Breaking The Kitchen Barrier
It is written in Genesis that Adam and his helpmeet were told not to eat of the forbidden fruit. “And the Lord God commanded the man saying of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it….” Man, however, ate of the forbidden tree and was kicked out of the garden, along with his wife, Eve, whom he never pardoned for the embarrassment she caused him in front of the animals, especially the apes.
Post-Eden man gradually began to lord it over his wife. Why? Because he hunted and she gathered fruits and roots for food (in case he missed his antelope). By the way, the first vegetarian is said to have been an unlucky hunter!
While he hunted continuously, she had to stop gathering fruits because of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, etc.
Woman was vulnerable in many ways: when she had her menses, when she became pregnant and when she lay in bed with a suckling babe. Suddenly, the man became the only breadwinner on whom the whole family depended, and suddenly he became the uncontested master of the household. This is a socio-biological explanation as to why man is considered superior to woman. Now let’s go and see what tradition and religion have to say.
Why do you say that man is superior to woman? Some say that woman was made from one of his ribs. But why is it that within the animal kingdom God created males and females without going to ribs and cartilages? I smell a rat. The Jewish patriarchal family system seems to have a hand on this strange phenomenon!
Still others say that woman is inferior because she was created after man. In that case the donkey is superior to man because animals preceded man in creation.
Lost for words, still others resort to muscular prowess and say that in nature the male is bigger and more muscular than the female. No so among spiders and most insects where the female is so big and powerful that the male trembles before approaching her to copulate with her. That’s where sex and violence is replaced by chastity and trepidation.
So much for male chauvinism based on tradition and religion. Now let’s go to the kitchen, and meet Mr. Adam and Madame Eve once more in a modern setting.
In most traditions of the world, and ours in particular, the kitchen is the forbidden tree for the latter day rebel in the garden of the household: the male chauvinist. The moment the man as a breadwinner enters it and begins to wash the dishes or even worse (or horrifying still) tries to brew tea or (more horrifying) to cook food, it is, according to the warped traditional attitude leveled against the fair sex, the beginning of trouble.
Man therefore feels that by violating the chauvinistic values encrusted in tradition in which he grew up, he is sure to be toppled from his throne and made to reign as figurehead in his own kingdom.
Well, you don’t need to fly at the speed of ‘woman’ in order to break the kitchen barrier. The kitchen was invented when it became a habit to cook food. And man, the one who first found fire was the first cook.
But as woman spent more time at home because of the baby, she had more contact hours with the kitchen than did man. And gradually she became identified with it. And finally it became her prison, a symbol of female servility and abject submission. Any male member of the family who ventured therein was therefore considered as one who has committed a crime against manhood and virility.
Once I asked a friend of mine:
“Do you sometimes go to the kitchen to brew your own tea?”
He looked at me puzzled:
“You mean I walk into the kitchen and …….?”
“Are you out of your mind? You want me to be despised by my wife and become the laughingstock of my in-laws for the rest of my life?” he said.
And after a brief pause he continued:
“What about you, do you walk into the kitchen and prepare tea?”
“Not only tea, but I prepare coffee, food and do the dishes for good measure,” I said proudly.
“And your wife still considers you like a man?” he hesitated.
“More than a man as I take the role of a man and a woman all in one packet,” I replied. “And on the other hand I don’t care what she thinks. I only know that helping with household chores is my duty and responsibility as a member of the family,”
“Well,” he conceded at last. “I think it is a good idea, but my wife thinks that the kitchen is off-limits for males.”
His wife wants the status quo to continue because she doesn’t like to live in a world where gender rules are upside down and inside out. She was brought in a family where the husband was supposed to roar like a lion with the wife stooping low to please her Lord of the Jungle.
Most women feel that the moment the husband breaks the cardinal rule of staying away from the kitchen, the pillars that hold the scheme of things in place will collapse and the whole word will crumble down, and that will be the beginning of the end.
Few women know that in the remote past people had more goddesses than gods in their temples. The heathens preferred women over men as symbols of deity for the simple reasons that the former had the power to create human beings in their wombs. Women were, so to speak, co-creators with God.
Then came Semitic religions and sent women down the ladder considering them even as deviants. Martin Luther, who brought Protestantism, is reported to have said that a woman is an open window for the devil and wondered whether women had souls at all.
In fact, I once met a young lady (probably from the new Christian cults) who told me that the sign of the end of days will be the ushering in of gender equality because from the beginning of time woman was created to serve man. The lady was really in need of proper medical help.
Habits die hard, and breaking old time rules is horror for many people. It is like plowing the field with a donkey or using mules or donkeys on the threshing floor. The traditional mind abhors it or simply cannot grasp, accept or even entertain it.
Shouldn’t everything be in its proper and natural place? say traditionalists. As the donkey is for carrying loads, so is the husband made to carry family responsibility, and his place is either with the oxen in the field or in the bedroom. He should stay clear of the kitchen in order not to create confusion and perplexity which may lead to family disruption and its final extinction.
But one thing should be clear once and for all. Gender equality doesn’t mean complete change of roles. This is impossible as, to some extent, man and woman are biologically different. However, through agreement and total consent, one can stretch equality to unknown borders and new horizons.
The husband, by entering the kitchen, is not usurping his wife’s power or privilege. He is simply helping the family which is supposed to be reared by the combined plans, strategies, efforts and determination of both husband and wife.
The family or the household may be likened unto a joint company with its memorandum of associations, legal status and liabilities. The company is run by a board (husband and wife) and its aim is to produce children, good children who would one day take charge of the firm. Its internal policy is love and harmony, while its external policy is goodwill to all in-laws and relatives.
The manager of the company is, by accepted norms and traditions of the trading house, and by common consent, the husband. But this rule may be changed again through bilateral consent and with a view to maintaining and safeguarding the company’s interest.
The company has various departments and offices. One of these is the kitchen were food is prepared to feed the children and the parents.
In this case, the kitchen can never be off-limits to anyone. Since the purpose of the kitchen is to feed the personnel in the interest of all, and since it should function at all time and by all means, both the husband and wife are duty bound to get in there and do their homework.
The kitchen shouldn’t therefore be taken as a forbidden tree carrying the seeds of life and death for the family.
The forbidden tree was planted by God. But the kitchen was planted by mortal man.