Posted Tuesday, May 1, 2012, at 11:47 AM
Photograph by Scott Barbour/Getty Images.
A bit of good news in the usually slow-moving world of feminist change: A 25-year study of 3,000 Gen Xers has found that the men of our generation have really beefed up their game in the kitchen. They still don't cook as much as women, but it's creeping up there; with men making two-thirds of the meals that married women do, that is eight meals a week on average for a married woman's 12. Single women make about 10 meals a week on average. Men also try to do a good job at it, watching cooking shows, spending time shopping, and chatting with friends about cooking.
These results shouldn't be too surprising. Men have increased levels of pressure to be more fair when it comes to domestic labor, and of course they're going to pick up cooking first in an effort to do more around the house. Cooking is by far the most fun domestic chore, outside of yard work, building, and redecorating, because like those chores, cooking provides a creative outlet and a sense of accomplishment. Researchers also point out that our generation has much more of an obsession with food than the ones before us, probably because we grew up as it started to become clear that "convenience foods" don't really save enough on labor to make up for the higher costs and lower quality. We also grew up in an era of increasing attention to weight management and healthy living, which increase an interest in cooking.
Additionally, researchers point to women's growing involvement in the work force as a reason for men doing more cooking. Unlike other chores that can be put off, cooking is time-sensitive, which means that there's increased pressures on men to step up and get it done when women can't. I think that's a fine point, and definitely has a lot to do with it, but it's worth noting that men tend to cook the same when single or not, but married women cook more than single women. I suspect that it's not just the intra-marriage dynamics that lead to this situation. Gen Xers are also getting married and having kids later in life than the generations before. Men therefore spend many more years of their lives single. Living on frozen pizza and take-out gets old pretty quickly, and as men spend more of their adult lives single, they have a strong motivation to learn to work the stove, since no one else is around to do it for them.
As Katie Baker at Jezebel points out, there was also just a profound shift in understanding of the gendered nature of cooking in the late 20th/early 21st century. It stopped being seen as "women's work", and started to seem downright masculine in some cases. She points to manly male chefs like Jamie Oliver or Anthony Bourdain as evidence. A few months ago, I had a chance (long story) to sit in on a "pick-up artist" class, which is ground zero for finding men who are terrified that anyone might think them even slightly feminine, but even in this den of anxious masculinity, the importance of learning how to cook was emphasized as a way to impress women. It's hard to pinpoint when it happened, but knowing how to cook stopped being lady business and started to be a core competency in the past few decades. I just want to see the kinds of cooking broken down by gender, because while I suspect men are perfectly happy to put stuff in a pan over an open flame, the art of baking is probably still dominated by women.