I grew up in the south. Chicken, pork chops, greens, macaroni and cheese, corn pudding, yams and hot-water cornbread were common dishes served in a southern home for Sunday dinner. And making a delectable homemade chess pie or peach cobbler for dessert would guarantee you a house full of family and friends.

Back in the day, women were expected to know how to cook. This philosophy is not only reserved to southerners, as it is an American view held by many. But growing up Black and female in the south was a sure fire way for men and women to expect you to know how to throw down. People assume southern women have accompanied their mothers, aunts and grandmothers in the kitchen since a child. Cooking, as a woman, is your duty. So society says.

Gender roles have shifted, however. Some women hold high-power careers while men stay at home with the children. Other couples have abandoned traditional marriage and nuclear families altogether. Dining out several nights a week is a popular trend among professional women who’d rather be constructing a marketing plan than cooking. Yet ever so often someone sparks a debate by implying “real women know how to cook.”

We can thank social media for exposing us to the over sharing of personal information. I have witnessed women brag about not knowing how to cook. And some of them take pride in being modern women who went on to obtain degrees (plural!) instead of learning to bake. I’ve also been no stranger to bearing witness to full-blown debates between women who could cook versus the women who couldn’t.

Be prepared for criticism if you’re a woman who can’t cook. Older women will school the younger ones on the importance of knowing how to cook for a man.

It makes no difference to me one way or the other what another woman does or doesn’t do in her kitchen. But I am curious as to if heteronormative gender roles will always be the norm. Will men always be expected to know how to change a tire, mow the grass, and fix a clogged sink? And will women always be expected to cook well- regularly, clean and do majority of the child rearing?

All heteronormative roles are not bad per se. But perhaps we need to start redefining gender roles. People who operate outside of the realms of those roles are typically met with criticism. (Cue the J. Crew ad where a mom painted her son’s toes.)

I cook, often. I don’t enjoy cooking. If given the choice of cooking or reading a book, the latter will win every time. When I didn’t cook I had no trouble dating or being in committed relationships. (My southern boyfriends could throw down!) Women on the other hand, insulted me to no end because I didn’t want to slave in the kitchen for a man.

Here’s the thing: some of the traditions of our mothers and grandmothers have changed. Women’s “position” no longer consists of cooking three meals a day, doing laundry and cleaning every day. It’s ok if a woman doesn’t know how to cook.

I won’t go as far as suggesting a woman never learn how to cook. All humans, men and women, should know how to feed themselves without having to order takeout. But can we please stop telling women they have to learn to cook for a man? Not every thing we do is for men’s pleasure or benefit.

Knowing how to cook does not make you any more of a woman. Women, please stop thinking you have to change who you are to appease a man. If you want to learn how to do something, by all means learn. But if you don’t, find somebody that is ok with you just the way you are. What a woman does or doesn’t cook for Sunday dinner doesn’t define her. What’s in her head and in heart is what does.

Should heteronormative gender roles remain the same? What’s the benefit in redefining heteronormative roles? Is it possible to reach a point where women aren’t expected to be homemakers?

Speak on it!

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