Sexism in the Kitchen: Why Are Women Still Not Taken Seriously in the Culinary Industry?
In many workplaces, I’ve been the only woman. I’ve also worked in spaces where there were only women around me. Yet I still feel that the best jobs strike a balance somewhere in the middle - besides, I love men! What I don’t love is the sexism that I have faced consistently when working in the culinary industry.
It was 2010. I was 18 years of age and taking an internship as a cook in a restaurant. My first encounter with sexism in the workplace came whilst dishwashing dirty plates, the restaurant owner suddenly came to stand behind me, slamming me in the backside and saying, "Princess." Of course, this wasn’t the first and last time it happened. A couple of years later, I got involved in the kitchens ‘hot side’ where you prepare main courses. No surprise, it’s common practice for women to only work on the less stressful ‘cold side’, which meant preparing appetisers and desserts, because no doubt the pressure of hot plates would be way too much for us! As I was cooking at the stove, the chef touched my hips and whispered in my ear, "I know this doesn’t belong to me." More common is the unpleasant and strenuous suggestion, "Did you get the bottle of wine from the cellar?" Was it big?”, or inappropriate comments about my appearance or gender at large. In one restaurant a chef told me that I was too beautiful, I shouldn’t work in a kitchen and that I should be a waitress instead.
I often unwillingly participated in discussions about my position in the kitchen and made my point about it outright, as I usually do without thinking too much about it. Everyone would go silent when I stood up for myself, and one of the male chefs even shouted, "Feminists don't belong in the kitchen!" These are just a couple of examples of the situations that I have faced whilst working in restaurants. I’ve been a chef for five years now. During that time, I’ve become so accustomed to sexual harassment and chauvinism, that such behaviour feels commonplace in a day’s work. Yet I still can’t help but feel disappointed that this messed-up culture remains prominent in the cuisine industry, as it seems to in almost every other.
One thing I’d like to make clear is that I like flirting, and I don’t think flirting should be condemned. But there’s a clear difference between flirting and harassment, and the latter is too often exploited under the guise of ‘playfulness’. The biggest problem is that women are not taken seriously at work. The woman, even when she is in the kitchen, takes up the role of an outsider which comes alongside the irony that men like to tell us our place is in the kitchen. But, of course, we still can’t be head chef, especially if the top cuisines of the old union have it their way. I'm not angry or hurt. Overall, I like the restaurant industry and I love being a chef. I just hope that the prevailing culture in the sector can be discussed and improved; it's in everyone's interest. And yet, just a couple of weeks after the #MeToo campaign took flight, my male colleague sent me a Facebook message: “Pretty porn brought your profile picture. Nothing else. #MeToo."