There’s “men’s work” (real or imagined).
There’s “women’s’ work” (ditto).
And then there’s cooking.
What I mean is that I don’t even know where cooking is “supposed” to be filed within this (either intrinsic or culturally imposed – depending on who you ask) set of tasks and occupations.
Growing up in the mid 20th century, it was simple. My mother always cooked and my father never did.
Except, that is, when we grilled. Then Dad magically donned the chef’s cap and Mom hung back with her books and crossword puzzles.
Maybe cooking indoors is women’s work and outdoors is men’s?
The same gender ambiguity plagued the TV chefs of my generation. Julia Child was the undisputed grand dame of the culinary court, yet the dashing Galloping Gourmet was a vocal second on the local small screen. (And even Julia would regale us with her trips to France’s great kitchens to consult with the male doyens who ruled them.)
Maybe turning to the heimishe world would give some clearer insight, as it often does. Frum magazines’ cooking sections are clearly ensconced in the “ezras nashim.” And looking back, there’s no doubt there that it was our alter-bubbies – and not our alter-zaidies – who were “at home on the range.”
Yet if we look back at their alter-alter-alter zaidies – the Avos – the picture suddenly looks different.
It was Avraham who cooked for his disguised angelic guests (with the help of his son Yishmael), and it was Yaakov who stirred the famous pot of “red lentils” that Esau sold his birthright for.
True, Sarah was baking the bread for the aforementioned angels (maybe cooking is men’s work, baking is women’s?), and Rivka cooked the stew that Yaakov served to Yitzchak for his blessing – but then again, that was only to take the place of the food that Yitzchak had asked his son, Esau, to cook for him.
Confusing – totally.
You could ask me: who cares? And maybe the answer for most is, who does?
But having spent most of my professional life as a cook, it feels important for me to know if I’d merely drifted into my natural male role (if there is one), or had I ungraciously usurped rightful female territory (ditto)?
At home, this issue has been no small conundrum as well.
Maybe cooking simply is and has always been both men’s and women’s work – a truly gender-neutral endeavor (and thus either ahead of its time, or the exception that proves the rule – depending who you ask)?
Maybe as such, cooking is the great unifier, not only between the genders themselves, but amongst those with different outlooks as to what (if anything) gender roles should be?
Maybe cooking is the key to defuse the great kulturkampf engulfing our age!
Or…maybe it’s time for me to stop writing and go make myself something to eat.