When I was a junior in high school my mom traveled to India for a couple of weeks and since my brothers were in college, it was just my dad and me at home. At some point during this period of time, my dad and I ran into a family friend who asked us how things were going without my mom at home — which was, of course, nice of her. The thing that struck me, however, was when she proceeded to ask me something along the lines of, “So, Anika, have you been cooking since your mom isn’t home?”
Now, at 16, I was capable of basic cooking if I had to. However, with school, extracurricular activities and whatever other responsibilities I had at that age, I was preoccupied, and I was privileged enough to have cooking not be a prominent task on my mind. My dad was quite capable of cooking, and, therefore, with a look of confusion, I told her that my dad had been cooking.
Another time, more recently, a different family friend asked me a similar question while I was with my two older brothers; she asked something along the lines of, “Since your mom comes home late from work, do you cook dinner?” I’ll be the first to admit that my brothers are much better cooks than I am — yet out of the three of us, I was the one who was asked about this.
A conversation with one of my roommates about this resulted in her agreeing with my observations on the connection between gender and cooking; she told me about how it is treated as an expectation that she should be able to cook while her male cousins are showered with praise if they are capable of cooking. People often ask her if she knows how to cook with few questions of the sort directed toward her male cousins.
These experiences highlight the double-standards and expectations solely dependent on gender especially in terms of cooking. Men who are able to cook are highly praised, whereas it is often an expectation that women know how to. Society is praising men for cooking, which should instead be treated as an important life skill, not a gendered task.
This is true especially in the Indian and Indian American community; both my roommate and I, being Indian American, have clearly witnessed this firsthand and have grown up surrounded by it as well. From seeing ads on Indian TV channels where men, dissatisfied with their wife’s cooking, simply complained rather than doing anything substantial to change their circumstances to seeing male celebrities being praised for cooking for the first time in five years, these standards have been heavily normalized. It is high time these standards change.
Many skills, including cooking, should not be separated based on gender and everyone should be encouraged how to learn how to cook, not just girls. Not every meal has to be a fancy, four course, five-star-restaurant-quality meal; simply understanding the basics, being able to follow a recipe and being willing to learn is more than enough.
Indian author Ismat Chughtai highlighted the differing expectations between men and women through her works and anecdotes regarding her experiences growing up. Chughtai’s works from the early 20th century are still relevant today as, in certain families and societies, the expectation that girls and women should be able to cook properly sometimes takes them away from their education or other important endeavors, showing how these expectations can be detrimental for girls.
Rather than shower men with adulations for cooking — performing something that should be seen as a skill — and expecting it from women, there should be a middle ground; it is equally important for all genders to learn how to cook and perform other domestic tasks. From encouraging all children that it is O.K. to observe in the kitchen to treating cooking as an important life skill, the way society views cooking is in dire need of change.
Indeed, cooking is simply a life skill – one can even consider all the drawbacks to constantly eating food from outside. Anyone who cooks can and should be praised. The men who take pride in not knowing how to cook certainly don’t help the situation. What will they do if, like with Downton Abbey’s Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson, their wives sustain injuries and can’t cook for a while? Will it be sodium-rich frozen foods for weeks or months, or will it be a bank account drain of constantly eating from restaurants?
As a man who can cook, I know I surprise people – but I want it to be for the quality of the food, not my gender. To assume that I can’t cook would be insulting. Similarly, I can imagine the expectations that my female peers are left grappling with, when they’ve made decent food that gets put down.
Not to mention, many famous chefs are men (Gordon Ramsay, Ming Tsai, Masaharu Miyamoto, Sanjeev Kapoor). Surely it wasn’t just a miracle for them, was it?
I can’t understand why cooking is treated like a woman’s job. If a man is living by himself and buying food from outside constantly, that’s an unhealthy lifestyle. He can’t just cross his fingers and hope that his future wife (if he plans to marry a woman) will be able to help him sustain himself. If a man keeps buying restaurant food, that’ll be a lot of cash to spend on take-out, and a lot of weight to be gained.
I remember, I sued to see a billboard on my way to school reading “MEN WHO COOK,” and some sort of praise. So what? There are many great recipes to try, and no man should look at them and just brush the though aside because of his gender. Likewise, if a woman struggles to cook, there can be valid criticisms, but none should be based on her gender.
There is (or rather, was) a children’s show that demonstrated this idea well. In “Arthur,” the titular character’s father is a professional chef and caterer, often dabbling in exotic recipes. Meanwhile, his mother is also a decent cook, but she has a math-heavy profession as an accountant (and women have often been underrepresented in said field). Similarly, children’s television shows such as “Curious George” and “Martha Speaks” featured a professional chef and a character’s culinarily-skilled uncle, respectively, in various episodes. And who could forget “Ratatouille”? Hopefully, the more that children’s television shows and movies show men cooking, it will dispel the notion that men cannot cook or need any special praise to do so. It’s a life skill — it may not be for everyone, but everyone needs some basic competency. It’s also not limited to American shows or those meant for younger children — the anime series for “Pokémon” often featured male characters as the primary cooks.
In real life, there were examples of this as well. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg mentions throughout her book that her husband, Martin (whom I pulled my screenname from) was an excellent chef, and he cooked for her clerks and took a huge weight off her back. Meanwhile, the Justice herself was so bad at cooking, that her children didn’t even let her in the kitchen! Imagine if Justice GInsburg was forced to cook just because she was a woman — to what gain? The point is, no one should assume that women are amazing cooks by default and put unrealistic expectations on them. Similarly, why should anyone assume that a man cannot demonstrate his skills in front of a stove?