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Jun 19, 2010 12:45 PM

Men, Women and Cooking Today


I hesitate to start such a wide-open topic--and one that people even might get "flamey" about--but curiosity to see what Hounds might say drives me on. All my adult life (I'm 47), I have had the impression that men in my age group more often "enjoy" cooking than do women. The odds seem 50/50 or better that when I meet a married couple my age (in my "circle"), the man will be the one who goes bigger into cooking.

But I've never examined this perception systematically. It could be just wrong. I attended a casual cooking class at an upscale supermarket some evenings ago, and it was definitely more women than men. So maybe I'm unwittingly sexist and take more notice when men are interested cooks. But even if I'm right, I don't know if this is true for other age groups, or maybe other demographic groups (I'm an academic and surrounded by more than the average of highly educated and often relatively "liberal" people).

What say members of this board?

  1. I'm 63 and see alot of women in my generation who don't like to cook. Not that their men necessarily do either. Some of what I intuit (is that really a verb?) is that having raised a family (that includes the husband) and having put meals on the table and lunches in lunch boxes, they're just burned out on the whole thing. I have (the most glorious) stepdaughters who are now in their 30s. Their mom raised them and we were every other weekenders so cooking was never a chore. Plus I was 40 and a strong feminist when I did marry so there were going to be no gender-stereotyping exercises in OUR family :) So that doesn't answers your question but it's something I've thought about before.

    We also have a 50ish man friend who has really gotten into cooking the last five years or so. His wife has gladly turned that over to him. Again their children are (barely) out of the nest and I think it was never anything that particularly sang to her.

    I don't think it's sexist at all BTW. You notice what is there IMO.

    5 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      Yes, intuit is a verb. Or at least it is nowadays.

      One of my grandmothers cooked because that's what women did. She was very good at it, but was forever a bitter martyr, if a relentlessly vain one. Her modus operandi at any feast she'd cooked was to complain about how the gravy was salty, the potatoes lumpy, the meat too chewy, and grudgingly accept our assurances that no, everything was really very good. One Thanksgiving my father said, "Okay, Mom, you're right. Everything's lousy," whereupon she flew into a towering rage and stomped off upstairs, slamming the bedroom door. But I think she did that because she'd learned that, too, is what women do. I'm so grateful we didn't have any more of those in the family, or at least not to that extent.

      Now, my wife grew up in a home where Dad did the cooking and Mom washed up. I grew up in a family whose best cook was my maternal grandfather, and I started cooking in earnest (that is, regular meals) in my early 30s. So when the current-and-final Mrs. O and I first got together, I'd cook when she was at my place and she'd cook at hers. Then when she was working on a freelance project in her bedroom/studio I'd shop and cook... and now I'm the cook. And have been for almost thirty years.

      What relevance has any of this? Well, I know how we got to where we are, but I don't think any sweeping observations can be extrapolated from any of it. I suspect that most men who enjoy cooking are like most men who enjoy most crafts: it's a hobby, not a vocation. Thing is, that was Mrs. O's attitude towards cooking, and one evening when I had the flu, she'd told me not to worry, she'd take care of dinner. After 8 o'clock had come and gone, I got up off the sofa and went in to ask how come she was on the drawing board instead of in the kitchen, and she said, "Because I'm not INTO IT!!" I wasn't either, but I realized that if I were to keep my attachment to regular meals I had to be The Cook. And so I am.

      1. re: Will Owen

        Great history. Your last one reminded me of neighbors we once had. He had worked for AP or UPI (can't remember) and she was a stockbroker and they were raising two children. She put in outrageous hours and he quickly figured out that if they weren't going to starve, he'd better learn to cook. Thirty years later he was still the cook and a damn fine one at that.
        PS: Dreamt of you and "your" pork shoulder roast last night. I think it's a sign I need to fix one soon,don't you?

        1. re: Will Owen

          >>"One of my grandmothers cooked because that's what women did."<<

          As a dedicated contrarian, I can appreciate that a person whose parents expect her to do the cooking when she grows up might rebel against that expectation. And if that person ends up in a family where she's compelled to be the cook, it's understandable that the process might be less exciting than it is for some of us, regardless of how good she is at cooking.

          I grew up in a family where both parents worked, but my mom was responsible for getting dinner on the table every night. Not for cooking dinner, just for making sure it happened. And since she worked and I was the oldest of three boys (my sister came along much later), that responsibility got delegated to me fairly often.

          This came in handy in college, when a home-cooked meal was something that my friends (and those who I wanted to become friendly with, if you know what I mean) didn't get to experience very often. My cooking skills were put to frequent use, and improved in the process.

          Eighteen years ago or so I made dinner for the woman who's now my wife. It was our third date, and I've taken care of the bulk of the cooking ever since. My middle brother, by contrast, married a woman who believes that cooking is a wifely burden and that men shouldn't be allowed in the kitchen. She cooks, but doesn't enjoy it, and they eat, but nobody's very excited about it.

          That's not to say that a woman can't have a blast in the kitchen. I know plenty who do. But if it's a job (like it is for my sister-in-law) rather than a hobby (like it is for me), there's bound to be a lot less enjoyment and innovation.

          1. re: alanbarnes

            My ability to cook gumbo and my introduction of chili cheese dawgs sealed the deal for myself and the Khantessa when we were in graduate school together. She had never eaten either, but wolfed down four chili cheese dawgs the first time she encountered them. Her initial reaction to the almighty chili cheese dawg is a bit of a recurring joke in our marriage.

        2. re: c oliver

          DH & I are both in our 50s and been married 30+ years. For the first 15 years or our marriage, he did virtually all the cooking, with the firm rule that whoever didn't cook did the clean up. Over the next years we sequed into a more 50-50 split of who cooks. In the past year or so, I've been doing most of it. Conclusion: Regardless of the sex of the partner who shouldered most of the cooking in the first years of the marriage, after 20 years or so it gets a little old, while the non-cooking partner finds a new outlet for creativity.

        3. I'm 42 and do probably 80% of the cooking. In my experience, this is an extremely rare thing. When I tell folks I do most of the cooking, they are almost invariably surprised. And I am a strong conservative so there shall no ideological so-called "stereotyping."

          3 Replies
          1. re: Perilagu Khan

            My late pa-in-law's politics were somewhere to the right of the Hohenzollerns', while I consider Barack Obama to be almost a Republican. Cooking is not a political statement of any kind, unless it involves serving a radical PETA person a dish of seared foie gras...!

            1. re: Will Owen

              I wonder how many non-Germans would understand the Hohenzollern reference without the help of a search engine. :-)

            2. re: Perilagu Khan

              58 here, and 95% - partly because I love it, partly because I work from a home office so it's easier for me, and partly because I'm VERY particular about food and my wife got tired of listening to my "suggestions" when she cooks. ;-)

              And I'm happy to say I've passed this on to the next generation - our son, now 23, has been the main cook wherever he's lived since he got his first apartment at 19.

            3. SO is a very good cook but he defers to me for a lot or recipes and meals. He actually brought over a cook book today written by a comedian friend of ours - There are indeed recipes that I will try - a cookbook written by a male comedian from a male's perspective. Just the reading is worth it.

              I don't think it's a perception nor a sexist idea. Cooking was 'women's' work for many years and if you do it for 50+ years three times a day you'll get burned out. Regardless of the cuisine.

              I enjoy cooking more when it's not a after work, tired, don't have a clue when somebody's going to get home and no idea what's in the pantry / frig.

              I have a good friend that works in the culinary field as a chef and when I meet up with him I'm picking his brain for 'What's for dinner and what's on sale that you're going to make and how are you going to make it?" Ha Ha! His wife actually makes their meals at home.

              The cooking classes that I've taken are almost always exclusively female.

              11 Replies
              1. re: JerryMe

                >>"The cooking classes that I've taken are almost always exclusively female."<<

                How much of that do you think might stem from the "real men don't ask for directions" school of thought?

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  O_M_G. You are the most brilliant man I've ever known! BTW, I bought Bob that t-shirt many years ago and it still gets plenty of comments when he wears it.

                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    That is so true. The majority of cookbooks opened, or recipes taped to cupboards, were done so by female hands, with brisk but careful consultation.

                    When I asked my father how he learned to cook eggs (he cooked a fantastic egg), he said, with a look that managed to perfectly balance patience and scorn, "The army."

                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      Alan - I might agree w/ that statement however both SO and DS RARELY venture into the kitchen w/o asking for instructions and NEVER do they start a new recipe w/o consulting me first. So, I think men, in general, CAN ask but most do not.

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        >>> How much of that do you think might stem from the "real men don't ask for directions" school of thought?

                        That should have the adjective "American"

                        Here in Guatemala, a land with few signs and the concept of a map is unclear, men do nothing BUT ask directions ... they don't cook ... they ask directions until it is annoying ... like the time my husband asked directions to a church that was around the corner. I could see the top ... the priest was in the middle of a procession to the church ... we had to ask for directions?

                        Anyway, from my experience a man doing the majority or many shared cooking duties remains a rarity even today. Then again, I'm the rarity of a woman who doesn't cook.

                        NO, guys ... that little summer excursion to bbq doesn't count, unless all your meals are bbq.

                        When I see the men sharing or doing all the cooking for the holidays ... then I'll consider true equality in the kitchen. I doubt I'll see that in my lifetime.

                        1. re: rworange

                          rworange! Hello! I am happy to see you here because my neighbor and I have been eating our way through your sardine list. So still slightly on topic of the man/woman thing--you are a woman and you compiled such an exhaustive list, thank you. So often sardines seem to be eaten by men. We are really appreciating your effort. Thank you again.

                          1. re: runwestierun

                            Hope you add some of your comments to one of the sardine posts.

                            I never considered that sardines were more of a guy thing, but I'd guess, yes. I really didn't like sardines all that much in the beginning. Don'r remember what made me start trying all those sardines.

                          2. re: rworange

                            >>"When I see the men sharing or doing all the cooking for the holidays ... then I'll consider true equality in the kitchen. I doubt I'll see that in my lifetime."<<

                            Probably not in every house - or even in half the houses - but at my house, that's exactly how it is. Otherwise, we'd be having canned beans and toast for Christmas dinner.

                            1. re: alanbarnes

                              Here, too: I (male) do virtually all cooking, including holidays. Among my friends, at least two other couples operate similarly.

                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                In this house, holidays are the time of the year when my wife and I are most likely to share the cooking, if only because of the sheer quantity of dishes prepared (we entertain a lot). The rest of the year I do most of the cooking by myself.

                              2. re: rworange

                                I do most of the cooking in our house and it has not the slightest to do with equality or egalitariansm or any other such guff. It has everything to do with the fact that I love to cook and my wife willingly eats what I put on the table. In other words, these matters are not always battles between the sexes or tangential to exalted movements and ideological positions.

                          3. Interesting topic, Bada bing. It's something I've been thinking about lately.

                            I'm in my mid-thirties, raised in the midwest, and I see a far more even division among my peers. My friends, however, range in age from the mid-twenties into the fifties. I have to say that most of my friends who love to cook, regardless of gender, are in their thirties. I find that the ones that detest it are older, and usually female. I think C. Oliver made an excellent point about cooking being a duty for so many women. It isn't so for men in still yet many households, and maybe the men who cook stand out more for it (as you wondered). A passionate cook who is in the kitchen once or twice a week might snag the spotlight away from the one who is gladly away from it after years of service. A happy man whose graying hair catches the stovelight does tend to get more attention than his wife.

                            I think that the ripening food culture in the US has given encouragement to men who were, perhaps, raised to believe their place was bread-winning and barbeque, or nothing. Both of my parents worked full days. My father liked to cook, my mother (the second oldest of ten children, over-worked from toddlerhood) hated it. Guess who made lunches and dinners? They operated according to the model in which they were born, and they were miserable.

                            My boyfriend loves food. His world revolves around it. He never really cooks. I have to entice him into the kitchen, and let him boss me around (Where's the little pan? Where's the good spatula? Grate this cheese!) for him to be able to relax enough to enjoy it. I do keep pulling him in, because he is always happy after he's had some kitchen time. We have an even division of labor in this house that looks suspiciously like what was traditional, but is accorded to not only who has what resource for a given thing (whether it be the time, the energy, or the money), but who truly loves it. When his daughter comes to visit, though, he pulls her into the kitchen so that we can make meals together. I can't wait to see him when he's older, and I'm 'tired' with a drink in my hand as he makes dinner.

                            I think that many of us are still operating under traditional restraints and responsibilities, and maybe need a few more generations before we can rely upon casual observations to be able to discern real pleasure in the kitchen. My mother had just, this year, taken to calling me with recipes she thought I might like, and that she enjoyed making. It has made me think quite a bit of the pressures, the use of linited time and money, that she was always struggling under in the kitchen. In her retirement, it appears to be a whole new ballgame. My stepfather still doesn't cook a damned thing, unless it's on the grill.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: onceadaylily

                              Excellent post, lily.

                              Our 31 y.o. daughter works long hours in an office and her husband works mostly from home. He's always been very social and enjoyed entertaining so it's been pretty easy for him to move over into the weekday cook role. I KNOW you're right. As a couple more generations pass, it will continue to change.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                My boyfriend's daughter is seemingly begrudging of our kitchen time. Her mother cooks all of the time, but in a very 'convenient' way, having four children and a husband to please. But his daughter usually manages to enjoy our time cooking, once we stress that nothing is written in stone, and allow her some control and creativity.

                                My nephew, however, loves to do whatever he can in his kitchen, and begs to help. My brother does all of the cooking in the family, and I love what he's giving his child.

                                I am very curious about dinners hosted by these two some years down the road.

                            2. I prepared the lobsters this evening. Deb will make newberg (sp?) with the leftovers tomorrow.