Why are there no great women?

If you're one of the six people who read this blog, then you are probably already aware that on Friday I wrote a minor feminist polemic on the subject of sexism in the culinary world. It's inspired by a blog post put up by Dirt Candy chef Amanda Cohen, who's been historically unafraid to speak truth to power. I'm pretty chuffed by the whole everything.

While the public commentary around the issue (which was totally not limited to conversation on Grub Street) has died down pretty much, I've still been talking pretty extensively about the matter via email with a number of lovely folks who've written to me either with support or criticism of my position. A particular note that I keep coming back to - and something that was left out of the Grub post for obvious reasons - are the striking similarities between the operation of the culinary world and the operation of the fashion world.

In both cooking and fashion, the chef/designer is in the curious position of being both the executor of the brand and the brand itself, a balancing act whose successful execution requires a tremendous support team and dedicated financial backers. And because investors, for whatever reason, tend to prefer to throw their money behind dudes, we see more dudes rising to the top in both fields — this despite matters of both food and clothing being ostensibly "women's work."

And thanks to the food world's predominantly male A-list, as my pal Charlotte Druckman masterfully laid out in her recent article for Gastronomica [PDF], the kitchen - once the provenance of women - has been masculinized. The experience of the kitchen and the very parameters of culinary success have been redefined along stereotypically masculine lines. I imagine it's very easy to take these arguments and map them onto the world of fashion - we could as easily ask "why are there no great women designers?" as we could, as Charlotte does, as "why are there no great women chefs?" Well there would be great of each, only that as a culture we've redefined greatness to categorically exclude them.


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