Little things mean a lot

Not every American woman gets raped or sexually harassed every day.  We don’t all get overcharged on cars or appliances we buy every single time.  (Most of us are chronically underpaid for our work relative to our male peers, however–that is something of a constant, I’m afraid!)  But sometimes it’s the little things about being a woman that add up to teh suckity-suck.  Exhibit A, from Suzie at Echidne’s place:

I received a party invitation that read: “Please bring a dish to share – a bottle of wine or soft drink will be acceptable from male guests. :-)” Because this was sent to students mostly from other countries, the host may have felt the need to spell out what many Americans already acknowledge. Women are expected to cook or, at the least, buy a side dish or dessert for a potluck. Men get less criticism for bringing less.

What a helpful lesson in the different care work expectations for American women and men!  (And I just love the little smiley face, which seems to acknowledge the unfairness of it all but also remind us that it’s all in good fun!I agree with the commenters who told her just to bring what’s “acceptable from male guests.”  Or, maybe I’d just skip the “party.”  Are certain kinds of dress acceptable for men and not for women?  Is there a different etiquette code for women and men guests?  (Sadly, the answer to this question is yes at many social gatherings.)

Quite frankly, it sounds like too much of a pain in the a$$ to bother with.

40 thoughts on “Little things mean a lot

  1. And though it’s minor in comparison, it still ticks me off that the implication is that all that can be expected of men is to bring something storebought to a potluck. I’d probably skip this one too. 😛


  2. It is strange. I was supposed to bring something to a picnic potluck recently, but didn’t really have time. I ended up buying a bag of chips, as did 99% of the party’s attendees, who were mostly men. They were praised for bringing anything, while I was teased for not cooking! I couldn’t believe it. This was in Boulder, at a party full of lefties. It just goes to show how American these beliefs still are. Oy, oy, and oy.

    Skip the party! Trust me.


  3. Lefties had no monopoly on virtue on the sexism front; indeed, they owned a good deal of the territory back in the day, at least. CF: Stokely Carmichael’s (attributed) comments on the proper “position” for women in the Civil Rights movement; Barbara Jordan’s recollection of the relative burden of racism and sexism in her life’s work; the griping of the men when thousands of women appropriated something like two thirds of the restroom spaces at the bus stops in Maryland on the way to the Washington march to extend the ratification for the ERA in July of 1978; one could go on from there…


  4. Agreed, Indyanna. “The left” is just as sexist as “the right.” The men expect fresh baked cookies for their ideological fealty.

    I don’t like baking, but if I did, I’d never let anyone at work know anything about it.


  5. In addition to the gross sexism of the invitation, it’s also a pretty good illustration of how the patriarchy is deeming to men as well. If I were a man, I’d be pretty offended at the wink-wink of “You’re so helpless, you’re clearly incapable of participating/ doing anything for yourself.” Most of the men I know are competent-to-great cooks. I hate that men-are-just-bad-at-it bullsh$t.


  6. This really, really sucks. I’d skip. But I usually do skip pot lucks, and keep my very modest cooking skills for my family and for my students.


  7. Oh hell no. If I got that invite and if I still went, they’d get nothing more than a case of beer from me. I wouldn’t even waste time chatting to somebody at the wine shop.

    And Perpetua’s right: why is the idea that men can’t cook still around?? Women are overwhelmingly outnumbered in restaurant kitchens: this fact is constantly a point of conversation in any cooking competition show. In seven seasons of Top Chef, still only one woman has won (and only just this week did the first African American man make it into the final and win). And in terms of home cooking, my father was a better cook than my mother by far and a guy who I never would have expected cooked well spent three hours slaving over a pot of his signature chili to give to his work colleague who had just lost a parent.

    But why do the men who aren’t good cooks get a pass on having to get food on the table when the women who aren’t good cooks don’t?


  8. Pot lucks are just weird anyway. Who invites people to their house and expects the guests to do 90% of the work of entertaining? My feeling is that if I’m inviting people to my house the least I can do is handle the food.

    That said, if one is committed to the idea of a pot luck, the only way they ever come out well is if there is a sign-up sheet for a variety of things – no gender specified for who gets what on the list. That way, you don’t end up with 14 bags of chips, 4 trays of brownies made from a box, and a sad vegetable tray with store-bought dip.

    As for this situation? I’d just bring a REALLY cheap bottle of wine if I felt I had to go. Otherwise, I’d just not go.


  9. CPP has it right–this doesn’t demean men who can/like to cook. It’s a message about whose time and labor is valued and whose isn’t.

    Men dominate the ranks of people who are richly compensated for their culinary skills. Women dominate the ranks of those expected to volunteer their time and money to entertain others and make others comfortable. No one would dream of expecting Bobby Flay or Gordon Ramsay or Mario Batali to provide free grub for their party. But people expect this of women all the time.

    And, a CASE of beer? I think you’re being too generous, thefrogprincess!


  10. You get no argument from me there, CPP. Over the course of the season, Kevin doesn’t come close; but on the day, he nailed it and deserved to win. But your point about the desserts is important: what came right after the Top Chef finale?? Top Chef: Just Desserts, which was a parade of women and gay men (with one or two straight men), who were bakers or pastry chefs. If making dinner and preparing side dishes is gendered, then baking’s even worse.

    And by “case”, I meant “six pack”. Thanks, Historiann, for calling out my unintended generosity!


  11. I’ve been to day-office parties where men brought something cooked, —cooked by their wives. Yet, he was given all the credit in the world as if he cooked it himself. One time a male co-worker asked for my homemade meatballs recipe so I would not have to bring them every time. His wive could make them next time thus giving me a break. 🙂


  12. The cooking/baking thing is, indeed, highly gendered. I love to cook, and have no interest in baking. And I will not be watching Just Desserts: it just doesn’t interest me. PhysioWife loves to bake, and is avidly watching Just Desserts.


  13. I enjoy pot-lucks, but I’ve never seen something that gendered. A few weeks ago friends gave a big cookout, and everyone brought salads, drinks, and desserts. Since I was on overload, I brought cheese and crackers which was a great success.
    I enjoy cooking, and baking; I have brought baked goods to work, but to give to the staff 🙂


  14. I’d go, because I always go, but I wouldn’t bring anything cooked. That’s astonishing. And it’s just as easy to say “If you don’t cook, wine, chips or fruit would be fine” as to make it about gender.

    I do have one dish that I often cook for potlucks, but just as often I bring fruit and have never been ridiculed for it. If anything, the division in expectations in my circles is “single people who don’t cook vs. couples who should know how to put together dishes” and I will totally admit that I encourage that in a sort of self-deprecating manner. But I’m in a sort of foodie town, which includes the men.

    Contra Dr. Crazy, all the potlucks I’ve been to worked out fine without sign-up sheets, and I’d disagree that cooking is 90% of the work of entertaining. Perhaps at a dinner party of 8 or so, but a potluck is usually a larger gathering—people need sustenance but they aren’t there for the food. The bringing together of 15-35 people makes hosting about much more than the food. But I guess I never throw parties that are about the food, because I don’t cook.


  15. “people need sustenance but they aren’t there for the food.”

    See, I’m always there for the food, which is probably why I feel like if I’m going to entertain I’d rather handle the food and tell people to bring alcohol – which they can’t really screw up 🙂 (I’m ALWAYS disappointed by the majority of what gets brought to potlucks in my dept., as is Colleague Friend who also cooks, which results in the two of us doing more than we probably should so that we’re not sadly munching on a handful of nuts and yucky store-bought cookies or something at every dept. event. In this case I don’t think either of us feels obligated because we’re women – I think we feel like we don’t want to be punished by the lackluster contributions of everybody else.)


  16. I suspect being in a foodie town means I just get to benefit from everyone else without worrying about it myself…. 🙂

    I throw after-dinner drinking parties at which I have cheese, crackers, peppered salami, nuts, grapes, hummus and pita/carrots, chips and dip, described in the invite as “munchies”. Four or five parties, exact same menu. No one ever complains—but I always have a lot left over. Hmmm. Maybe I should add a little something special for the party I hope to throw in October.

    But I figure people are there to get out of the house and talk to people they don’t usually run into to, cause that’s why I go.


  17. Don’t get me started. Oops! Too late.

    During her graduate student years in a large department in the DelMarVA peninsula, a friend of mine was aggrieved that the chair of the department would task a female grad student with coordinating (read: graduate students providing the food out of their own pockets) for the department holiday party. When one student final stood up to him, he blustered, “But how will we get food for the party?” Sheesh. He hadn’t thought through the process of where food comes from. It just magically appears.

    I’ve passed the point of caring when how people categorize me when I bring cinnamon rolls on a cold Monday morning or cookies for the department. But in my last department (from which I resigned a tenured position) the person who went out of his way to treat me badly was always the person to scoop up the freebies provided by anyone. The last time I brought goodies, a secretary remarked to said nemesis that I had baked the cookies. He was mid-cookie, and actually stopped chewing. That’s right, bud, food just magically appears for you, too, even from a person you daily vilified.

    These stories remind me of one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons: a woman wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase stands at a kitchen door, looking in at a man sitting at the table with an empty bowl. The dog is looking up at her, pointing to the man, and says “Where have you been? His bowl is empty!”

    But let’s take this in another direction: what is it about the practice of partnered faculty members inviting single male faculty members to their homes for meals? My single female colleagues and I rarely received such invitations. Whole host of issues there.


  18. I felt demeaned when I read it. Here I am trying to reinvent gender for the twenty-first century and some idiot thinks I can’t make guacamole? You don’t even need to turn anything on for that? I cook dinner every night for my family. When we attend the day care and school potlucks, I usually do the cooking (unless we are on side dishes, in which case it’s usually my wife’s coleslaw – she makes a mean coleslaw based on her dad’s recipe – and I haven’t been able to imitate it, part of the problem being she never does it the same way twice). For Jewish holidays at my cousins, wife makes the salad for Rosh Hashana, we buy dessert for pre-Yom Kippuer, and I usually make two kinds of haroset and salad for Passover. These are more complicated and based on if either of us had to work that day. Sigh. I do notice real class differences though. At hippy-dippy day care where there were no stay at home moms, I was a class parent and so were other dads. It was pretty smooth sailing. At ritzy private school, I’m a class parent (the only Dad as far as I can tell) and already got demoted from one position because I pissed off the SAHMs who live for class parentdom. or something. Sigh.


  19. And it’s really patronizing when a SAHM says, “you cook dinner every night? I wish my husband did that!” I cook dinner because I’m usually the first one home and/or my wife is working during dinner hours and we’d like to feed our kids before midnight. I’m not doing it because I’m nice. I’m doing it because it’s work that needs to be done and I’m the one who can do it. (And at least initially, I was a better cook, although my wife is catching up).


  20. I’m male and I enjoy cooking but I have noticed that when I bring something I prepared to a picnic or potluck people (male and female) act surprised, like it was something strange they had never seen before.

    “Wow! You made this?”


  21. Another voice of contempt for the thought behind that invitation. I also echo myiq2xu’s comment: we had a lot of departmental potlucks in my grad school department, and the first few times I brought something that I had made, people — especially, it must be noted, my female colleagues — seemed stunned. This, in a social science department full of progressives! I think I must have entered at the cusp of a new age: a few years later, some old guard profs had retired, some hip young profs were hired who didn’t give a damn about old gender roles, and a bunch of other male grad students had entered with more impressive cooking skills than mine.


  22. This reminds me of the time I “consulted” (temped) at a non-defunct investment bank. My female boss and I were put in charge of two holiday “pot lucks” for no apparent reason. We had many South Asian programmers in our building, several of whom were couples with children, and somehow only the wives responded to our queries and cooked the food. On the other hand, it was really, really, really good food.

    This also reminds me of child care issues, specifically when people ask my husband if he is babysitting our child. “No, he’s my son.” “How nice of you to take care of him for your wife.”


  23. “I cook dinner every night for my family.”

    And here’s your cookie! “Good boy! Goooooooood boy!!”

    I hope it helps with this: “I felt demeaned when I read it.” Or not. Because I’m more on board with CPP and not giving a shite how it makes all those hard-cookin’ men feel.


  24. Well, not giving a shit about how it makes the menz feel is all well and good, but there is an important feminist argument to make regarding the patriarchy and how it doesn’t really work for men either. I’m not saying that this strain should overshadow the more female-oriented ones, or that we should make feminism about the doodz & their feelings. I’m always grossed out by the infantalization of men that appears in mainstream patriarchal discourse, especially by non-feminist women – men can’t really take care of babies, men ARE babies, men couldn’t handle giving birth because they’re really weak, we have to take care of everything for them but behind the scenes because they’re so delicate it might hurt their FEELINGS and we can’t have that, we women are really the ones running the show because men are stupid/weak/helpless/ bumbling but it has to be a secret, etc etc etc. These discourses are deeply embedded in our cultural consciousness. One could argue that they are a way for women to push out a bit of space for themselves within a patriarchal context (by refusing men access to the household), but a true rejection of patriarchy involves rejecting all these discourses completely. My initial comment about demeaning men was not attempt to say This Post Is Really About The Menz, but only to add another voice/perspective about the issue, because the ways in which the invitation demeans women, their time, labor and abilities was amply being pointed out by others.

    And on the topic of faculty pot lucks and gender-bias work-assignments – you’ll all be horrified to know that at my recent end-of-the-year faculty party, the faculty were invited to bring their children because there would a several female grad students on hand to watch them. (I’m guessing unpaid.)


  25. One of the mistakes people make about discussions of power is that it’s about feelings rather than the conditions of one’s material existence. For example, white people frequently make the mistake of thinking that racism is just feelings–either they have or don’t have certain racist feelings, which might make some nonwhite people have feelings as a result. White people who think this way–that racism is something that lives in some people’s heads–ignore the very real material effects of racism.

    I’d like to discourage people from thinking this is a post about feelings, and invite you all to see it as a comment on the conditions and expectations that shape women’s work and home lives. When others feel free to draft on women’s time and labor, it’s not about feelings, it’s about the conditions that materially affect our lives. So, whether a reader of the above e-mail is male or female, or offended or not by it, doesn’t really matter to me. What matters is how these assumptions about women’s labor and time affect how they’re perceived, evaluated, and advanced at work.


  26. /I’m sitting here in a blaze of insight/ o_O !

    Your last comment made a huge light bulb go off, Historiann. The point that people don’t get that it’s about power. That explains so much about their off-target reactions that I’ve never understood. (That’s not in reference to the comments here. Just in general.)

    And, yes, the smiley face. Adding insult to injury.


  27. Thanks Historiann, that succinct explanation helped me plan my lecture today. Or, maybe, my scolding of my writing seminar’s horrible papers.

    Yeah, that’s why the babysitting analogy seemed like a good one. My husband sacrifices his time to “babysit.” What is it when I take care of our son so he can work?


  28. I’m with Perpetua. I do think discourses matter. And those subtle expectations my kids pick up from other people when they hear these comments also matter. But one of the reasons I talk about the work I do with and for my own children with the students I teach is because I’m trying to shape their expectations about what they can be or what they can expect from a partner. Because I think that’s really half the battle.


  29. Hahaha because men are totally incompetent and can’t feed themselves, amirite?

    Yes this cuts both ways. At my work where food is often brought in “baked by Joe’s wife” to home where my father was the usual dinner cooker and to my own home where it’s maybe 50/50. It makes men who enjoy cooking, and are capable of cooking, the targets of attempts to diminish their “masculinity” or “feminize” them. Yes that is using anti-female patriarchy methods against the men, alongside being straight-forward insulting to the women. This invitation definitely cuts both ways.


  30. we women are really the ones running the show because men are stupid/weak/helpless/ bumbling but it has to be a secret

    What you’re missing here is the powerful subtext that the “show” that women run is the bullshit laydeez crappe nurturing show–cooking, cleaning, childrearing, etc–which there is no shame at all for men to be stupid/weak/helpless/bumbling about, because men devote their effort to expertise in the awesome manly menz power show–business, government, academia, war, drinking, sports, etc.

    None of this “men can’t cook” shitte is demeaning at all to men, rather it is aggrandizing and affirming the relative value placed on the bullshit laydeez crappe nurturing show versus the awesome manly menz power show.


  31. “I’m always grossed out by the infantalization of men that appears in mainstream patriarchal discourse”

    If it didn’t serve men’s interests (meaning men as a political class which controls the vast majority of wealth, resources, and power and men as individual member of that class who control the vast majority of wealth, resources and power) it wouldn’t be there.

    And what CPP said.


  32. Thanks, Emma and PhysioProf. I’m not sure why we spend so much time talking about how “the patriarchy hurts men too”; this sort of discourse is not functionally demeaning to men anymore than “I’m white, so I can’t dance/play basketball/etc” comments are demeaning to white people.


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