My parents got married in 1990 and my father was well aware that my mother did not like to cook. I grew up not seeing my mother in the kitchen. We had someone who would cook for the week every weekend and we all came out fine. Not for once did this affect my parents’ marriage; it was never up for discussion, and it was a known rule in my home that mummy does not cook.
Society constantly tries to define what a woman should or should not do, what her roles are, and how she should carry out those roles. This extends to cooking. I have repeatedly heard the phrase the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach; so women feel compelled to be good cooks not necessarily for themselves, but for their men. Cooking has become one of the main criteria for getting married and, sometimes, staying married.
I have seen many families where the girls are taught to cook complex meals and the boys do not even know how to cook noodles.
A woman is viewed as incomplete if she does not know how to cook. When a lady says she doesn’t know how to cook or she hates cooking, she is automatically judged. I dare say that we sometimes find it unbelievable. The ability to Cook is subtly used to profile a woman as good, homely, and traditional. I have seen many families where the girls are taught to cook complex meals and the boys do not even know how to cook noodles. You constantly hear things like: ‘Can you marry a woman who cannot cook?’ ‘If a woman cannot cook, she will lose her husband to someone who can’. While these phrases might serve as musings of the wise, they are also threats to women. How did my mother survive?
Recently I went back home, and our cook was on holiday; so, I wanted to make something nice for my family. I unconsciously asked my mother if we could go to the market together to buy the foodstuffs and she told me casually: ‘I do not know where the market is; I don’t think that I have been to the market in like 15 years’. This sounds shocking, right? The more shocking thing is that I know how to cook, and I love doing it. She didn’t have to teach me, she hired a chef to do so and paid for me to attend a cooking school. You might think this has to do with economic status but, no, we are just an average family.
Many people also try to praise my dad. They call him a rare man for being able to marry a woman that hardly enters the kitchen. But that is the problem right there—the fact that people think that something is wrong with my mother and my father should be praised for loving her regardless. The fact that her inability to cook is considered a limitation, a disability and not a thing of choice.
Food is an essential need and it will always be readily available. If my mother could find a way around not cooking in the 90s, it must be easier to find a way around it now. Cooking is not a female skill and females should not be judged solely because they do not like to cook. More importantly, females should stop internalizing the guilt that comes with not knowing how to cook. If you can’t cook, own it; you will find your type.
Keziah is a researcher at the Open University, UK.