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Keeping women in the kitchen

When it comes to entertaining cooking shows, “Cutthroat Kitchen” is among the most popular and it’s easy to see why. By using a bidding system, rival chefs make each other compete in unique challenges as they prepare their assigned dishes. From replacing a competitor’s utensils with aluminum foil to forcing them to prep on a lazy-susan, the possibilities of what might happen seem endless. In fact, the only barrier this show hasn’t attempted to break is that of its great gender divide.

After watching “Cutthroat Kitchen” only a few times, a pattern becomes painfully clear. Of the four contestants per episode, just one is female and seldom does she win. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only popular cooking show where the majority of the hosts, judges and competitors are men. “Iron Chef,” “Masterchef” and “Chopped” all serve as prime examples to the gender division within the competitive cooking niche of television, and provide a window to the same inequality present in the world of professional chefs.

The concept of a “glass ceiling” is commonly used to describe the barrier preventing women from ascending to higher, more powerful positions in the workplace. Rarely do we discuss its counterpart – the glass escalator.

In traditionally “feminine” jobs, male employees often have an easier time rising through the ranks of management. According to Education Week, while teaching is commonly delegated to women, the highest and best paying position in K-12 education, superintendent, is primarily held by men.

On the aforementioned cooking shows, the juxtaposition of male and female roles within the food industry becomes abundantly apparent. Competitive programs highlighting professional chefs, like “Cutthroat Kitchen,” are buzzing with testosterone; fast-paced challenges, dramatic music and the harsh rivalry between contestants all contribute to the air of masculinity already established by the show’s predominantly male cast.

The opposite, however, rings true for home cooking shows airing on the same networks. With light music and a cheery feminine host, domestication radiates through the screen as Rachel Ray explains the fundamentals of thirty minute meals. The message is clear; women belong in the kitchen, but ought to leave professionalism to the men.

Dominique Crenn, America’s highest ranking female chef, has been using her position as a way to benefit other women in the cooking industry. At the start of her career, she tells MarketWatch, she was struck by the prejudice and isolation she experienced at the hands of both bosses and fellow employees.

Today, by employing a staff of primarily female cooks and starting a dinner series highlighting their achievements, Crenn has been taking steps to bridge the gender gap among professional chefs. However, her efforts alone won’t solve the deeply ingrained issue. According to the National Public Radio, less than seven percent of America’s restaurants are under the leadership of female chefs.

Gender inequality appears in our day-to-day lives in ways we may not be fully aware of, but it’s up to us to discover and dismantle the sexist social structures ingrained in our culture.

To be clear, watching and enjoying these shows doesn’t equate to perpetuating sexism. After a hard day of school or work, sitting down to see rival chefs duke it out can feel like a form of self-care. That being said, it’s essential we commit to being critical consumers, lest we allow ourselves to become a victim of complacency.

Competitive cooking shows are only a microcosm of obstacles women face daily, but starting the conversation about inequity in the workplace brings solutions closer everyday.

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