Sociology and Gender Studies: The enduring gendered roles of cuisine

Although we have made some triumphant leaps in terms of equality, there are many gender “roles,” dictated by societal and political ideology, that continue to endure. Gender roles or responsibilities may shift and adapt, but modern behaviours indicate that food roles continue to be pressured by society, perhaps still a mode of female oppression or as an exercise of power for women. The scope of this article cannot begin to encompass the extensive roots and implications of such an argument. It must be said that not all women are expected to cook in their family setting, since many men now share this responsibility. However, in many households, women continue to be expected to bear the responsibility of cooking and cleaning, despite the fact that they too must bring in a second income for the household. Both historical and modern day references will be used to illustrate this argument, for which we can only assume the implications.

In her book, Dinner Roles, Sherrie Inness examines how politics and the media played and continue to play a pertinent role in re-shaping — what we still consider to be — the ideal role of a women in society. “World War 2 caused an upheaval of social and gender roles greater than any seen before in American History. The shifting roles and responsibilities [were] profound, affecting every class, racial, and ethnic group of women who were called to perform wartime responsibilities, from holding bandages for GIs to wielding rivet guns at the local shipyard” (Inness, 2001. pp125-126). It was advocated by the media that women should leave their household to “work outside the home for the good of the nation” (Inness, 2001. pp. 126). But afterwards they should return to their traditional role as housewife “after the abnormal years of the war concluded” (Inness, 2001. pp128). This caused a lot of anxiety for women, as the responsibilities of womanhood doubled and tripled overnight (Inness, 2001. pp 126).

“Messages specifically regarding food were clear and uniform: women’s real and most important battlefield was the kitchen. There women would – and should – fight the war and prove their patriotism by cooking and serving the right kinds of foods in the right kinds of ways” (Inness, 2001. pp 130). Although, women were expected to abandon their wartime employment and return to the kitchen as soon as the war ended, this never truly happened, and, in many ways, this trend continues today.

Recent sociological studies indicate that “[b]oth fathers and children take on subservient roles, acting only as helpers or assistants when mothers are absent” and suggest that “the vertical relations that normally characterize father-child relations are flattened in relation to food practices, so that fathers and children occupy similar positions in relation to mothers” (Curtis et al, 2009. pp 109). Furthermore, children expressed that they understood that their mothers “expressed more power in the domestic sphere” than their fathers, and they too remain more or less excluded from the kitchen (Curtis et al, 2009. pp 109). Therefore, this would suggest that by exercising their power in the household women continue to replicate, rather than reconstruct, “traditional; generational roles” (Curtis et al, 2009. pp 109). To truly shift the gendering of the traditional food system, there also needs to be a shift in the balancing of domestic responsibilities and the social perception that these tasks take on.


Inness, S. A. (2001). Dinner Roles: American women and culinary culture. Iowa City, Iowa. USA: University of Iowa Press.

Curtis, P., James, A., & Ellis, K. (2009). Children’s perceptions of fathers’ contributions to family food practices. In A. James, A. Kjorholt & V. Tingstad (Eds.), Studies in Childhood and Youth: Children, food and identity in everyday life. England: Palgrave Macmillan.


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