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Sexism is fun!

I regularly read David Thompson’s blog, and like many of his postings, this recent one pokes fun at a Guardian article, this time a piece by Mike Power, complaining about the alleged sexism of barbecues. The outdoor cooking of meat is bad, because men think that this is men’s stuff!

Thompson copies and pastes Power asking the following:

But, as several thousand years have passed since men had to kill our protein, make a fire, cook it and eat it, why is barbecuing seen as something women don’t or can’t – or, more accurately, shouldn’t – do? How – and why – do men continue to claim this sacred fire-space as a male-owned sanctuary where women are not permitted?

My immediate reaction to reading this quote at Thompson’s was that Mike Power was confusing a comedy routine with a seriously held idea.

I recall enjoying a TV show that happened on ITV4 TV a couple of years back, called Richard Bacon’s Beer and Pizza Club. Series 1 was particularly good, I thought. Series 2 got a bit above itself and happened in a bigger studio and with a bigger budget, and the guests became less quirky and amusing, and I didn’t enjoy it so much, but it was still great fun. The basic agenda was a bunch of blokes sitting around discussing their man-ness, with a mixture of genuine pleasure at often decidedly daft male rituals but also a healthy dose of self-mockery.

I recently caught a repeat of one of these shows, in which comedian Rufus Hound described how a typical male stunt, namely doing something that looked dangerous but wasn’t actually that dangerous, had become truly dangerous. It involved him putting a small puddle of something flammable in his hand and setting fire to it. His story of how this had all gone very wrong, on account of him making the puddle too big and then the setting of it on fire being delayed until the fluid had seeped between his fingers, won Hound the round where they were taking it in turns to recount their worst injuries. That his injury was self-inflicted while pursuing manly fun was central to why Hound was victorious. Doing it to yourself trumps anything that merely happens to you. How manly is that? In both a good way, and a ridiculous way.

The Beer and Pizza Club regularly featured shots of women in the audience, creasing up with laughter at the various masculinities that were being thus both enjoyed and mocked. Ah, men.

And, getting to back to the original point of this posting, I recall another Rufus Hound fire-based comedy moment on the B&P Club, when they were each describing their idea of a perfect day. Hound’s perfect day involved him cooking meat out on his patio and inviting the neighbours round. He said something like: “Nothing says manliness like cooking meat, out of doors, over a naked flame.” Much audience laughter, from both men and women. And from me. “Bacon” being a good name for the man genially presiding over this meaty mirth.

This is the kind of thing Power was on about. But what he misses, probably on purpose because he’s such a puritan, is that … it’s a joke! No, says Power. It’s not funny, I tell you! Stop enjoying yourselves!

And guess what, David Thompson agrees with me, although really he said it first and I am agreeing with him.

He quotes Power again:

This grilled-food gender split is ubiquitous, odd and unacknowledged.

And he responds thus:

This may strike readers as a bold, indeed preposterous, claim to make. One of the rituals of the barbecues I’ve attended is the good-natured parodying – one might say acknowledgment – of precisely those conventions. “Man make fire. Man cook meat,” etc. But perhaps we’re to imagine that only the keen social observers who write for the Guardian have ever noticed such things or found them worthy of amused comment. More to the point, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to Mr Power that quite a few people, male and female, actually enjoy the role-play opportunity of the barbecue – the theatre, the ritual, the fun. Even – heresy! – gendered fun.

Gendered fun. Spot on. Can’t have that.

I particular like Thompson’s invention of:

The Plastic Spatula of Oppression.

Not that men oppressing women is always and everywhere such a joke. That other favourite blogger of mine, Mick Hartley, recently did a posting about how a woman in Pakistan was stoned to death by her male relatives for the crime of possessing a mobile phone. What does Mike Power make of that, I wonder? My guess (please prove this wrong if you can) is … nothing, on account of him being (I further guess) an anti-anti-Islamist. It’s not that stoning women to death for having mobile phones is right, you understand. Merely that complaining about it is wrong.

20 comments to Sexism is fun!

  • Maximo Macaroni

    I hereby propose a ” humor quotient (HQ)” I t would be analogous to, yet not necessarily identical to IQ. We might be surprised how closely they track each other. An HQ of at least 100 would be required to be hired as a bureaucrat in any civilized government or a reporter on any major newspaper. The question of how to determine HQ is a problem. Perhaps a laugh-off?

  • [pedant]Objects have gender; people have sex.[/pedant]

  • Alsadius

    I find the “Plastic Spatula of Oppression” to be an offensive concept. Everybody knows that plastic utensils melt on a barbeque, and you need to use metal.

  • the other rob

    The last time we barbecued in England, my wife was in charge of the grill, on the basis that I’m not very good at it. I apologize if that fact undermines Mr Power’s basic assumption.

  • All across Britain, the whiff of charred, low-quality sausage meat is hanging in the summer haze.

    That modifier (my emphasis) is all I need to know about. Mr. Power.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)


    What’s wrong with a wholesome dash of melted polyethylene terephthalate on your sausage, may I ask? Adds to the protein value.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)


    Don’t be too hard on Mr Power – I have to say that snobbery, like sexism, is often fun, although not to those on the receiving end of serious instances of it.

    At least, it provides much material for comedy writers, which now I think about it is not exactly the same thing. But I have heard very funny duels of class-based mockery between people of different classes where both parties seemed to be enjoying it. I dare say that for either sexism or class mockery, the ability for both sides to enjoy it is dependent on both of them perceiving that the difference that sex or class made to their position in life relative to their “opponent” as not being that large these days.

  • That’s an interesting point, Natalie. Generally speaking, I don’t mind sexism, snobbery or even racism – as long as they are of the non-violent variety, and when they are plain and straightforward. I’ll take an honest bigot any time over someone who feels oh so enlightened, and yet cannot resist poking fun at people who may have not had their sausage custom made in Provence and delivered to them overnight. This guy decrying sexism is rather like someone who’s sick with cholera mocking someone else for having a face disfigured by smallpox.

  • Stonyground

    Has anyone actually established that any women are actually being oppressed by being deprived of the opportunity to do the outdoor cooking? I suspect that many women find cooking to be a chore and are actually quite happy to hand the job over to the man for once. Or are those women being oppressed the rest of the time when they are having to cook because the men don’t do their share?

  • In Australia, men stand outside barbecuing steak and sausages (and maybe a few onions or even mushrooms) while drinking beer, and women stay inside preparing the salad and drinking white wine. This stereotype is endlessly parodied, but is also what happens most of the time.

    When Paul Hogan advertised Australia by talking about putting a “shrimp on the barbie”, this was odd in two ways. Firstly, Australians do not use the word shrimp, ever. (It is always a “prawn”, regardless of species or size). Secondly, at that time, Australians did not barbecue seafood, this being the sort of thing that would be done by Greeks or soccer players. Australians have mellowed now, though, and have learned to love the Greeks (and occasionally even soccer), so seafood is barbecued.

    It was a great disappointment to me to come to England and discover that the people did not understand the importance of large pieces of good quality beef when having a barbie though.

  • nemesis

    Not BBQs. But reminded me of a series of photos doing the rounds recently:

  • My lefty friends would no doubt accuse me of being deeply sexist, but I do most of the cooking in the kitchen and Mrs Shotover does all the barbecues.

  • Eric Tavenner

    There is a class of “people” who live in constant fear that someone, somewhere is having fun. This Power dweeb seems to be one such.

  • the other rob

    @ Natalie. You are spot on about the nature of such duels. By way of example, in a previous job I would regularly attend conferences at which a rather nice lady who worked in the domestic violence field was usually present. Over time, we fell into a routine where, upon first spotting her, I would walk up and make some outrageous sexist comment. She would reciprocate in kind and we would both collapse in hysterical laughter at the expressions on her colleagues’ faces.

    Of course, as you correctly point out, the foundation that underpinned those exchanges was that we saw each other as equals. That’s something that the professionally aggrieved will never do.

  • Phil B

    Ahhh – “the Plastic Spatula of Oppression™”.

    Right! Got it! Now I know where I’m going wrong in my “oppression” of the entire sisterhood.

    I’ll have to remember that the next time I fancy a bit of wife beating and/or 50 Shades of Grey female domination with the wife …

    That would be just before a prolonged sampling of the delights of hospital food …

  • Laird

    “Heavens, he’s tumescent with indignation.” What a great line!

    Here in South Carolina (USA) grilling meat outdoors is exclusively a male activity, but every woman I know is more than happy to relinquish the cooking duties. Grilling, of course, is done on steamy summer afternoons when only a man would be foolish enough to stand over a hot, smoking fire for an hour just to char meat when there is a perfectly serviceable broiler in the air-conditioned kitchen.

    But grilling is not the only male province around here; so is setting off fireworks (the two activities frequently coincide, and both generally involve alcohol). This song captures it perfectly. We’re professionals; don’t try this at home.

  • That was quite instructive, Laird – but where were you two and a half week ago?…

  • Antoine Clarke

    The sex split is cooking for outsiders to the home, and cooking within the home.

    It’s not just barbecues, restaurants chefs are normally men. For instance, any Chinese cook who is theatrically tossing a stir fry, or chpping a duck, is a man.

    The vast majority of restaurant chefs are men. I think the main reason isn’t skill, but a consequence of boys showing off.

    This is an issue that has been written about for decades, the distinction between “exocuisine” (roasting in public) and “endocuisine” (stews made indoors) by Claude Levi-Strauss.

  • “My immediate reaction to reading this quote at Thompson’s was that Mike Power was confusing a comedy routine with a seriously held idea.”

    There is also a line in one of the Mel Smith and Griff Rhys-Jones comedy books that by law all outdoor cooking must be done by men.

  • Paul Marks

    I watched some Al Jazeera today (I often do – at home I am not forced watch and listen to leftist and/or Islamic propaganda in a worshipful way, so I can tolerate it by quietly mocking it), and they had a big story on the “Socialist-Left” party in some country (either Norway or Sweden).

    Brian is correct – they can somehow reconcile Islamism with savage attacks on Western (not Islamic) persecution of women.

    It is quite a amusing (in a sick sort of way) to watch and listen to their lies – as long as one is not forced to be respectful (indeed worshipful) of the lies.