Which made us want to write about food and gender. (Can you believe it took us over six months of blogging to get to food and gender?)
Food is gendered. What does that mean? Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean. First of all, it doesn’t mean that beef is somehow male and greens are somehow female. It doesn’t mean women and men are hardwired to eat different things. Food is gendered in this culture because everything is gendered in this culture. What we talk about is gendered. What we learn about and how we learn it is gendered. What we do for fun is gendered.
By the way, all of these things are also class-based and ethnic, and we may get to that in later posts.
Here’s what we mean when we say food is gendered. Women are expected to want salads, vegetables, fancy chocolates, and sweet alcoholic drinks with umbrellas in them. Men are expected to want slabs o’ meat, potatoes, apple pie, and beer or hard liquor. Women are expected to comment in restaurants on the size of the portion and the presentation of the food before they take a bite. Men are expected to dig in. Women are expected to care about the health quality of what they eat, and to be somewhat knowledgeable about what’s healthy and what isn’t. The word “anti-oxidant” trips lightly off a woman’s tongue. Men are expected to eat “what they want” and not concentrate on health issues.
In the keynote essay for Familiar Men, we discuss the “masculinity box,” the ways in which the world is always checking on men to make sure they fit, that they aren’t behaving like wimps, faggots, or girls. For lots of complicated reasons, there’s a somewhat larger box for women, but food is definitely a place where the “femininity box” also holds sway.
So here’s just one thing to think about: how full is the United States of men who are ordering steak and beer when they want a plate full of broccoli and a mango daiquiri? Of women who are ordering Caesar salad and a diet coke when what they want is rare roast beef and a huge baked potato? Of people who don’t even know what they want any more, because they’ve been so socialized to order appropriately?