As March, and therefore Women’s History Month, comes to an end, the struggles of women are to be examined just as much as the successes are to be celebrated. Over 100 years after the passing of the 19th Amendment, the elimination of sexism in the workplace seems redundant: surely, that must be over? Yet in countless careers, discrimination towards women is still common, and in many cases, has become expected. Although sexism in the food industry is a consistent problem that has not yet seen a solution, the first step in overcoming it is identifying the root of these issues. Whether it’s women like Julia Child in the 20th century, more modern female chefs like Nancy Silverton in the 21st century, or any other culinary-aspiring woman in the past 200 years who has tried to make it in the industry, they all must face the same obstacles that can be organized into two categories: overcoming stereotypes and gaining respect.
A classic stereotype of women goes something along the lines of this: women belong in the kitchen. This age-old saying refers to a woman’s supposed role as a housewife, cooking meals for her family all day. While this may have held truth centuries centuries ago, it is no longer the case for women, as many do leave the house to go to work or spend a day at home doing work rather than cooking or cleaning. Nevertheless, it illustrates one of the biggest obstacles for women who want to enter the culinary industry: women who cook are considered housewives and mothers, while men who cook are considered chefs. This stereotype alone deters many women from the industry: either they fear the work of overcoming the stereotype, or they have been conditioned to believe that the food industry is one just for men. Only 22% of head chefs in the country are women, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. To solve the issue of women not entering or rising in the culinary industry, the public collectively need to erase the stereotype and gender divide between men and women in the world of cooking.
As the saying goes, it is more about who you know than what you know: the way to succeed in any career is to gain the respect of peers and superiors alike. Where this becomes an issue is when an entire demographic must prove themselves to another demographic; there is a clear gender divide in the food industry between lower-level employees, typically women, and higher-level employees, typically men. This requires more time, effort, and patience for women to earn the respect of their male counterparts, who most likely did not have to put in that effort to earn their respective positions or respect from their peers. Women are faced with this burden of working harder than men to earn respect in their industry, and this can deter many women from going forward in their learning and culinary career.
Even when the few women with enough persistence and just the right amount of luck do rise in the industry, they are faced with something that women face at every level of every career: harassment. Female restaurant workers generally face severe verbal and physical harassment from their coworkers. Besides the obvious abuse, both physical and verbal, that female servers and bussers face in the industry, chefs too undergo their fair share. A startling statistic shows just how pressing this issue is: 80% of female restaurant workers had experienced harassment. Being groped, hit on, and ogled by colleagues and bosses is unfortunately a very common reality for chefs. This disgusting reality is another problem that could be solved by increased respect for women in the culinary industry.
As women continue to fight for seemingly basic rights like equal pay and even paid family leave, they are also still forced to fight even for respect from their peers in the workplace and work much harder than their male counterparts to overcome negative stereotypes against women. Going forward, it is imperative that we see more women stand up and speak out against sexism in the cooking industry – or any industry. Luckily, as time goes on, there has been an increase in women coming out against discrimination in the workforce. Some of the most popular names in music, Hollywood, and sports have been exposed for disgusting behavior towards women, specifically women who are considered subordinates, in the workplace. The restaurant industry is not immune to these allegations. Celebrated chefs were previously praised as geniuses when they took charge and overpowered their subordinates through harassment and discrimination. Now, finally, the women who had to go through these hardships in the past are using the popularity of the #MeToo movement to call these chefs out. There is a consensus in the culinary industry that there are two ways to succeed in overcoming this issue: women continuing to speak out against harassment and committing to staying in the industry and helping the women coming behind them. Only through the outspoken words of women, and of course the support of their male allies, will the culinary industry finally outgrow the ancient, outdated tradition of discrimination towards women.