Friday, April 17, 2009


I love to cook. It's my hobby. I collect recipes, watch cooking shows, and love exploring new cuisines. For years, I have felt that I needed to conceal this hobby from people around me. I would go to the supermarket and constantly look over my shoulder to make sure nobody saw me buy the ingredients I needed. I would only bring store-bought stuff to potluck dinners. I would start yawning in a very affected manner any time people would discuss cooking. In short, I behaved like a CIA agent on a dangerous spy mission. As a result, everyone who knows me is convinced that I can't even boil water.

The root of this neurotic behavior lies in an experience I had when I first started grad school. One day, my colleagues and I stayed at the office after classes. We ordered food, had some drinks, and spent several hours talking about our teaching, our research, and our intellectual pursuits. When the party was over, every single woman (except me) immediately got up and started cleaning. Every single man (and me) stayed put and continued talking about the meaning of life. To me, it was a profoundly disturbing experience. Here we are, discussing intellectual topics and ostensibly feeling like equals in every possible way. Then, in a second, half of the group gets up and starts acting as if they were the servants of the other half.

Another upsetting thing that I noticed was the kind of contribution than men and women would make in class. Men would speak a lot (even if they had nothing of value to say) and very loudly, they would have no problem interrupting women, they would dominate the discussions. Women, on the other hand, would make their comments in a tentative little voice (even when their ideas were way stronger than anything their male colleagues could ever hope to contribute). When challenged by men during the discussions, they would immediately withdraw their opinions in an apologetic way.

But these women cooked. All the time. They would bring baked goodies almost to every class. This was very upsetting to watch. It was as if they felt that they needed to buy their acceptance to these intellectual discussions and placate the men in the course by feeding them. It was as if they had accepted that nobody would ever expect them to contribute anything of value to the course. Anything other than what their traditional roles dictate, that is.

I decided then and there that I will never give my colleagues an opportunity to see me as a cooking and cleaning machine whose only purpose in life is to make their existence more comfortable. If they sit in a room surrounded by dirty dishes and wait for somebody to clean up for them, so will I. If they expect somebody to feed them, so will I. If they interrupt their colleagues and disrespect their opinion, I will interrupt and disrespect them.

I have been told that this attitude on my part is anti-feminist because I allow gender expectations to define my behavior. I have been told that the chauvinists win if I have to modify my way of being in order to prove something to them. In my view, however, this is a specious argument. When subaltern subjects engage in mimicry in order to confuse the colonizers, they upset the existing balance of power. When I behave like the biggest macho in the group, my conduct represents a sort of a mirror where chauvinists can see themselves in an exaggerated way.

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