Sexism is widespread in our society, undeniably. From your gender at birth to your clothes, career, friends and love, everything is stained by patriarchy and sexism that leaves no stone unturned to make your identity a pawn on society’s chessboard. But could there be sexism in food? Did you know that patriarchy and sexism also seep into your dining tables and food platters?
Sexism in Food: Did you know that there is gender inequality at play in deciding who eats first and the most? Who pays the bill and who cooks?
Dining tables, whether at home or restaurants, are symbolic of union, companionship and love. But even this representation of ideal unity is marred by patriarchal ideologies that are unfair to both women and men. Here are some ways in which society enforces sexism in food platters and dining tables.
- Women eat less
It is no hidden fact that society is obsessed with women who have slim bodies. Even today women are fat-shamed while Bollywood sets new standards of women’s body-size with its new misogynist songs that objectify women. Amidst this, women who eat more than men raise the eyebrows of people who believe that women should be on diet to maintain their body figures. Moreover, the dominant ideology that women are sacrificial and derive their happiness in filling the stomachs of their family members deign it inappropriate for a woman to eat more than the male members of the family.
But dear society, eating is the basic need for survival and not every person has the same diet for a fulfilling meal. If men are free to eat as much as their body and health demands then why not women? Why should society demand women to fulfil the expectations at the cost of their health? Shouldn’t society rather revise its expectations and get rid of sexism rather than asking women to eat less?
- Men eat first
At the dining tables at home or in family gatherings, the chairs for women of the house are always empty or occupied by male guests. Women are mainly in the kitchen making extra rotis for men who are devouring the delicious meal on the table. They are expected to serve the male members and wait for them to finish before having their meal. And the leftover meal and overcooked roti are all that women are expected to have out of the entire feast, the preparation of which kept them busy the entire day.
But dear society, women deserve to have an equal position in society and on the dining tables. It is their right to eat the meal they have cooked and also get due credits for it. The society must stop excluding women from families because seriously will traditional family or family gatherings make any sense if women decide to neither cook nor be a part of it?
- Men eat meat, women eat yoghurt
Not only career, clothes and friends, but sexism also dictates people’s choice of food. It is believed that meat, burgers and other heavy food items are masculine while yoghurt, cupcakes and other light and less messy food are womanly. This is rooted in the idea that heavy diet, messy eating habits like licking fingers or wrappers, eating by hands, taking huge bites, crunching loudly etc make women unattractive. The sexism in food choices has even become marketing strategies as food giants often label their products as gender-specific.
For example, Nestlé popularised Yorkie bars by taglines “not for girls”, ” King size not queen size” etc. It even became the first sexist chocolate bar in the world. Pepsico received criticism for manufacturing “feminine” potato chips that women can eat without having to crunch loudly or lick from wrappers which are “unladylike” habits. Moreover, how many times did you see women leading the advertisements of alcohols? It is mainly men because drinking is again a gendered idea. After all, women who drink and smoke still pull out lectures of sanskriti and morality from men who sell and consume them.
But dear society who gives you the right to dictate what is suitable for a woman or a man to eat? We have medical experts, nutritionists and our own choices to make an informed decision. Moreover, don’t forget that these labels of feminine and masculine on food choices discriminate not just women but men too. Men too face criticism if they consume “feminine” food or eat less than expected of them. So for whose good are these narratives being peddled if not for patriarchy? And why are you, dear men and women, giving up your choices and freedom about food or life? Munch anything and in whichever way you want.
- Women and widows are expected to fast and be selective of food items. But not men.
In India, married women are expected to observe several vrats for the welfare of the family. Some of these are nirjala rates for more than one day. And these fasts occur almost every week. Yes, fasting is sometimes good for health but should it be forced on women who are already weak or just do not want to? And why should it be a gendered idea? Just because society assumes that women have better patience to bear discomfort and pain and can easily sacrifice? Do we expect men to observe these fasts every week?
On the other hand, many widows in India are expected to eat a plain meal that should not include onion and garlic as those can arouse sexual desires among women (a shocking new revelation to me too). Are widowers expected to abstain from regular to delicious food items?
It is high time we check our sexism in the food, dining tables and society. Because women own their food, their bodies and their rights. To my delight, the call for women to own their food platters was summed up by Rituparna Chatterjee in a tweet thread. This shows the relevance of the sexism in food platter and how women are now calling it out. You can read the entire thread here.
Today's feminism thread: That crunch-less chips for women reminded me of the sexism around food in Indian families we knew growing up. The times our mothers claimed they're "not fond of a food" because it had probably run out. Why boys are served leg pieces of chicken, fish heads— Rituparna Chatterjee (@MasalaBai) February 4, 2018
Views expressed are the author’s own.