Sunday, August 2, 2009

Cooking and Chauvinism

Michael Pollan's "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch" New York Times article is one of those annoying thinly veiled attempts to bemoan the ways in which modern women have abandoned their housewifely duties. I have written before about my love for cooking and my struggle to keep this hobby secret because of the chauvinistic connotations attached to it. Pollan's article is a perfect example of how a chauvinistic culture attaches all kinds of ideologically manipulative beliefs to cooking.

People seem to love cooking shows (Top Chef, Hell's Kitchen, Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares), Pollan says, but this fascination with TV programs doesn't make them want to cook on their own: "Here’s what I don’t get: How is it that we are so eager to watch other people browning beef cubes on screen but so much less eager to brown them ourselves?" For some Reason, Pollan doesn't ask himself why all the people who watch "So You Think You Can Dance?"and "American Idol" don't rush to take dancing and singing lessons, why all the fans of Law & Order don't seek careers in law enforcement, or why everybody who watches 24 doesn't engage in torturing people on a regular basis. "A great many Americans are spending considerably more time watching images of cooking on television than they are cooking themselves", says Pollan, but forgets to add that there is a score of activities that we love observing on television even though we never engage in them in real life.

Pollan doesn't stop at lamenting the lack of popularity homecooking enjoys. He goes on to look for people to blame. The answer is easy for this journalist: blame the feminists. Big, mean and nasty feminists, it turns out, duped poor innocent American women into believing that housewifely chores might be boring, repetitive and unfulfilling: "The year Julia Child went on the air — 1963 — was the same year Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique,” the book that taught millions of American women to regard housework, cooking included, as drudgery, indeed as a form of oppression." According to this male chauvinist, women loved dedicating their entire existence to cooking, cleaning, and doing the laundry. Then Betty Friedan came and magically convinced them they were miserable. Since women are inherently brainless, one book is more than enough to convince them that they hate activities that they, in fact, enjoy. It's surprising that these utterly stupid creatures even managed to read and understand the book in question, but this is yet another contradiction in this quasi-journalist's idiotic argument.

This kind of antifeminist reasoning inevitably leads Pollan into a breathless description of happy prelapsarian (that is, before cooking was "thoughtlessly trampled" by nasty feminists "in their rush to get women out of the kitchen") moment when women cooked and men sat around and observed their efforts: "Even when “everyone” still cooked, there were plenty of us who mainly watched: men, for the most part, and children. Most of us have happy memories of watching our mothers in the kitchen, performing feats that sometimes looked very much like sorcery and typically resulted in something tasty to eat." It doesn't matter to Pollan if the women he is dying to see back in the kitchen are interested in providing him not only with homecooked food but also with entertainment. The journalist then proceeds to enumerate his mother's cooking miracles in a tone of a whiny 5-year-old who wants mean feminists to give him back his mommy.

This kind of attitude is precisely why I don't tell people I cook. Chauvinists of Pollan's ilk are incapable of seeing cooking simply as a hobby, they need to attach ideological meaning to it.


Love Letters To Margate said...

As an undergraduate, we were offered a course called 'Food and Literature' - probably one of my favourite courses and there were endless jokes for patriarch types about it - as if it couldn't be serious. Pah! It was one of the hardest courses I did (with reference to structuralist thought, Descartes and all sorts).

Even studying the history of cooking appears to be fairly laughable...

Anonymous said...

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