist movement has allowed for a certain upsurge in interest in traditionally female activities like quilting. Is there anything inherent in the act of making a quilt which should cause it to be read as feminine? Or is that a societal condition imposed on it from without? The assumption is now that perhaps quilting as an artform need not be written off merely because it is traditionally done by women, whereas the grand masters of painting are all, well, men. (If you're interested in a structural reading of the inequalities that promote a male-dominated art world, I'll point you to the final essay in this book.)
In his article, Adam keeps coming back to the question of whether or not cooking is an "effeminizing" activity for a man to participate in. Like, will a man catch the girlie bug (aren't those called koodies?) if he does it. When the real issue is the division of labor along gendered lines in the first place. The problem is not do men feel, or are they thought of as, "feminine" (and therefore inferior) when they cook, but why is home cooking (or any cooking for that matter, or any activity if you really want to get into it) cast as a gendered activity in the first place? And why is being associated with the feminine bad? Adam asks, somewhat tongue in cheek I hope, if cooking denotes a lack "of the basic male instinct to hunt the food rather than prepare it." But in many societies, both genders did the hunting, and besides, gathering is a much more reliable source of food than running around chasing animals, and requires just as much, if not more, skill and knowledge (one wouldn't, after all, want to feed baby a poisonous plant, that is not good survival strategy in the least!).
So anyway, the real point I want to make is that these are all just silly, societal constructs in the first place, and we must be careful about confusing the social with the natural. Homophobia and sexism are, after all, two sides of the same coin. And this is a great example of how both of them hurt everyone, men (straight or gay) included. Insulting a boy who's interested in cooking by calling him a girl (no matter his sexual orientation) limits his possibilities as much as it "others" his sister. Being a girl is not somehow a state of inferiority. And girlie characteristics are more often than not societally, rather than naturally, dictated anyway.
Weww, rant over. What do you think?