The Sexy Feminist Reads: Anna David

In a society where lawyers become lapdancers, escorts land record deals, and Internet sites provide 24/7 erotic access, it’s often difficult to draw the line between owning and losing control of your sexuality. “Party Girl” author Anna David became a de facto expert on transactional sex while researching an article about prostitution, and her new novel “Bought” draws on her experiences to tell the (fictional!) story of a journalist who becomes obsessed with a high-class escort. Sirens sat down with David to discuss prostitution: the definitions, motives – and even how it may be affecting your dating life.

How did your research for the Details article prompt you to write this book?
I had thought it was going to be a simple reported story, where I would just go and interview people and write up some anecdotes. I ended up spending six months infiltrating this world, and found out a lot about this madam and her girls. She had risen to become the new Heidi Fleiss, but everyone hated her. Normally you wouldn’t have great access in a story like this — why would anyone want to talk to a journalist about illicit activities? — but because there was so much resentment towards the madam, the floodgates opened. Women called me saying, “I heard you’re doing this story, and I need to talk to you.” The piece ended up being a silly article that didn’t really encapsulate any of what I learned, so I decided to fictionalize it and make it into a novel.

How did the process change your ideas about prostitution?
Initially, I probably had the same thoughts as most women who are reasonably liberal but still self-respecting — I judged it as sad. Once I started interviewing girls for the article, I felt more judgmental of the men who were paying for it than the women who were participating in it. Most of the girls that I interviewed seemed lost. They were porn stars and Penthouse pets and Playmates who had realized that through side work, as they called it, they could make this money. But they didn’t have a lot of other opportunities.

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FemiNoshing: The Little Black Dress of Sauces

I never buy pasta sauce anymore. I don’t see the point. I mean, sure, it’s always convenient to have a jar handy for a quick meal. But at $5 a pop and endless glass jars cramming the cabinet, I like making my own. It’s cheaper, it’s tastier, it’s fresher, and best of all, I control what goes in it. No xanthar gum or high fructose corn syrup for me!

In fact, I often quadruple the recipe, cooking it in the kind of pot that makes my spouse nervous. (He fears it’s the kind of big pot that could comfortably stew misbehaving husbands. Feh. I would be far likelier to use a grill.)

Quadrupling the recipe makes enough sauce for at least 10 meals for two, and can be frozen in smaller containers. All you have to do is thaw.

And this isn’t just for pasta, either. Sure you can pour it over oven-baked meatballs for spaghetti and meatballs, or stir in two cans of drained chopped clams for pasta alle vongole. You can even add a little heavy cream and some vodka. If you like baking pizzas (or just using the old Boboli crust), just add a teaspoon of oregano for the perfect pizza sauce. You can use it in a veggie lasagna, eggplant parmesan, chicken parmesan, chicken cacciatore … Forget the French and their mother sauces. This one should be the staple in your refrigerator wardrobe.

Enjoy the easy-as-not-making-pie recipe (black dress optional, though black is great for not showing stains).

TOMATO BASIL SAUCE

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped onions

2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped, but not drained

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

Heat oil in a medium pot. Add onion, and saute until translucent. Add remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook about 40 minutes. Adjust seasonings as necessary.

If you like sauce chunky, leave as is. Otherwise use a blender or food processor until sauce is smooth. Be very careful when blending hot liquids—the splashes really hurt!

Makes about 1 1/2 cups, or four servings.

 

– A.K. Whitney


FemiNoshing: To Cook or Not to Cook

I’m not a big fan of Gordon Ramsay. I have limited patience for his arrogance, foul mouth, even his usually sulky looks. That is why, when I came across a story that quoted him saying, “Women can’t cook to save their lives,” I was ready to get out my best Henckels and show him a thing or two.

You see, I love to cook. I have been doing it since I was a child, and though I have never gone to culinary school, I have taken a number of classes from professional cooks. Baking is a therapeutic outlet for me, and a perfectly cooked meal gives me the same creative satisfaction as writing a great article.

I’ve even made a living off it. For seven years, I was food editor for a California newspaper, and I still write a weekly food column for two newspapers.

Therefore, when I hear the likes of Ramsay spouting off about such things, I get infuriated. It’s yet another way to put down women’s skills, to ignore the culinary contributions of generations of women (and many top male chefs credit their mothers for their love of cooking), to undervalue “women’s work.” Then I came across the full quote: “Seriously, there are huge numbers of young women out there who know how to mix cocktails but can’t cook to save their lives, whereas men are finding their way into the kitchen in ever-growing numbers,” he told Radio 4 while filming his show “The F Word.”

What a difference a few extra words make! Now, I will never be fond of Ramsay, even if, as it turns out, he has nurtured the careers of a few female chefs. But I will concede his point. A cursory look at the women in my larger acquaintance, who straddle both Gen X and Y, shows me Ramsay is right. Quite a few have zero interest in cooking, though I can’t name a single one who, like the fictional Carrie Bradshaw, uses her oven “for storage.” [Editors' note: The two of us who run this site may have both lived in an apartment once upon a time wherein we might have used the oven for storage. And the refrigerator as a convenient place to stash white wine and face lotion and nothing else. It's really nice to have chilled lotion in the summer. What can we say?]

As someone who loves cooking, I wonder why so few of my cohorts can even muster a vague fondness for it. I think cookbook author Nigella Lawson may have put it best: “Freedom from kitchen servitude is recent enough for women to flaunt their undomesticity — just as women of an older generation often refused to learn to type or learn shorthand,” she writes in her introduction to “How To Eat: The Pleasures And Principles Of Good Food.”

That makes perfect sense to me. For generations of women, knowing how to cook was considered a secondary sex characteristic, like having breasts. In the ’50s particularly, a woman who couldn’t cook was automatically a bad wife, a bad mother, maybe even a Communist. Just read the magazines of the day for yourself. Not cooking while female was just not on, particularly with the many conveniences of cake mixes and new-fangled appliances.

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FemiNoshing: Cool Women Who Cook

Rachael Ray has a funny effect on people. There are those who love her, and avidly support the empire she has built with her television shows, cookbooks and magazine. Then there are those who hate her, saying she is overrated, annoyingly perky and sloppy with cooking techniques and recipes.

I fall somewhere in-between. I find her mannerisms and cutesy names for things annoying (EVOO? Yum-O?). But I also enjoy her show, “30-Minute Meals,” and like many of her recipes.

Mostly, I applaud her for her fearless approach to cooking. Too many people find cooking intimidating, and worry that what they produce will never meet the rarefied standards set down by the likes of Martha Stewart. Ray has no such qualms. She makes cooking look fun and inviting, and projects the image that if she can do it, so can you.

In that spirit, I would like to honor Rachael Ray as FemiNoshing’s first “Cool Woman Who Cooks.”

The simple (and un-intimidating!) recipe that follows is from her cookbook “2, 4, 6, 8: Great Meals for Couples or Crowds.” (Clarkson Potter, 2006).

GINGER HONEY TEA
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
1 large strip lemon zest
6 cups water
1/3 cup honey
Juice of 1 lemon
4 chamomile, or other tea bags
In a small pot, combine ginger, lemon zest, water and honey. Bring to a boil. Add lemon juice and transfer to a teapot. Add tea bags, and allow to steep. Remove bags and serve.
Serves about 6.


FemiNoshing: Why Are Most Chefs Men?

A woman’s place, the old saying goes, is in the kitchen.

I would comfortably bet you that, in the majority of heterosexual households in this country, indeed, all over the world, the women are usually the ones producing the meals. After all, nothing says lovin’ like something from the oven, and cooking is the way to a man’s heart.

Even in 2009, a wife who doesn’t cook for her husband is looked at askance; a mother who doesn’t cook, or at least dish up healthy meals for her husband and children, is an abomination (just ask Sarah Haskins). ‘Cause cooking is, you know, a woman’s thing. It’s in our genes. As the gatherers, we have evolved to wait for our hunting men to bring the dead mammoth back to the cave so we can lovingly roast it for our family. It is our biological role to nurture, and the most central way we can nurture (other than cleaning up after everyone else) is by cooking. The men, by that same argument, cannot possibly fulfill that role; it’s just evolution.

Or is it?

Take one look at the restaurant industry, and things are very different. Men outnumber women vastly; varying sources pin it at 10 to 1. So what is the story? How is it that these hunters have suddenly turned into gatherers? Don’t they know they are going against the rules of basic evolutionary psychology? These rules apparently don’t apply to professional cooking, the one way to make a solid living off of so-called “domestic” skills.

Master chef Fernand Point, who is credited with revitalizing French cuisine in the early 20th Century, and with fostering the careers of other culinary giants like Paul Bocuse, put it the most bluntly: “Only men have the technique, discipline and passion that makes cooking consistently an art,” he once said when asked why there were no women in his kitchen. In other words, at least according to Point, women are incapable of elevating cooking to an art. It’s funny, but that sounds suspiciously like the same argument used to keep women out of the art world, academia—pretty much everywhere. Female brains simply aren’t that sophisticated, little girl, so why don’t you go home and play with your dolls.

Most offensively, it also negates centuries of cooking by women. Can we honestly contend that all culinary artistry was accomplished by the men who went against their biological destinies?

Now, Fernand Point made that statement in 1950, and the ’50s were a time of backlash against the strides women made during World War II. As Euan Ferguson put it in a feature in the Guardian, dated March 25, 2007: “From the Fifties on, French cuisine sank back into a stew brimming with machismo. Women rolled up brusque sleeves and washed slopping pots, (or dressed beautifully and ate the stuff daintily out front), but within the world of French chefs de cuisine, the so-called ‘perpetually moustached’ kitchens, four unprecedented decades of growing emancipation were brushed aside while the real men sweated with the heavy knives, and the brimming stock-pans; and the rosettes, the headlines.”

The influence of men like Point and their rules on who can and cannot produce elevated cuisine is still felt today in restaurant kitchens all over the world.

Jezebel’s Sadie Stein addressed sexism in the restaurant kitchen last year, and a number of professional cooks—some chefs, some not—responded: “I went to culinary school and worked in the industry, and the sexism is so rampant as to be unbelievable,” said one commentator. “I was once told at a job interview, ‘We don’t have any women in the kitchen. How about we put you on wait staff instead?’ I was interviewing to be a sous chef.” Another wrote, “I’m a CIA [Culinary Institute of America] grad who cooked professionally for a few years. Even at school, the sexism was amazing because it was so matter-of-fact: I had professors who told my class that women are better at pastry because they have cold hands, that women are better ‘food stylists’ because they care more about color, that male chefs like food to be challenging, but female chefs just want to feed people. Out in the industry, it was more brutal—if you couldn’t laugh at rape jokes, you were an uptight bitch. I had four or five close female friends from my CIA days, and like me, none of them are still cooking professionally.”

New York magazine also tackled the subject, asking female chefs about sexism in the industry, and whether that was why there were so few women running restaurant kitchens, this time in New York City. “It’s worth noting that almost to a woman, the chefs we spoke to were at first reluctant to cite sexism as the reason there aren’t more women among the city’s elite chefs,” the editors wrote in the introduction. “In part, it seemed, they didn’t want to play the victim or be labeled whiny; in part, they didn’t want to believe it—the better to not let it stop them.

‘There are also a lot of men who can’t hack it in the kitchen,’ was a common sentiment. But the more the women talked, the more it became clear that gender bias is still an issue. Not that they don’t embrace a stereotype or two themselves. The one thing the group agreed women do better than men? … Clean.”

While I can understand why these women are reluctant to call out their sexist male colleagues, I also find it frustrating. They are all in positions where they can actually finally make a difference for women in their profession, and I hope some of them do. After all, men have never hesitated to promote their own. Why are we, as women, so terrified of doing the same? Why do we have to be twice as fair as the men?

I know it’s tough to stand up to a bully. It’s much easier to avoid them by remaining invisible. But then the bullying never stops. Too often, people in a minority group embrace the prejudices of the majority, hoping that by doing so the majority will forget they are different. The majority doesn’t forget; it just moves on to another target.

This doesn’t just happen in the restaurant world, of course. I remember interviewing women in another male-dominated field—aviation—more than a decade ago. These female pilots had plenty of sexist stories to tell, too, and they, like the chefs, often dealt with it by ignoring it or minimizing it. The prejudices they were dealing with were astonishingly similar: women are not disciplined enough, analytical enough, blah, blah, blah. Trust me, the airplane doesn’t usually care. And yes, I happen to know that first-hand, but that’s another story.

Then there were the physical issues, which I haven’t touched on yet. Fernand Point, if challenged on the “women are not food artists” point, would probably have said that women can’t hack it on the hot food line. At least, that seems to be one of the arguments for the scarcity of female chefs now.

I cannot dispute that working in a restaurant kitchen is exhausting work. Cuts, burns and other injuries are common, and speed is everything. There is a reason why the kitchen staff is usually fit. The work burns calories faster than most kinds of exercise you do in a gym. Still, why should a woman’s artistry be called into question because she can’t carry a 30-quart stockpot across the room? Surely there are plenty of male kitchen workers who can do this, yet cannot produce good sauce.

In the end, all the reasons given for not having as many female chefs as male seem like so much garbage. The same kind of garbage, in fact, that insists that women are better suited genetically for home cooking and cleaning. But I have high hopes that things are changing.

The Guardian article I quoted earlier was actually about Chef Anne-Sophie Pic, who was awarded three stars by the Michelin guide in 2007. She was the first woman to be honored in such a fashion in 56 years. And this year’s Michelin UK guide gave stars to 10 female chefs. That’s four more than the previous year. Sister chefs can do it for themselves — here’s to hoping more get the chance to do so.


FemiNoshing: Cake Wrecks

If you’ve ever ordered a cake at a professional bakery and been less than thrilled, Jen Yates feels your pain. Two years ago, she and her husband John took a cake decorating class, and, while looking at cautionary pictures of decorating disasters, she realized how often even the most well-meaning decorator can go horribly wrong.

The result: Cake Wrecks, a blog which publishes photos of some of the worst offenders you ever saw in a supermarket cooler. These can include anything from the ugly (misshapen Spongebob Squarepants cupcake cakes) to the surreal (baby dolls riding frosting carrots).

Yates gets her pictures from her thousands of devoted readers, always on the prowl for wrecks, and the “wreckerators” who made them, and her blog recently got the ultimate Internet accolade: it’s being turned into a book.

Oh, and for those who like looking at pretty cakes, check out her weekly feature, Sunday Sweets. Now that is culinary art!

 

– A.K. Whitney


FemiNoshing: The Scourge of Foodie Elitism

As an avid cook, I’ve got to hand it to Martha Stewart. Even going to jail for six months in 2004 didn’t stop her from cooking from scratch. It takes real dedication, I say, to make crabapple jelly, particularly illicit crabapple jelly, while behind bars.

But as much as I admire Martha for her culinary fortitude, and applaud her for building a media empire that rivals that of any man, I also blame her for why so many women don’t cook these days, and for why those who do cook worry that they aren’t good enough for the kitchen unless their food looks like it could be featured in a magazine. And let’s not forget that all of us — especially these days — don’t make the money needed or have the time to do any of it.

This, Martha, is not a good thing.

In the first installment of FemiNoshing, I explored the idea of women shunning cooking as a way to rebel from their society-imposed roles. To paraphrase Nigella Lawson, Gen Xers and Ys take the same kind of pride in not knowing how to cook that their mothers took in not knowing how to type. In the second, I talked about how, when something gets turned into a profitable venture, it invariably becomes the domain of men — see the preponderance of star male chefs for proof. And, let’s face it: Sexism is a given in every male-dominated field. Therefore, those women who actually want to cook—and make a decent living at it—too often get discouraged by the boys’ club. And those who do make it are often unwilling to rock the status quo.

But there’s a third aspect to all of this: The same movement that elevated home cooking from a woman’s chore to an arty hobby has backfired.

Sure, we are inundated by cooking shows, magazines, and so-called gourmet food products. Your average 7-11 carries balsamic vinegar and sushi these days (well, at least in most major urban centers). Many people love to look at beautifully art-directed spreads in food magazines and cookbooks. But how many go on to try to recreate them? Or are they content to just read them and then get takeout? And why do they feel that way?

Apparently, fear is a big factor for a number of the women I queried on the subject.

“It is actually the exact reason why I don’t cook: I am intimidated by it,” says Brenda, who I feel deserves kudos for purchasing a grill pan and actually using it. An avowed perfectionist, she continues, “And there’s the threat of failure, which is my own overachiever issues at play, but I think that figures into it too—as a generation raised to think we should be able to kick ass at everything, are we too scared to try something we might not be undeniably awesome at?”

While I agree with Brenda that fear of not matching up to the frothy ideal of Martha Stewart Living is keeping many people away from the kitchen, I don’t think that’s the entire story. Money also plays a part. Being a good cooking hobbyist (aka a “foodie”)  means buying the right (usually pricey) toys, from that Le Creuset cookware to the set of Wusthof knives. Then, of course, you need the best ingredients, and those never come cheap. Specially imported European butter and artisan bread, anyone? (Stay tuned for a future FemiNosh on why eating healthy, never mind organic, is a luxury the poor—and women live in poverty far more than men—can’t afford, and how utterly messed up that is.)

Finally, you need the time to plan, shop for, and cook those elaborate recipes. Case in point: most soup recipes in Martha Stewart’s cookbooks call for homemade stock, a process that can take multiple hours.

As Sophia, a mother of two who runs her own business but also loves to cook, puts it: “How much time does Martha think I have, anyway?”

In other words, that kind of home cooking is not feasible for those who actually have to work for a living.

Now, I realize I’ve been giving Martha Stewart a particularly hard time of it so far. She is by no means the only one to blame. She is one of a huge chorus of celebrity cooks and chefs pushing these ideals, which some women are beginning to reject.

Julie Powell, a reformed foodie who blogged for a year about the challenge of making every recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (a blog that became the book and soon-to-be movie, Julie & Julia”), has a splendid rant on the subject: “I have had enough,” Powell writes. “Enough of the $40 olive oils and imported semolina flour and ‘please, Turkish oregano only!’ If I read one more dining guru gushing about ‘honest ingredients, treated with respect,’ I shall vomit, sir. And ‘Market Menus’? Don’t get me started. The well-meant ‘food revolution’ Alice Waters instigated some 30 years ago has metastasized horribly.”

Powell goes on to tell us about the one foodie she respects (no shocking reveal here): Julia Child. “Julia Child isn’t about that. Julia Child wants you—that’s right, you, the one living in the tract house in sprawling suburbia with a dead-end secretarial job and nothing but a Stop-n-Shop for miles around—to master the art of French cooking. (No caps, please.) She wants you to know how to make good pastry, and also how to make those canned green beans taste alright. She wants you to remember that you are human, and as such are entitled to that most basic of human rights, the right to eat well and enjoy life.”

Now, as much as it pains me to say this, I have to beg to differ a bit: I think Julia Child deserves some blame for leading us toward the Cult of Martha. While I will always adore Child for making the rarefied art that is French cuisine accessible to everyone (and giving the figurative finger to chauvinists like Fernand Point in the process), she pretty much started the culinary hobby movement. You know, the movement that told the women who liked to cook, but were disinclined to be domestic drudges, that cooking was okay. It was okay because you, too, could make it an art! Unfortunately, what was meant to be empowering also made women like Brenda reject it because they feared they were simply not “artistic” enough.

True, Child never to my knowledge endorsed the need for $40 olive oil, but then again, the leader of a certain popular religion I will not name here would also likely be horrified at things done in his name. Nor do I think Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse and mother of the movement toward fresh, locally grown ingredients necessarily meant to endorse the rampant food snobbery on display at places like Whole Foods (or, as many like to call it, “Whole Paycheck”). But the fact remains that Stewart, Child and Waters (and most celebrity chefs and cooks, for that matter) all have a part in creating a toxic environment for fledgling or experienced cooks.

And I think that is a shame. So, please, Brenda and Sophia—and everyone else who wants to cook but has let the foodies ruin it—listen to me. Forget art. Forget technique. Forget fancy accessories. Forget feeling like you have to put on a show. Just go to the market and buy something that you can afford and that appeals to you. Get a cookbook with recipes that you would actually make (I recommend the “Joy of Cooking”). Or forget recipes; wing it. Really. No one is going to punish you for experimenting.

Stop being afraid. If you screw up, you screw up. And if it’s edible, you can still eat it. Just have some fun. Remember this: The only sin passion can commit is to be joyless.


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