Sex­ism still sim­mer­ing in Ir­ish kitchens

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Jacky Jones

Sex­ism and gender in­equal­ity are sim­mer­ing away in Ir­ish kitchens. The 2017 Periscope Re­port from Bord Bia shows that Ir­ish women are still tak­ing on most of the re­spon­si­bil­ity for food shop­ping and cook­ing. The re­port is based on a com­pre­hen­sive sur­vey of food at­ti­tudes, shop­ping and cook­ing trends in Ire­land, China, France, the Nether­lands, Ger­many, Spain, the UK and the US. Face- to-face in­ter­views were car­ried out be­tween March and April 2017 with 8,000 adults, in­clud­ing 1,004 in Ire­land. Ir­ish women do most of the fam­ily cook­ing with only one-quar­ter of fam­ily meals pre­pared by men.

In China, Ger­many, Spain and the US, re­spon­si­bil­ity for meal prepa­ra­tion is split more or less 50/50. In France, the Nether­lands, and the UK, ap­prox­i­mately one-third of meals are cooked by men. In fact, fewer Ir­ish men are now re­spon­si­ble for meal prepa­ra­tion than in 2013 when 29 per cent took re­spon­si­bil­ity. So Ire­land is ac­tu­ally go­ing back­wards when it comes to house­work and gender equal­ity.

The sur­vey also found that 38 per cent of Ir­ish men do the gro­cery shop­ping com­pared with 62 per cent of women. In the other seven coun­tries gro­cery shop­ping is shared equally. In China more men (52 per cent) than women (48 per cent) shop for gro­ceries.

Tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for gro­cery shop­ping and food prepa­ra­tion seems to have lit­tle to do with culi­nary ex­per­tise, at­ti­tudes to food, or per­sonal in­cli­na­tion. An al­most iden­ti­cal num­ber of Ir­ish men (68 per cent) as Ir­ish women (69 per cent) can ei­ther “cook a sim­ple din­ner, for ex­am­ple meat and three veg” or feel “con­fi­dent that they could pro­duce a good Sun­day roast with all the trim­mings”. Men in the other seven coun­tries sur­veyed can cook at least as well as women or bet­ter, as in France, China, and the US. Al­most the same num­ber of men and women in seven coun­tries find cook­ing “a chore – some­thing that has to be done”.

‘Eat­ing is im­por­tant’

Ir­ish peo­ple are the ex­cep­tion. Just 16 per cent of Ir­ish women find cook­ing a chore com­pared to 37 per cent of men. In all eight coun­tries the same pro­por­tion of males and fe­males think “cook­ing is im­por­tant be­cause eat­ing well is im­por­tant”. Men are more likely to think cook­ing can be “good fun at times”, “love food” and have “a pas­sion for it”.

Given such sim­i­lar at­ti­tudes to food and culi­nary ex­per­tise, why are Ir­ish women tak­ing on so much re­spon­si­bil­ity for gro­cery shop­ping and cook­ing? Per­haps Ir­ish men are just more skilled at avoid­ing house­hold chores or too busy play­ing or watch­ing sport. And does it mat­ter? Yes, it sure does mat­ter. Chil­dren need role mod­els that show that men and women are equal and that both sexes are ca­pa­ble of, and re­spon­si­ble for, house­hold chores, in­clud­ing shop­ping and cook­ing. More im­por­tantly, the more time women spend shop­ping and in the kitchen the less time they have to par­tic­i­pate in other as­pects of so­ci­ety such as in pol­i­tics, ed­u­ca­tion, ca­reers, so­cial lives, vol­un­teer­ing etc.

Abuse in the home is a prob­lem in Ire­land and there is con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence that vi­o­lence against women is more likely to hap­pen in pa­tri­ar­chal fam­i­lies where women adopt so-called “fe­male” roles. Th­ese gender roles are so­cially con­structed and Ir­ish so­ci­ety has de­cided, wrongly, that the roles of shop­per, food provider, and cook are more nat­u­rally car­ried out by women.

Child­hood obe­sity is a prob­lem in all eight coun­tries sur­veyed although Ir­ish peo­ple are, strangely, less con­cerned about their chil­dren be­com­ing obese than they were when sur­veyed in 2005 (35 per con­cerned in 2005; 21 per cent con­cerned in 2017). It seems that pro­grammes such as Oper­a­tion Trans­for­ma­tion are hav­ing the op­po­site ef­fect to what was in­tended by RTÉ. Chil­dren have huge pester power and can in­flu­ence food shop­ping us­ing emo­tional and per­sua­sive tac­tics. Pester power is less likely to be suc­cess­ful when par­ents share shop­ping and food prepa­ra­tion equally and are in agree­ment as to fam­ily nu­tri­tion.

Men are equally ca­pa­ble of food prepa­ra­tion so why don’t women let them get on with it? Per­haps women want to hold on to the power they have in the kitchen be­cause they wield so lit­tle power in Ir­ish so­ci­ety. What­ever the rea­son, in­equal­ity per­sists in Ir­ish kitchens and in­equal­ity any­where is bad for health.

Is there any chance that the sex­ism sim­mer­ing away in Ir­ish kitchens will ever reach boil­ing point and women will fi­nally throw in the tea towel?

In China, Ger­many, Spain and the US, re­spon­si­bil­ity for meal prepa­ra­tion is split more or less 50/50

PHO­TO­GRAPH: GETTY

In a per­fect kitchen, the per­fect di­vi­sion of labour.

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