We sat at the counter and ate and drank. “Did you make the spaghetti sauce?” she said.
“Yeah. A secret recipe I got off the back of the tomato paste can.”
“And the salad dressing? Is there honey in it?”
“Yep. Got that from my mother.”
She shook her head. “Fighter, lover, gourmet cook? Amazing.”
“Nope. I’ll take the fighter, lover, but the gourmet cook is a sexist remark.”
“If you’d cooked this no one would say you were a gourmet cook. It’s because I’m a man. A man who cooks and is interested in it is called a gourmet. A woman is called a housewife. Now eat the goddamned spaghetti.” I said.
She did. Me too.
Promised Land – By Robert B. Parker (1976)
There is something you are taught in therapy, I have been told. I myself have never had more than a brief fling with therapy (it becoming obvious quite quickly that it actually wasn’t me that had the problem the one time I went in for real) but I have been told and I have read a lot. You’re not supposed to make “You Statements” when you talk about something bothering you, but rather “I Statements”. It’s not supposed to be “You do this to annoy me!” but instead go for “I am annoyed by this.” which brings charges that therapy makes people selfish, because they talk more about themselves than other people. I’m often thrown by this, because the complaint often becomes “She just talks about herself and doesn’t want to gossip anymore.” or “They won’t just sit and listen to me anymore!” and I check out of the conversation from there. As a result, I’m going to try to use a lot of I Statements here, because I want to talk about how a thing effects me as well as others.
I’ve listened to a lot of Men’s Rights stuff over the last few years, and almost agreed with some of it. The problem is that they often loose me the more they talk, see if you can see where I’m going with this little playlet.
MRA – Men aren’t allowed to be what they want in this society!
Me – Okay, you’ve almost got something of a point there. (Let’s see what you do with it)
MRA – We’re as trapped as women by the expectations of modern life.
Me – Here! Here! (Why can’t a man wear a dress?)
MRA – Which is why feminism needs to go away!
Me – I’m sorry?
MRA – Women need to get back into the kitchen and remember their place!
Me – Wha-Huh?
MRA – And then men can be MEN again!
Me – What in the seven levels of hell are you talking about?
MRA – Bitches won’t date me! I’m Unwillingly Celibate!
Me – Um….
MRA – I mean, I open doors and everything.
Me – Okay, you need to shut up now or I will beat you to death with this small decorative elephant that a relative gave me as a memento of their trip to Mexico. Why a brass elephant from Mexico, I’ve always wondered, but I will kill you with it.
MRA – You’re just saying that because *URK*!
Me – *thump* Muthafucka! *thump* I did say. *thumpthumpthump*
NOW! Why was I even listening to this person at the start? It has to do with the quote I started with. A person starting with that phrase can go one of two ways, you can either go towards some idea of gender equality, or towards the idea that you should be handed “hot bitches” free with every oil change. I am not going to go into the whole argument here, but if you shower and if you open doors because you’re polite (instead of making a speech about chivalry and how now people OWE YOU for being a decent person) then things will actually go easier for you. It’s not that women love jerks, if they did, they’d go for some of you self-professed Nice Guys.
That’s not even what I called you all here to discuss!
I cook, I have always cooked, ever since I was a child I have cooked. When I have cooked, there have always been people who have treated this like it’s some kind of magic. As if I stood back away from the stove, rolled up my sleeves and yelled “Ala-ca-muthafuckin-ZAM!” and with a brilliant yellow flash (which would mean there was sodium in the mixture) there was suddenly food. Even people who themselves knew how to cook treated this mystical skill of mine like something I learned at the foot of Wong Fei Hung. Because I was a male, cooking, it was regarded as an odd and noteworthy event.
I was quite old before I realized that I actually could cook quite well, enviably well in fact. That it wasn’t just people reacting to the notion of a male-child applying the mystic roots and ancient flames to ingredients in order to create food from non-edible matter. The concept of a male cooking has become less noteworthy over the last twenty years or so, but well into my early twenties it was still an odd and interesting thing to talk about. That I was basically the only one in our house that did the cooking, was often seen as weird and frankly wrong.
Now, Syd can cook some. In that she can cook some things, when she puts her mind to it. I suppose if she had to cook all the time, she would probably be good at it, but she doesn’t need to. Holly could just about toast bread and spread peanut butter on it without burning the house down. She was more than happy to let me do the cooking, because she had no interest at all. In fact, most the women I’ve dated haven’t had much use for the notion of cooking, allowing someone else to do it as much as possible. Just a thing, like so many others. Women I have dated have many a similarity. ANYWAY. I get annoyed at the idea though, that because I cook I am performing magic. It’s bad enough when I actually do something magical, like make a marshmallow. It’s doubly annoying when someone treats any application of heat to food like I’ve performed some kind of goddamned miracle and should have statues erected in my fabulous honor. (Note, I’m not saying cancel the statue, it’s a great statue, but honor my skills as a world-class lover, not as someone who can cook.)
The latest kerfuffle Penny Arcade got into actually reminds and prompts me on this. The problem with all gender issues boils down to the cooking thing for me. Sexual identity means something to me, because all identity issues mean something to me. How you identify yourself is important, because without self-identity where are you? What you decide to be, who you are, how you act, how you present yourself to the world, it all has an impact. Sometimes it’s changing everything about you (even fixing physical errors you were stuck with by the cheap dvergar laborers that the gods hire for people construction) and sometimes it’s just doing what you feel most comfortable with.
Cooking should not be considered some kind of transsexual affair, and I should not be considered a hero for doing it. And yet, I was by people who thought they were admiring me. I often got treated like I was some brave pioneer, throwing off the yoke of gender identity roles while… I dunno, cooking without an apron. I have never worn an apron, I don’t tuck a towel into my belt either. I just keep a hand towel on the stove and this isn’t important. I was actually called “Pretty Brave” by someone who was well meaning and thought they were delivering a compliment. When asked to elaborate, they said some people would “call you queer for doing that” and that “it’s kinda gay for a guy to cook” but that I made it “look masculine”. I almost felt bad killing that person and leaving their body in a peat bog but it was the only way people will learn! Now remember, that was supposed to be a compliment. It didn’t feel like one at the time, and the person began to see how I felt about it as the interview continued.
No one has ever tried to insult me, or threaten me because I canoodle in the kitchen (cooks have VERY big knives) but they do belittle the event with this notion of gender normativism. It’s deeply insulting to think that only a woman is really supposed to cook, and it harms both me and the woman not cooking to say so. That, if I may conclude where I intended to begin, is why I still need feminism. Yeah, it’s not as big as other people’s, but I’m a cis-gendered middle class white male. If I don’t like something you do or say to me, I’m still legally allowed to burn your house down (unless you are an upper-class white male) because, you know, privilege. That’s just it though, as a therapeutic tool, this has to be about me, not about you. Still though, it’s a sign, one that comes even up to the cis-gendered middle class white guy level that says “Shit’s still broken!” and asks us to fix it. The deeper we go, the more problems we’re going to find, and if this one made it to the surface…
When I’m still being applauded for being a man that cooks, and rape culture is still a thing that people pretend doesn’t exist, and gender stereotypes are still rigidly enforced… can any of us say we’re truly free? There are eight million stories in the Naked
City Internet, this is one of them.