Everyday sexism. The small things in life. When I complain about such “minor” incidents, people tend to accuse me of nitpicking and making a fuss about nothing. But they are frequent, they happen all the time, again and again, day after day, and together they create a deeply sexist environment that enforces upon people outdated patriarchal gender roles.
Today I started reading a book about pumpkins—commercially available pumpkin varieties, how to grow them, how to cook them. In the introduction, I stumbled upon the following sentence: “Pumpkins are a real ladies’ dream—they contain few calories, lots of water, and lots of vitamins.”
Pardon? I was aware that we still live in a deeply sexist society in which women’s value depends on how skinny their bodies are, but I didn’t know that women are supposed to dream about low calorie foods for intrinsic reasons.
Recently I noticed a cookbook (in Latvian, written by a female author, published in 2019) that offered cake recipes. On the back cover, the author addressed their readers as “housewives.” Why the sexism? Aren’t men allowed to be interested in baking? Could it be that readers were addressed as “housewives,” because the book’s description also promised advice on how to cook with children and how to get kids involved in various cooking tasks? Again, aren’t fathers allowed to be interested in spending time with their children and involving them in various household tasks?
It’s amusing how both of these sexist stereotypes that popped up in these two Latvian books are incompatible to boot. One book assumes that women dream about low calorie foods. The other assumes that people who want a recipe book for various cakes (high calorie foods) are exclusively women. Go figure. Well, it’s not like sexist stereotypes ever made sense.
By the way, the Latvian word “saimniece” that was used in the second book has connotations between “housewife” and “matron.” Moreover, a woman doesn’t necessarily have to be married or with kids in order to qualify as a “saimniece”; as long as she’s the one who’s in charge of managing household tasks like cooking, she qualifies even if she’s young and single. Historically this word referred to the female head of the household as opposed to female servants.
The word “saimniece” can only refer to women. The male equivalent “saimnieks” refers to men who are breadwinners, homeowners, and perform various “men’s tasks” like building or repairing things.
Why Latvians still use words with such sexist connotations is beyond me. If I were publishing a recipe book and needed to address my readers, I’d pick something more neutral, like, you know, “cook.”
We seriously need gender-neutral language. You know, gender neutral pronouns and words that refer to people in specific circumstances regardless of their gender. For example, why “housewife”? After all, fathers can also perform this role in their families.
Back in the day, feminists argued that humans need gender-neutral words. Indeed. We certainly need inclusive and gender-neutral language and words. Yet nowadays, when a trans person like me writes about how I want my cookbooks not to refer to me with words reserved exclusively for women, transphobes and self-proclaimed feminists will yell at me about how I am erasing women. Just how did we get here!
Also, I grow and eat pumpkins not because they contain few calories, but because they are tasty. And I do not consider myself a lady. People who write books about gardening shouldn’t make sexist assumptions about who their readers are. Horseradish and chili peppers for male gardeners, roses and pumpkins for female gardeners? Maybe no. Maybe, gasp, each person has their own preferences that do not depend on their sex organs or gender identity?
And addressing cookbooks to women is sexist towards both men and women. Some men enjoy cooking. It’s wrong to erase them and pretend that they don’t exist. Simultaneously, such word choices establish a narrative, a prescriptive norm that women are the ones who have an obligation to cook food for their husbands. Some women hate cooking and would prefer if cultural norms didn’t force them to feed their male partners.
On top of that, times have changed. 50 years ago a man could survive with zero cooking skills, because his mother fed him until he left home. Afterwards he ate at the university or army canteen and married at a young age so that his wife could start feeding him almost immediately after his mother stopped feeding him. Times have changed, people marry late, men often live alone for years if not decades. Being able to prepare healthy and tasty food for oneself is a skill that’s very useful for everybody regardless of their gender. Cookbooks aren’t for women, they are for whomever wants to learn new recipes.