Gender Roles and Stereotypes in the Culinary World

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

In December of 2013, one of the biggest things in my life happened- I graduated from culinary school. This picture was taken-

I’ll always remember this picture taken for several reasons- not the least of which was really rather awkward…
In lining us all up for the picture, the photographer placed me in the center. During the shoot, he called out to me, “Matt, smile! Hugh Hefner and his bunnies, man! Smile!”

Yeah. He said that.

Immediately I looked around, my face turning bright red with embarrassment. The faces of my friends, while bemused, also rather betrayed an unspoken order- “Yeah, don’t even THINK of mentioning that to any one, EVER.”

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Eeeeeeeeeerm…. yeah….

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Case in point…

     I had wanted to write about this topic for quite a while now, but always felt like I was biting off more than I could chew. A male baker talking about gender stereotypes in the culinary world might come off as self-congratulatory and sanctimonious, Moses coming down from his mountain in great compassion for his oppressed culinary sisters.

     After I wrote a previous entry about experiences with body/fitness stereotypes, however, I knew the gloves had to come off. Our culture has a bizarre sort of cognitive dissonance when it comes to gender in the culinary world, and it’s time to explore that. This subject matter has been covered many times covering many different angles, but here I’d like to point out something that falls by the wayside-

“Why is a man who bakes professionally looked at differently than a man who just bakes domestically?”

     

    See that? You probably laughed and rooted for the guy who defended his baking and laid the smack down on the guy who tried to insult him by calling it “gay.”
I did too when I first read it.
It shouldn’t have happened in the first place though. No one, man or woman, should feel the need to defend what they like to do against it being called “gay,” or “feminine,” or any other word that the ignorant choose to employ as a slur.

Back to the above question, and the cognitive dissonance thing.
Behold, the professional male baker:
 

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Wikipedia

We see here a strong young man, working at his craft. He’s youthful, but clearly determined. He has his orders, knows his work, and is doing it diligently. In time, if he sticks with it, society may come to see him as an older man- tough-as-nails, strong-silent-type, supernaturally productive. A true force to be reckoned with in the kitchen, and in life.

What of a man who bakes for the love of it, though? A man who bakes at home because he likes feeding his family, doing it for himself?

    Sadly, our culture has another list of descriptors for him:
“Whipped.”
“Mr. Mom.”
“Fag.”
“Sissy.”
“Girly.”

    The reason for this is the gender “roles” and stereotypes that we unwittingly perpetuate. These stereotypes say that the domestic world is the woman’s world. The woman’s duty is to cook and clean the house, making sure cookies are baked and dinner is made for her hard-working, bread-winning husband to come home to.

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“Let me fix my lipstick, dear, and then I’ll keep cleaning and you can eat dinner.”

Make baking into a PROFESSION, however, and it’s perfectly right for a man to do it. Where else do you get the obese, handle-bar-mustached chef? Or the fiery, lanky, hell-on-wheels, perfectionist French pastry chef for that matter?
They’re not baking, they’re WORKING. Work outside the home is the man’s world.

The culinary arts have historically BEEN a male-dominated industry, with innumerable tales of sexual harassment awaiting the woman who tries to make headway.

When a young male chef feels like he can “mansplain” to a more experienced female chef how to grow her business, that’s a problem.

When we can laugh at memes like these (and I have too), there is a question not being asked:

“Why does baking NEED to be depicted as more manly?”

“Real men bake?”
“Real men eat cupcakes?”
Well-meaning, but unnecessary.
PEOPLE bake.
PEOPLE eat cupcakes.
PEOPLE eat food, and genderizing activities limits what people can achieve. It reinforces stereotypes, and holds the industry- and society itself- back.

Looking back, I realized what made me want to discuss this topic.
My girlfriend and I both love to be in the kitchen, and have already decided that our future children- male and female- will know how to cook and bake. Naturally, I will be teaching my son to bake.
As soon as I realized that, I thought, “What am I going to say to him the first time he comes from school and the boys call him ‘sissy’ or ‘girly’ because he likes baking with his dad?”
I came up with a number of answers: that baking wasn’t girly, that there was nothing wrong with being a girl, that those boys will be waiting for someone to feed and take care of them all their lives while my son would be able to do it for himself.

Then I realized I’d rather it didn’t happen at all. I’d like to just greet him when he got home and point to the Winnie-the-Pooh cookie jar on the table that I had just recently filled, and tell him to get his apron on.

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And if you have a problem with my Winnie-the-Pooh cookie jar, you haven’t been paying attention.


Stay Classy,