While the video and screen shot are of Geena Davis talking to film and TV people about the massive gender imbalance in the film industry, I thought it was incredibly pertinent to life behind the pass.
My memoir, Theatre of War: The Art of Running a Restaurant doesn’t set out to portray the gender imbalance and the misogyny I faced over more than twenty years in the industry. But it’s there – a running thread that gets picked up in the weft of the stories and my journey.
I’ve left a lot of the ill-treatment I suffered in kitchens out. After all, I didn’t want the book to become a ‘poor me’ cry. The stories are way too big for that, and the real meat deserved to be served as a full dish. However, in the real world, I still remember the scene with the skanky old alcoholic chef, and his boss, who owned the pub, both making passes at me.
I was newly married, and when I refused their advances, responding with a resounding “F**k off, you dirty old b***rd,” what did they say?
“Well then, you’re sacked!” And me? What did I say?
“Too late, because I already quit,” took off my apron, grabbed my bag and headed for the door. I cried all the way home.
And before you say, “What a sook”, the fact was, I needed that job. Studying to be a teacher on a scholarship of $19 a week ensured I worked the whole holidays to be able to pay rent and buy food. Times like this, I hated being a girl.
But this is more about the still massive gender imbalance in the industry, and why kitchens are still male-dominated with few exceptions. I do think this is slowly changing. Looking around restaurants front of house, the number of fathers taking a role in child care is heartening.
And some of the chefs I interview and dig deep into their kitchens, are actively trying to get that balance right. But the girls still seem to be placed in the ‘softer option’ of pastry. Away from the ‘real work’ of mains, and even cold larder.
Geena Davis speaks eloquently with hard facts and deep research. She quotes the instance of choosing members of symphony orchestras. Why were they so heavily weighted towards men? 80% in fact, of musicians are male in orchestras. The powers that be looked at the audition process, and decided to put all applicants behind a curtain.
No difference in selection numbers? The shoes of the would-be’s were still seen!
And assessors could hear the clack and light tap of heels coming across the stage. It seems that click-clack sound doomed most female applicants before they even sat in the chair!
They did find a solution. The stage manager walked across the stage behind the curtain with each female applicant, who walked on a strip of carpet. The result? An immediate balance of 50/50 hires between male and female. Goes to show, doesn’t it?
The reason I was able to watch Geena Davis live from the Sydney Opera House, was courtesy of Screen Tasmania and the guys (yes guys) in power there. They really do support people based on project, not sex. So fingers crossed that continues.
But out in the real world, the gender imbalance in commercial kitchens and restaurants still holds, and will continue unless we work hard, all of us, at giving girls a go, and treating them with respect.
There’s a great article coming up soon in our new membership site, Cook and Cauldron when it’s launched later this month, by Dr. Ivan Zwart, of Happy Ground. In researching for a program he’s developing, aimed at reducing stress levels of chefs and staff, Ivan uncovered one of the core issues with the industry.
The complete set-up and hierarchy of commercial kitchens is based on the army. And what does the army aim to do? ‘Break’ employees first, to make them obedient automatons, so that the general can give orders first, ask questions later.
So it would seem that we need to look long and hard at the management of a kitchen, and the workings of the chain of command. And that will be my next Sunday Roast. In the meantime, I ask all chefs and owners look hard at their business model, and see if you have room for more girls.
Home kitchens around the world have been traditionally the domain of mothers and women everywhere. So why should they not take an equal, and important part in the commercial sphere? And girls, stand up. Be counted. Be fearless. Everyone deserves respect and care in the industry. Male and female alike. Let’s change the army rules!