A Response To…

A feminist’s fear of the family meal. 

This is less of a response than it is a prompt for my own exploration of her point.

It reminded me of something I realized as a child, that I had to turn to my mum and voice it out loud such was my incredulity. That realisation was that men and women who cook on television are presented very differently – they’re even referred to as different things.

Have you ever noticed that the female cook is referred to as a ‘cook’, and a male cook is referred to as a ‘chef’? It seems that the moment a process becomes professional or prestigious, men snap it up and snap up the better name for it, too. Suddenly women don’t belong in the kitchen if that kitchen is a 5-star restaurant or food critic job. Chef. How crisp is that to say? A chef can remind you of a proper, paid person who cooks in a big restaurant and knows all of the awesome meals. A chef wears a white hat and jacket and is in charge of a kitchen. A cook, on the other hand, is a person who runs the school cafeteria; chunky, rushed, red-faced and serving cole-slaw and suspicious meats to children, because women and children go together don’t they? A cook is also found in the kitchen of a home, perhaps big breasted and homely, cooking in a big pot over a fire and is very much a woman. Calling a man ‘cook’ just doesn’t fit as well.

Perhaps it’s just me, but the imagery of these words has come from reality. When I worked in a kitchen, the male chefs ate lunch together and left the female to herself to run the kitchen. When they had finished (there wasn’t really a time limit) they’d saunter back and take over without a word to her, and she would then take her own break with an allocated time period. Plus, the television thing.

Googling 'cook' actually just turns up white cartoons of cooks. But the suggestions are 'cook woman' and 'female cook'... but results weren't too sexist.
Googling ‘cook’ actually just turns up white cartoons of cooks. But the suggestions are ‘cook woman’ and ‘female cook’… but results weren’t too sexist.
"Fuck women."
“Fuck women.”

To some readers, this kind of a post would seem nit-picky and pointless – bloody feminists being so feminsty and kicking up a stink over nothing, right? – but the issue isn’t precisely the words, it’s that we have the response to use these words. It’s not ‘chef’ or ‘cook’, it’s saying that one is better than the other even if the salmon is cooked the same. It’s how the same job is automatically seen as being more professional when a man does it, because men are, of course, worth so much more.

This ties into the entire workforce and the demand for equal pay and equal opportunity and equal respect, all of it. Language is part of this society and world and it has a subtle but real place in all of things. Those who belittle language don’t seem to realise that language does have meaning – after all, that’s why we invented words, so we could convey meaning.

Perhaps it isn’t majorly important, but I really just find it interesting. A kind of ‘oh’ moment that makes you have a think about how the construction of society takes place even in our vocabularies. What’s wrong with commenting on that? Does everything have to be extremely important or else not written at all? If that were the case, a lot of our blog content would be removed immediately. Except for my post about a dog, which was obviously ground-breaking news for everyone.

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8 thoughts on “A Response To…

  1. Ah…welcome to the wild and wonderful (and nerdy) world of socio-linguistics. A few more to think about: the diminutives “ette” and “ix” added to words to make them feminine (major/majorette; dominator/dominatrix—mull that one over for a bit). There was a push years ago to change to gender neutral terms. Some of them have stuck, which is why we have ‘flight attendant’ and ‘server’ over ‘stewardess’ and ‘waitress’, (at least in theory). That said (and I could go ON ALL DAY), I can tell you, as a woman, a woman who studied Women’s Studies in college, it does matter, but it matters less than the importance of your family (if and when you have one) sitting down to a family dinner, no matter who cooked it. Mom the cook or Dad the chef.

  2. After reading his post, I just noticed some things. All the chefs on Masterchef are men. The other show with the French man, they are male chefs as a well.
    Nigella Lawson has her own Tv shows, books, range of kitchen equipment and even she is still a cook. On the show “The chef and the cook” on SBS, the man is the chef and the woman is the cook.
    I guess since I am big busted I will be chained to the stove bare foot and pregnant forever. Aren’t I lucky? 😉

  3. Chef – derived from the French term ‘chef de cuisine’, usually referred to only the ‘boss’ of the kitchen. Even though it isn’t used so strictly anymore, as a person who has worked as a ‘cook’ in many restaurants in the past, it is safe to say I have met a lot of female ‘chefs’. I personally don’t see the issue, I think sometimes people just get confused with what to call said ‘culinary genius’. You do write an interesting point though.

  4. The scene in the movie ratatouille where the critic tastes the food and goes back to his childhood is dead right. Food is comfort and security as a child, even in my home where I’m Dad, comfort is Mom. Women are amazing chefs too.

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