Saturday, December 7, 2013

We Don't Just Make Cupcakes -- Girls In The Kitchen

It has long been a joke (and a harsh reality) that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, with cooking being just one of our “womanly duties”.  After years of slaving over the oven and gaining some real culinary skills, we’ve more recently decided to venture into the professional cooking world.  Yet despite our experience, as soon as we stepped foot into the professional kitchen, we were suddenly considered incapable of making fantastic food.  But somehow men, most of whom can’t even navigate their own home refrigerator,  have the had the ability to  rise to become masters of the trade.  Some of us women have cooking in our blood and have the earned the right to be acknowledged for our talent.

I take this issue very personally.  

I’ve always enjoyed cooking and baking.  As soon as I could walk, I was toiling around in the kitchen, so it wasn’t a surprise when I decided to make it a career of it.  What was a surprise (call me naïve) was how difficult it would be to thrive in the culinary industry as a female.  I subconsciously knew that it was a field dominated by men, but  I was more confident in my skills than I was concerned about sexism, so I didn’t expect it to be that much of a struggle.  But, sure as the sun rises, I was slapped with some unavoidable situations that many females meet when they decide to make cooking their career.  Here are just a few of the situations and stereotypes a female deals with in the culinary industry:

Being belittled.  For me personally, it’s a given that people are going see me as diminutive because I’m short girl who bakes cakes, so it was natural for the men around me to see me as the little kitchen sprite-- like a Keebler Elf  (I’ve been called that several time.  Offensive, yet still amusing to even me).  What I didn’t like was being treated like a frail, old lady.  This doesn’t only apply to me.  How many times have I seen a guy rush over to help a female co-worker lift a heavy pot or reach something way above her head when she is perfectly capable of doing so on her own.  We’re girls, not crippled.  

Yet once you prove you’re mentally and physically capable of holding your own, you risk being labeled as a bitch.

    “If they [female employees] acted too masculine, such as brusquely giving orders like men chefs, this could get them labeled ‘bitchy’ and undermine their authority.”  Feminist Kitchen

And if you’re a bitch, then you’re the enemy.  The concept of teamwork goes to hell, the kitchen falls apart and guess who’s to blame.

Sexual Harassment.  This one’s obvious.  Professional kitchens are almost completely devoid of appropriate professional behavior so sexual harassment is “tolerated” to some degree since everyone is harassing everyone-- all “in good humor”, of course.  So this blurs the line between the jokes and serious offenses.  If a woman really is offended, she could complain, but it’s likely that the higher ups are aware of the ways of the kitchen and don’t care so long as the food is good and customers are happy.

I recently found out a restaurant in my own neighborhood, Juventino (owned by Juventino Avila) has been facing its own sexual harassment scandal. Former female employees have claimed:
“The food is seductive, but behind this restaurant’s charming façade lies a toxic work environment where employees are publicly berated...and young women are subjected to unwanted sexual advances behind the closed and locked doors of Juventino’s office.  Juventino, however, has consistently refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his actions.” Huffington Post
That’s pretty typical behavior for management.  
Underlying belief that female chefs aren’t creative or deserving of recognition.  This just doesn’t make any sense.  There is no scientific evidence that men have better culinary intuition or taste than women, so why do they get all the praise?  There’s a complete disconnect;  how can a women be an expert cook in her own kitchen but inept outside of it.  Consider this: At the 2009 James Beard Awards (arguably the industry's biggest night-- it’s like the Oscars of the culinary world), only 16 of the 96 nominees were women; 2 of the 16 women nominated actually won.  The theme of the night was “Women In Food”.  Ouch.
Side note: “Women account for approximately 20 percent of respondents to the American Culinary Federation's 2011 salary survey. Surveys in 2010 and 2011 by StarChefs reported similarly low numbers, with 396 female respondents in 2011 compared to 1,325 men”  The Nest
Clearly women need more of a presence in industry to prove that they’re every bit as, if not more, capable of thriving than men.

And it’s not false recognition or fame were after.  We don’t all aspire to be talking heads on The Food Network who have little to no culinary experience.

Or who have a decent amount of experience but are really only successful because they're easy on the eyes.

Or just teach people to half-ass a recipe because they’ve already knocked a few back and don’t feel like putting in the work.

It’s just about being exceptionally good at what you do and getting credit for it.


1 comment:

  1. I actually found your presentation to be funny, particularly when you spoke of the butch cupcakes. There can't be anything butchy about a cupcake, no matter what design or color you put on it. This project was well done and it's unfortunate that women, such as yourself, deal with sexism in the culinary industry. Hopefully that will change for you in the long run.