SF Links: Perspectives on the Penn State Scandal, the Spice Girls, and More

News and perspectives from some of our favorite sources around the web:

The Nation‘s Dave Zirin on Joe Paterno and rape apologism: Zirin rails against a Penn State culture that prioritizes football over victims of abuse.

Rookie’s Sady Doyle in defense of the Spice Girls’ legacy: She wasn’t a fan when they came out in the ’90s, but she’s come around since then.

Are cookbooks’ days numbered?: The Inadvertent Gardener thinks so, thanks to the Internet. We still cling to our copy of Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Life like a life preserver though.

The Ms. blog on Cal State students’ battle against hate speech: Apparently they’re trying to use Title IX to shut down a hateful campus tabloid filled with rape jokes and homophobic slurs.

The Violet Room on whether it’s appropriate to say “thanks” after sex: We may have been guilty of this a time or two ourselves. Oops. Our moms taught us manners a little too well.

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).

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.

The Reluctant Domestic Goddess

When I’m naked, I can see the signs of my cooking progress. I’m not talking about a little extra spare in the ol’ tire due to an overactive sweet tooth (though true, I will not obsess here). I mean marks, scars, bruises and weirdly colored pieces of skin that are the results of hot oil splatters and malfunctioning oven mitts that happened in unfortunate conjunction with poor outfit choices.

That faint pink mark on my left arm in the shape of a cat’s eye—baked chicken. The way the nail on my left index finger grows diagonally—overzealous cilantro chopping. A white spot on my cleavage, which I try to pass off as an albino freckle—a result of splattered butter while sautéing in my skivvies. (If you must know, I was late to a party and I hadn’t eaten all day; so I was whipping up a grilled cheese while trying to decide what to wear, okay?)

I’m not so much a “bad” cook as I am an uninformed, underdeveloped one. Or, I should say, was. These scars are my growing pains. Cooking, you see, always seemed like an oppressive chore—and so it was something I never bothered to learn properly. (If you don’t know how to do it, no one—which is to say no man—can expect you to, right?) It’s only been a year or so since I’ve known how to put ingredients together to form a meal. Prior to this life transformation, “ingredients” meant salad bags and string cheese. And “meal” meant takeout.

As a young girl, I resisted my mother’s coaching to help me become “good in the kitchen.” I didn’t want to be a good cook. I wanted to be the best student, get into the best college, and get the best job, which would allow me to hire the best personal chef. Career women of the new millennium don’t cook!

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