Posted by: coloradokiwi | March 7, 2008

The double-bind of sexism

I know, it’s been nearly a month, there’s all this election craziness, etc. etc.  I’ve been extraordinarily pushed for time, which will continue throughout most of the month.  Bear with me.

Just wanted to get in this one thing that’s been bothering me for awhile.  If you’re looking for the very essence of the double-bind of sexism that is unfortunately still a function of today’s society, look no further than the saga of Cat Cora on the Food Network show Iron Chef America.

For those of you who don’t know, Iron Chef (the only hit show originating in Japan that is a success in America as far as I know, which is a figure that needs badly boosted — God, that’s a whole other post….), works like this:  the show centers around a pitched battle between two master chefs and their respective crews to fix the best dishes, all derived from a “secret ingredient” which is revealed at the beginning of the show.  Each chef is given 60 minutes (edited for television) to fix 4-6 dishes out of this secret ingredient, which are then tasted by three judges, and graded according to taste, originality and presentation.  This battle is held in “kitchen stadium,” which is not unlike an operating theatre, only larger to accommodate pretty much every conceivable kitchen appliance/knife/surface (and they are provided with pretty much every ingredient you can imagine).  For foodies, it’s fuckin’ awesome.

Anyway, the show has on hand four (now five, actually) permanent chefs on hand — the Iron Chefs — one of whom each week must face the challenger(s), themselves top chefs from around the country.  It is up to each challenger to pick his/her (overwhelmingly his — this is an important point) Iron Chef to battle.  It so happens that of the Iron Chefs, there is only one woman:  Iron Chef Cat Cora…who is almost never picked to battle.

Now, clearly some people have larger reputations, and the chefs they bring on have their own specialties and vice versa, and so on, so there are many factors that go into picking an Iron Chef.  However, it’s quite clear that Cat Cora is picked only extremely rarely, far less than any of the other chefs.

So, let’s ruminate as to why.  It’s important to note that fine cuisine is overwhelmingly male dominated, and there is great competition among chefs to out-do each other (which is partly what provided the impetus for the show), and as such there are codes of honor, and the like.  So one reason Cat Cora is not picked may be that since she is a woman, some chefs may believe that she is not as good as her male counterparts, and therefore it is not as big of an honor to beat her.  The flip side of the coin is that if she beats them,  it is disgraceful and/or humiliating because she’s believed to be not as good.

Ultimately this is little different than controversies over women wrestlers, and so on and so forth.  At least we have reached the point that women are being allowed to compete in more and more areas, but having reached such pinnacles, there are still discourses aligned against them.

One last part of the discourse, which signals us almost moving past it, but not quite, is this:  when she is picked, the reaction of my wife and myself is somewhat paternalistic:  “Oh, good for her!”

And so, friends, this is how discourses of discrimination work.  If I find a moment, a bit on Barack’s “blackness” is in order.

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