How men Use Cooking to Define and Assert their Masculinity

For millennia, nearly all traditions have held that cooking should be confined to women. According to Inness's book "Cooking Lessons: The Politics of Gender and Food," it is not difficult to note that food, as well as its preparation, is heavily gender-coded to the feminine. In most countries, however, masculinity is synonymous with the preparation of specific foods, such as barbecues (Szabo 2013). Because of the social burden on men not to prepare domestic food, it has become a cultural tradition in many cultures that a kitchen is a position reserved for women. On the other hand, cooking is also used to express masculinity in men though this is limited to particular types of foods, for instance, meat, or cooking during special occasions. When referring to the act of cooking particular type’s food as a way of expressing masculinity, the paper will use barbecuing section to show how men use cooking to express their masculinity. Generally, this paper will seek to show how men use cooking, or not cooking to define as well as assert their masculinity.


In the most cultures, women do most of the cooking, especially at home. According to a survey by Tajfel (2010), in the United States, women spend around 8 hours every week preparing food for their families. On the other hand, the survey found out that men spent less than 2 hours every week cooking. However, Harnack et al., (2014), claims that despite the fact that women do most of the cooking at home, the proportion of women that cook as a profession is often very little considering that only 6% of women are executive chefs. This tendency emerges from the fact that in most cultures, including the western culture, stereotypically, men are associated with aggressiveness, competitiveness, and perceived to be instrument oriented (Lang, 2016).

Harnack et al., (2014), claims that there exists a cultural family commitment schema, or in other words a prevalent cultural belief that the primary duty of women should be to her family or home. These aspirations are often not applicable to men who are instead expected to have women partners who complete house tasks including cooking. These cultural convictions, along with the traditional definition of family feeding as a task for females, considerably contributes to the continued tendency for females to cook more often than men in their homes.

According to a survey by Szabo (2013) on the perceptions of men and women regarding the domestic preparation of food, both men and women like cooking for others though they have different constructions. Mainly, men who are perceived as family breadwinners, often cook for other people as a leisure activity as well as a way of showing their food knowledge and skills. On the other hand, the survey found out that women, who are perceived as caregivers, usually experience cooking as a way of providing care to their families and often experience anxiety when cooking to entertain guests with their skill of cooking. To this end, Szabo (2013) concludes that the role of cooking is strongly related to gender identity.

Even though the modern world has been advocating for equality between men and women, men have continued to refrain from home chores such as cooking and the washing of dishes given that these tasks are associated with femininity. In most cultures, including the western as well as the African culture, men who undertake such domestic tasks are perceived to be inferior compared to their fellow men. However, despite the fact that domestic tasks and cooking are related to femininity, bachelors who live alone undertake these chores.

According to the study byTajfel (2010), men who earn less than their female partners are more likely to cook compared to those that earn more their counterparts. Additionally, this is also prevalent in households where the woman is the family breadwinner and the man is expected to take care of the children as well as undertake other house tasks. However, such men feel as “lesser masculine” since men often tend to dominate their female partners

Gender Identity and Gender Identity Development

Femininity and masculinity or the gender identity of an individual refer to the degree to which an individual perceives himself or herself as a feminine or masculine considering what it means to be a woman or a man in the society. Primarily, as highlighted by Tajfel (2010) masculinity and femininity are deeply rooted in the social rather than biological perspective on what it means to be an ideal male or female. Males will generally respond by defining themselves or others as masculine since they hold particular qualities that the society associates with men.

To fully exemplify and understand how men construct their identities through cooking it is important to show how it can be negotiated. According to Tajfel (2010), identity is the process, which allows humans recognize how they are, as well as what others are. Alternatively, identity refers to how people identify themselves and others, in relation to their surroundings. This means that humans construct their identities along with that of others through classifying actions, motivations, interests and many other factors, where they categorize themselves depend on the variations and similarities.

Cooking, which is a gender role identified with femininity in most cultures though it is also used by men to show their masculinity by engaging either in cooking or by not cooking. Mostly, indoor cooking or preparing for the family is associated with femininity in most cultures, while outdoor cooking, such as grilling is associated with masculinity (Longwe, (2007). By cooking in the outdoors settings, or as a profession, men tend to express their masculinity.

To exemplify on the various ways how men express their masculinity through cooking, it is vital to understand the various development theories that explain the development of masculinity and femininity. Apparently, the development of masculinity and femininity is important three major theories including Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, Kohlberg cognitive development model and the learning theories that stress direct reinforcement as well as modeling. All these approaches emphasize on a two-part process, which is involved in the development of femininity and masculinity.

The psychoanalytic model of development suggests the gender identity of an individual is established through the identification with the same-sex parent. According to the theory, this identification results from the conflict inherent in the psychosexual development oedipal stage. When children are around the age of 3, they develop a strong sexual attachment to their opposite sex parent. Thus, at this juncture, boys often have a stronger attachment to their mothers than their fathers do. By the age of six, children resolve the psychic conflict and tend to identify with the same-sex parent. Subsequently, at this stage, male children come to learn masculinity from their male parents (Harnack et al., 2014).

However, a more resent model of the psychoanalytic theory insinuates that female parents play a vital role in the development of the gender identity of their children. As highlighted by the theory, there is a higher possibility of mothers relating to their sons as separate and different since they do not share the same sex. Besides, they experience oneness and continuity sense with their daughters given that they are of the same sex (Tajfel, 2010). Consequently, female parents tend to distance themselves from their sons who respond by shifting their attention from their female parents to their fathers. Due to the identification with their father, they start learning what it means to be a man.

The cognitive development theory is perceived as another psychological model on the development of gender identity. According to this theory, various critical events, which have a lasting effect on the development of gender identity. However, these approaches are cognitive instead of psychosexual in origin. Unlike the other two theories, gender identity development arises afore instead of following from the identification with the same-sex parent. After the establishment of the gender identity, if a child is established fully, the self is encouraged to show the gender congruent behaviors and attitudes, before same-sex modeling moves the development procedure along.

According to the Kohlberg’s gender identity development theory, people undergo two vital phases in the development of gender identity. The first phase starts with the identification of the child as a male or female when hearing the tags “girl” or “boy” being applied to refer to them. By the time when a child is three years of age, he or she starts applying the appropriate gender tag to refer to self. At this age, gender identity becomes fixed to the child. At the age of four, the child starts applying these gender tags to other people. After around two years, the child reaches the second stage, which Kohlberg refers to the gender constancy phase. At this stage, the child recognizes that her gender will never change despite his or her physical appearance or age.

Learning theories are the most of the social models used to explain gender identity development. According to these theories, the gender identity of a child is mainly determined by his or her social environment including teachers and parents(Szabo, 2013). At this point, the teacher or parent tends to instruct the child o0n masculinity and femininity directly through punishments and rewards or through indirect means such as acting as role models that should be imitated (Thorne, 2004). The direct means are usually delivered for outward appearance including what should be worn, choice of objects such as the preferences of toys, and behavior. Through such, children thus learn what is appropriate for the gender in which they are identified with including behavior and appearance. On the other hand, indirect learning of the gender identity of a child results from modeling of same-sex partners, peers, teachers, as well as same-sex models in the media. Consequently, the child emulates rewarded models, feelings, thoughts or behavior since it aspires to get the same rewards that the models receive.

Masculinity and Domestic Cooking

Rendering the various discussedtheories,it can thus be appropriate to declare that social roles such as cooking for the family are socially constructed. Consequently, people who tend to deviate from what the society expects from them may be perceived as abnormal. To this end, considering that the role of cooking for the family was associated with femininity in most cultures, a majority of men tend to refrain from cooking as a way of expressing their masculinity.

The social learning theories suggests that boys may show their own sense of self in their peers as well as other males because they share a similar sex, and construct their masculinity identity through the image of what being a man really means. Further, this also means that they recognize the role of the opposite sex and reject them since they may be associated with inferiority. In reference to barbecuing and outdoor cooking, males learn through observing their male role models including their fathers that this form of cooking is related to masculine. On the other hand, referring to indoor cooking associated with femininity; they associate the act with the opposite gender. According to Szabo (2013), factors such as fire, meat, and sharp objects, along with other the basic element of gathering around fireplaces have contributed to the appeal. However, Harnack (2014) contends that it is the inner caveman culture of humans that tends to surface when men gather around a barbecue. Essentially, he claims that it is the fire, the bragging about cooking skills, and the meat that makes barbecuing a masculine act, since it is a macho rush that does not involve any form of violence.

While one may question why outdoor cooking and fire elements like fire, meat, sharp objects, and the other main objects used for cooking meals associated men related to masculinity, it is fascinating to note that the same were present when cooking was done outdoors in the past. Nonetheless, modern cooking methods have changed indoor fires to stove and ovens. Therefore, the only thing that differentiates barbecuing from the preparation of other types of food is that it occurs outside and the tools or utensils used for preparation are simpler (Harnack, 2014). However, even after noticing this fact, one may contemplate regarding whether it is the outdoor setting or other factors that make barbecuing masculine

While men are associated with cooking particular types of food such as barbecue, It is worth noting that men are only associated with preparing specific types of masculine foods such as meat. As highlighted by Szabo (2013), meat is associated with strength, power, and status. Therefore, eating and cooking meat is used as a symbol of maleness and superiority. Besides, in many cultures, foods such as meat were used in rituals, and this could be used to elaborate why men dominate cooking competitions such as barbecue contests. A study by Inness (2008) reveals that men who do not eat meat or irregularly eat meat less are perceived by their peers to be inferior or ”lesser men” compared to those that eat meat regularly. This means that vegetarian men are seen to be less masculine, indicating that vegetables are considered to have feminine food origins. Consequently, Harnack (2014) underpins that when men want to cook what is perceived as feminine foods such as vegetables, they often choose to use masculine tools and utensils such as a barbecue, to prove their masculinity and distance themselves from feminine associations. Tajfel (2010) contends that the use of power tools to cook, as well as outdoor barbecues, serve a symbol to assert masculinity.

Masculinity and Professional cooking

While domestic food is associated with femininity, men represent a higher percentage of kitchen professionals compare to their counterparts. According to Harnack (2014), a majority of these men who are kitchen professionals have a masculine culture, which is often unwelcoming to their women. This tendency results from the fact that in most cultures, including the western culture, stereotypically, men are associated with aggressiveness, competitiveness, and are often instrument oriented. On the other hand, women are expected to the passive, cooperative, and expressive (Tajfel, 2010). Consequently, considering that men are competitive in nature, they often seek to outdo women in all fields including cooking. Additionally, due to their aggressiveness, employers tend to believe that men can keep up with a fast-paced kitchen environment that is built on competence and teamwork. For a woman to prove that they can fit and be an important part of the team, they must go beyond the required work as well as take extra shifts. Additionally, Szabo (2013) claims that professional cooking is associated with masculinity since a male cook or chef is considered by the society to be talented as well as a competent craftsman who cooks in public. .Such attitudes and behaviors which are portrayed by most cultures, make women uncomfortable as well as unwelcome, thus turning the professional kitchen into a place where femininity does not fit.

The concept of hegemonic masculinity can also be used to show how men use cooking to demonstrate their masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity refers to the dominant masculinity form, in which some males possess more power due to the status they are assigned by the community. Longwe, (2007) highlights that this type of masculinity involves engaging in dominant behaviors that oppress both women as well as other men by subordinating them along with their values. Subsequently, Longwe, (2007) claims that for a “hegemonic masculine,” the values articulated by other males do not have any legitimacy of defining their manhood and therefore the values depicted within hegemonic masculinity become a norm, while the ideals of other men are suppressed. This can be used to explain how media influences the choice of men to cook particular types of food or be more involved in the professional cooking platform. For instance, a study by Lang (2016) shows that, more than 80% of the TV programs and movies depict most of the chefs and professional cooks as men. On the other hand, movies have a tendency of showing men to be only involved in outdoor cooking such as barbecuing, rather than domestic cooking. Lang (2016) concludes that considering that movie actors serve as role models to the society, this has the potential to influence how men identify with masculinity through cooking.


The idea that cooking should be within the woman’s realm has existed for centuries in almost all cultures. This results from the cultural family commitment schema, or in other words a prevalent cultural belief that the primary duty of women should be to her family or home. However, in most cultures, masculinity is associated with the cooking of particular foods such as barbecues, or during specific occasions or the preparation of food as a profession. The perceptions of men and women regarding the domestic preparation of food is that they both like cooking for others though they have different constructions, in that, men, who are perceived as family breadwinners, often cook for other people as a leisure activity as well as a way of showing their food knowledge and skills. Conversely, the survey found out that women, who are perceived as caregivers, usually experience cooking as a way of providing care to their families. While domestic food is associated with femininity, men represent a higher percentage of kitchen professionals compare to their counterparts. This tendency results from the fact that in most cultures, including the western culture, stereotypically, men are associated with aggressiveness, competitiveness, and instrument oriented.

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Cook, N. (2007). Gender relations in global perspective: Essential readings. Toronto: Canadian scholars press.

Harnack, L., Story, M., Martinson, B., Neumark-Sztainer, D., & Stang, J. (2010). Guess who'scooking? The role of men in meal planning, shopping, and preparation in US families. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 98(9), 995-1000.

Inness, S. A. (2010). Cooking lessons: The politics of gender and food. Lanham, Md: Rowman& Littlefield Publishers.

Inness, S. A. (Ed.). (2008). Kitchen culture in America: Popular representations of food, gender, and race. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press

Lang, T., Caraher, M., Dixon, P., & Carr-Hill, R. (2006). Class, income and gender in cooking: results from an English survey. Bournemouth University June.

Longwe, S. H. (2007). The evaporation of gender policies in the patriarchal cooking pot. Development in practice, 7(2), 148-156.

Szabo, M. (2013). Foodwork or foodplay? Men’s domestic cooking, privilege and leisure. Sociology, 47(4), 623-638.

Tajfel, H. (2010). Social identity and intergroup relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thorne, A. (2004). Putting the person into social identity. Human Development, 47(6), 361-365.

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