“Whaaaaaat?!? Girls don’t grill hamburgers!”
That was my 4 and a half year old daughter’s exclamation upon seeing this picture of me on Facebook flipping burgers at Saturday’s benefit party for the upcoming Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival.
(Thanks to benefit attendee “HR” for snapping this pic and sending it to me to post on my social media at the event…hopefully there will be some good professional pics to come.)
My jaw dropped, and I felt a bit queasy.
If ever I questioned what I am trying to do with the Burlesque Butcher character, these stinging words from my daughter heightened the necessity and deepened my resolve. Words from my daughter–a child who has watched me butcher and cook numerous animals (many of them over a grill), who has accompanied me to farms and slaughterhouses to pick up animal carcasses, who has helped me build things with real tools, who has seen me sweaty and grungy doing typical “boy” things as often as she has seen me in dresses with perfect makeup and heels. Where is she getting this stuff? Her incredulous comments speak to a vital need for far, far more active normalization of the equalization of genders in all forms of cooking and food preparation. When I think back…has she ever seen a woman other than me grill something? I don’t think so.
Why is most home cooking done by women (and expected to be done by women) yet ignored or even regularly maligned while considered necessary? Why is most restaurant cooking (especially at the celebrity chef level) done by men? Why do women not carve the turkeys and roasts they prepared at dinner parties but rather let that final glory be overtaken by men? Why does backyard grilling default to men?
When pressed as to where my daughter got the notion that girls didn’t grill hamburgers she revised her original exclamation, hedging, “Well…girls don’t usually grill hamburgers.” I resisted the urge to rant and built on the door she left open a crack to explain (in 4-year-old accessible language) that it’s totally okay for girls to grill hamburgers and that, in fact, they should do it more often!
At the event itself, while out there in the alley over the course of a couple hours (everyone entering and leaving the space had to walk by me, so ample opportunity for discourse), I had three different types of conversations, which also reaffirmed what I’m doing with this character. With men, most of the initial comments were along the lines of “it’s so fun/cool to see a woman manning the grill for once” (granted these were men at a performance art event, so more inclined toward feminism and breaking gender norms). I got a few, more lecherous, men who either ogled or made comments about how what I was doing was sexy…and, to be fair, it was, and I like to feel that I make sexuality approachable, so the ensuing conversations also ended up being positive because I used my sex appeal as an entry point to explain the critique–and given the context the reception was welcoming not antagonistic. In a non-art context, though, I shudder to think what the reaction from most men might be…what I do does walk a fine line between T & A and social critique. Most women, when they do grill, don’t do it in platform heels. Women mostly just said they “got it” (I assume meaning the critique), but didn’t really engage me in much discussion while at the grill (later, when back inside just socializing at the party they did). It was fascinating (and compelling) that while at the grill, the vast majority of my conversations were with men.
Just the other day I was at a backyard barbecue hanging out with two seemingly feminist-leaning men, one of whom was cooking burgers over the grill, when he turned to the other man and asked if he knew how to tell if the burgers were done. He didn’t ask both of us mind you (he didn’t know about my performance art or long history with meat so he’s somewhat forgiven). The entrenched gender association of grilling with men, thrown in my face so blatantly and unexpectedly, floored me, especially when I thought I was in a context in which we both would have equally been asked such a question. The other man admitted he was a vegetarian so had no clue as to how to assess burger cooking progress. So me being me, I (hopefully gently concealing my shock) mentioned my meat passion and showed him how to press slightly on the burgers to sense how cooked they were by how jiggly they felt (more jiggly=more rare, although it does take practice to really get a feel for it–those of you who have a hard time getting perfectly medium or medium-rare burgers, might start using an instant read meat thermometer in tandem with the press-and-jiggle method to perfect your technique). The questioner genuinely seemed to be paying attention, which is not the usual reaction I encounter when guys ask for BBQ help, and I offer it, rather than some neighboring guy. I have gotten into some nasty tiffs with mansplainer personalities over meat advice.
Women…please! Unabashedly take over your backyard grills this summer (and carve the Thanksgiving turkey and the Christmas roast—I can’t tell you how many times I have bitten my tongue watching some man who had no freaking idea what he was doing butcher a carving job acting as the star of the show after his wife had slaved over the meal all day). There is no reason men should be monopolizing these “showcase” cooking roles and receiving accolades for what usually amounts to subpar food (with all due respect to my handful of male friends who do cook some mean BBQ or grilled items…).
Because clearly, even with a strong, feminist presence in her life, my daughter has, at 4, internalized some abhorrent stereotypes. The vast, vast majority of other people have too. These subtle forms of misogyny need to be more actively fought!
(And remember, you can help support my upcoming Rapid Pulse Festival performance here! For a donation of just $10, you can receive a recipe booklet with my favorite lamb recipes, some of which I created myself.)