For my birthday I received two cookbooks. The first was Bunner’s Simple & Delicious Gluten-Free Vegan Treats by Ashley Wittig and Kevin Macallister. The second was The Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon.
Bunner’s for those of you unfamiliar is a successful vegan bakery in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto. And Oh She Glows is an equally successful vegan blog by an Oakville, Ontario resident.
Over the course of the last year I’ve taken vegan baking and cooking more seriously, and have decided to start my own blog chronicling the recipes that I concoct myself, or alter from others to suit my own tastes.
As a result I’ve been conducting a lot of research about vegan bloggers in an effort to find a gap in the market I can fill. Most food blogs are typically written by women, that’s obvious and I get the history and the reasons behind why women sensualize food and so forth.
But there has been one recurring theme in my research that kind of bothers me, only because it could perhaps inhibit my ability to reach a wider audience. Scratch that, what really bothers me has more to do with skewered gender roles than anything else.
These two cookbook which I refer to here are only small examples of many more similar examples of the differing reader expectations for male and female chefs.
What I’ve discovered is that despite the women playing a central role in the development and execution of the recipes, most food bloggers are a collaborative effort, the husband always plays an integral role in the process, and this kind of irks me a bit.
It’s not so much that he’s a baker, or a cook, but just a husband, who loves the author so much that he supports her every step of the way. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s super important to have a supportive spouse that’s for sure. But it requires further analysis too.
I guess the point that I’m trying to make is that in order to be successful women want to see female food bloggers happily coupled if they’re going to take them seriously as cooks and bakers?
This is hardly the case with male chefs, they rarely refer to their wives on their blogs, in their books, or on their television shows, and when they do she plays a very small role — she is not imperative to his success. She isn’t featured throughout the cookbook like husbands are. And if she is shown, the purpose is to demonstrate to the readers how attractive she is, or that she’s pregnant, an incubator for the man’s offspring.
Liddon’s blog and cookbook are laced with photographs of her husband, she refers to him constantly, as well as her wedding and pregnancy. Many pages in the book begin with “My husband adores this recipe…” That’s fine and everything, but why is he the authority? Why should I trust him if I’m to try this recipe?
Wittig and Macallister are a couple, so there’s that. They’re established so the sequel to their book will probably involve her pregnancy or their newborn child in some capacity, usually more than I would consider acceptable.
It got me thinking, as I launch my own food blog, why it’s so important for readers to know anything about a female chef’s private life. I get that food often involves a family, in my household growing up all 6 of us had dinner together each night at 7 p.m.
But it’s the establishment in the minds of readers that the bloggers have these absolutely perfect lives. The perfect wedding, the perfect husband, the perfect baby and all of it is made possible because of food!?? And marriage?
I get that’s it’s called marketing, but again, that doesn’t mean I can’t criticize it. For starters, let’s talk about the enormous double standard here.
I was watching Mad Man, and smirked as the character of Peggy continues to rise in her corporate career, during a time where women were just skirts who flirted around the office for the amusement of men. She said something rather astute. Paraphrasing, it ran around the lines of though she’s proven to be better than all the men and saved the company from bankruptcy the most important aspect of her life in the eyes of her peers is her marital status.
And so that’s how I feel about these food bloggers. This is a symptom of our disdain for women in our culture, how they can only be valued by their appearance, and when that’s not enough, if they’re coupled with a child.
The male food bloggers are capable of being successful without pimping out aspects of their personal lives. Because they’re men, they can be an authority on a topic without referring to their female spouse as proof of their competency.
I’m cognizant of the fact that a vast number of women are interested in the private lives of other women. I get that they’re raised to believe that the most important day of their lives will be that one when they get to be a princess for a day and walk down the aisle of some chapel or what have you in a white dress — the centre of everyone’s attention, the apple of their father’s eye!
It’s telling of our patriarchal society that the food industry, which is dominated by women, is still significantly and insidiously influenced by a man’s approval.
As I’m reading these blogs I have to tell you that as a gay man, I’m not interested in knowing anything about these women’s husbands. I actually don’t care. In truth, I find it distracting and besides the point. They’re clearly all very talented women, so why can’t they just let their skills do all the talking?
Behind all this marketing of one’s life in an effort to sell books and make money we have to question the double standards that we’re told to believe is fact.
Miss Representation is a documentary that really illuminates the corrupt ways the media controls the female image. It’s meniacally (a word Julia Sweeney has taught me to use) important in our culture for women to overshare personal details about their lives, and to make it okay for their friends to talk about these details to other people too.
In the end women achieve tiny levels of success, but they never reach parity with men, because even in these blogs, cookbooks and food television series, men play a central role in the woman’s life story. It’s so very strange. A woman’s value is not determined by her skill, but on her relationship status, and there’s something very wrong with that message.
I’m left with something far more selfish and pressing, how can I break through the market if I want to lead and continue with a private life? In order to be successful, as a gay man, do I have to talk about those who I share my life with, even though I’m not comfortable doing so?
This world is full of obstacles for people who question the convention we’re taught to accept early on in life. For those on the fringe, it can be challenging not only to have our opinions heard, but to have them respected.
And then of course, it’s almost impossible for us to be considered successful if we don’t adhere to heteronormative views that have been constructed by heterosexual men and accepted by women.