Monday, September 3, 2012

Can't we all just make our own sandwiches?

According to a recent article in Men's Health magazine, unsubtly titled 5 Ways to Cook for More Sex, the way to get women into bed is to impress them with your culinary skills. The article quotes Rocky Fino, author of the assuredly bestselling book Will Cook For Sex, who says "The allure of domesticity is irresistible...Women are enamored with the idea of you cooking for them, whether the food is any good or not." The article goes on to give five inane strategies to use to convince women that you are the next Anthony Bourdain, or at least know how to make toast without burning down your bachelor pad.

Articles such as these tell us that cooking is no longer solely ladies' business. Of course the most elite and famous chefs have traditionally been, and for the most part continue to be, men. The Best New Chef lists created by Food & Wine magazine have featured 92 men and 11 women in the last 10 years (89.3% male, 10.7% female); and while there were celebrations when a record-breaking 11 women won Michelin stars in the UK at the start of 2011, that was out of 143 Michelin-starred restaurants altogether. While cooking earns men elite status and fame in the restaurant world, cooking at home has traditionally been under-appreciated and done by women as part of their expected "domestic duties."

However this appears to be changing, and hopefully not only for the motivations described in Men's Health. A report released earlier this year that followed the lifestyle habits of Gen X adults (men and women born between the years 1961 and 1981) for nearly 25 years, shows that more men than ever before are putting in some serious hours in the kitchen. The study shows that Gen X men make 8 meals per week on average. Interestingly, this number was nearly identical whether men were married or single. This compares to married women who cook about 12 meals per week and single women who cook around 10. Another interesting statistic is that men and women watch cooking shows in the same numbers.

The author of the study, Jon Miller, the director of the International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, attributes the increased number of men who cook to the increased parity in job responsibilities and salaries between the sexes. “In previous generations, there was often a disparity, and the husband’s job brought in more money or was more time consuming. That’s not the case anymore,” says Miller. “Now there is much more parity between genders and in many cases, the woman makes more. That means there is a reallocation of time and duties for these people.” When women are also bringing home the bacon, it's a coin-flip about who will fry it up in the pan.

Personally, the male in my life enjoys cooking much more than I do. He routinely reads food blogs, watches Food Network, and considers himself a "foodie." When we are together, he does the majority of the cooking. This summer, while I was working long hours at a law firm, he would often have dinner prepared for me when I got home. Although I consider myself fortunate to have a man who enjoys cooking, it is no longer uncommon. 

For the most part, Gen X and Gen Y men are far more willing and able to cook than our fathers. If left to his own devices, my Father would make himself microwave popcorn for dinner (as I have actually witnessed). It is not a question in my parents' house who will cook dinner. An infamous example of this phenomenon in my family involved my Great Grandfather. He was visiting my parents in California and declared to no one in particular, "I'm hungry. I would like a sandwich." After a few minutes of confusion, my Mom realized that this meant that she was supposed to make him a sandwich. It was just assumed that if the man wanted a sandwich, the closest woman at hand would make it. Today however, a Gen X or Gen Y man would be more likely to go grill himself a portobello sandwich with organic greens and homemade aioli on fresh focaccia bread from the local farmer's market. 

As the children of the next generation grow up with fathers who cook as much or more than their mothers, the cliche of the kitchen as women's domain will continue to erode. Particularly with the increase of stay-at-home dads and breadwinner moms, the line between the traditional gendered duties in the home will be blurred. At the very least, can we all agree to just make our own sandwiches?


Pali said...

I find the statistic about how women in relationships cook 12 meals a week, while single women cook only 10 very interesting. I would further want to know how intricate or simple these meals are. From personal experience I know when I am in a relationship, or cooking a meal for someone else as well, I have sides, salads, appetizers, dessert, whereas when I cook for myself, which is easily less often, it is just the entree.

Jihan A. Kahssay said...

It is absolutely fantastic that men are beginning to share domestic duties with women. It is unfortunate, however, that what finally tipped the balance were economic factors related to the market place (which is a masculine space), instead of factors originating in the home (which has traditionally been a feminine space). It makes this shift, which benefits women, a result of a realignment of incentives for men. It appears that our gains as women still depend on the decisions and the will of men.

Patricija said...

Also, as mentioned in our Feminist Legal Theory class today, I think these men get a great deal of praise for doing these domestic activities. We all proclaimed how wonderful your partner (and the partner of another student) was and how lucky you are to have snagged them. When people find out that I commute from Berkeley to Davis to go to law school and then come home and make dinner, I only get accolades for my commute but rarely for my domestic duties.

On a separate note, it would be interesting to parse out who these men are. In particular I'd like to know if there are differences when you account for class, geography and race.