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The gendered experience of food

Gender food royalty
(Photos: Unsplash and Shutteratock)
In recent years, there has been a rise in the gendered approach to food, and research has recorded an increasing interest in the topic — specifically in anthropological studies and human and social sciences, according to Marzia Mauriello and Gaia Cottino in their research paper “Food and Gender: Contemporary Perspectives, Studies, and Researches”.اضافة اعلان

Food is a frequent topic between Jordanians, with questions like “What are you eating today?” and “What is today’s cooked meal?” making for quick yet efficient small talk. This is important proof of the existence of the culture of food. Food is advertised, marketed, sold, bought, distributed, made, and thrown away. Each country has its special dish, each road has a market of sorts selling food, and each city counts hidden gems among its local restaurants. All of these are genres and subgenres of food, each offering intricate details of how it has a societal impact on its consumers.

We can further observe the way food is used in TV shows, movies, books, and advertisements. It is non-discreetly thrown in to market a certain company or tell you to lose weight with a food’s specific properties. It also goes as far as setting specific gender roles with the language people use. This can be seen in certain advertisements for cheese, for example, where a mother is seen making sandwiches for her children and husband, who has just come home from work. In a different advertisement, a meaty burger is being made by a male chef, immediately masculinizing a simple sandwich.

An article posted by the Munchies in 2014 discussed the ways advertisers exploit gender biases to market their products.

“If you are a man, advertisers believe that you like meat cooked on a fire, or food that’s simple to eat. Or you like yogurt, crumbly chocolate that can only be enjoyed as a ‘guilty pleasure,’ and anything without calories,” Oscar Rickett remarked in the Munchies.

Considering that gender can also have its deeply rooted culture, food and gender can then coexist in a sociocultural system, with effects that are rooted in the structures of society.

“Food is culture, and everything — especially gender — is affected by culture,” according to philosophy professor and director of a Women’s and Gender Studies program Silvia Benso.

Historically, there has been an age-old connection that has been observed between food and femininity. Many studies have investigated this phenomenon, concluding women’s disproportionate food labor is causing gendered divisions between the public and private spheres, as has been researched by Kate Cairns, Josée Johnston, and Shyon Baumann in their article “Caring About Food: Doing Gender in the Foodie Kitchen”. When asking 15 mothers in Jordan, ages ranging between 27 and 55, about who cooks in the family and is responsible for the feeding of the kids, only one of them answered with her husband. Yet even then, it was attributed to him being a chef and liking cooking, rather than a normal familial, joint effort.

According to Tony Coxon in his essay “Men in the Kitchen”, men’s relationship to cooking has traditionally been defined as a hobby, rather than a necessity for survivability. It has also been seen as a means of “helping out”, according to Marjorie L. DeVault in her book “Feeding the Family: The Social Organization of Caring as Gendered Work”, and in other cases it is tied to a profession. These relationships to cooking are never seen as men wanting or even needing to cook for their families, and instead it is seen as them being “nice” or cooking professionally.

“Regardless of how often gender norms dictate that men should occasionally cook, gender norms also still hold women responsible for the nutritional status of their household,” writes Alison N. C. Reiheld in her article “Gender Norms and Food Behavior”.

Jordan News asked a few Arab women who make food-related videos on TikTok for their thoughts on the phenomenon; they cited another common issue they face.

A number of them, who each have over 50,000 followers, mentioned a disparity in the comments they receive as compared to their male counterparts on the social media platform.

“You should feed your family instead of profiting off of your food on TikTok,” or some variation thereof statements commonly, framing the influencers’ work as being “less important than being a good wife to some imaginary man” and “incredibly immodest” for a woman to do, one of the women said.

While many people are supportive, the TikTokers remark that they are often targeted and over-criticized for food that is exactly the same as their male counterparts make, yet they receive comments such as “That looks atrocious,” and “Who would eat that?” while their male counterparts receive waves of support and comments such as “What an exotic dish that is, would love to try it, you seem talented!” instead.

Food and gender also intersect when eating at a restaurant. Maddie, another TikTok creator, told Jordan News that waiters will serve her boyfriend with the steak she ordered and her with his salad.

“I’m not the vegan one, my boyfriend is,” she said. She said that the assumption on the part of the waiters confused her and could be easily avoided if they had asked.

“It felt like the food is gendered, somehow. Salad for the woman, steak for the man.”

Yassir, a vegetarian foodie, told Jordan News he regularly experiences the same phenomenon when out with female friends.

“The burger, the steak, the chicken — you name it. Whatever seems more ‘masculine’ is handed to me, while the salad, the noodles, or a meatless dish is handed to my (female) friends,” he said, adding that he has even been laughed at by waiters when he corrects them on whose dish is whose.

The gendered experience of food is often looked over, yet its effects are so deeply rooted that anthropology and social sciences took it upon themselves to dissect and investigate the intricacies this phenomenon offers.

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