To start, it is important to note that what is considered traditional in one part of the world may not be the same elsewhere. It turns out that what I held up as tradition and part of the history of humanity up until today is the exact opposite for people in the western world. This means that where cooking is a ‘woman thing’ in Africa, it is a ‘man thing’ in some European countries.
My research shows that for these European countries, the only place where women employ their culinary skills is in their homes. Cooking as a profession has never been a thing for women. For them, professional cooking is male-dominated, and women’s involvement in those countries is a recent development.
In Africa, however, it is a tradition for women to take charge of home care and management. As soon as a girl-child is born, it becomes her life’s work to learn to care for a man, children and for the home. She is schooled on techniques that will help her become an excellent manager of lives and properties.
The traditional African man, on the other hand, is strong and proud. He is cultured to go out to work so he can fend for his family. Basically, his duty is to provide food, shelter, clothing, and protection for his family. He is not to bother about the kids or the home because that’s where the woman comes in. Talk about gender roles.
So if a man wakes up one morning and says he wants to be a chef, his family will literarily spit on him. Because cooking is considered a woman’s job, any man who is caught doing it is ridiculed. If a man chooses to help with house chores, he must make sure there are no family members around. This is so because there are families where this is a really big issue. To the African man, being a woman is a thing of disgrace. Even, to call a man a woman is to call him weak. So it is surprising to find that more and more African men are opting to become chefs in this day and age, and no one is frowning at them.
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What has changed? It is a little bit difficult to place a finger on what is influencing increased interest shown by African men in cooking. More than any other profession, we have more chefs and make-up artists dominating the culinary and beauty industries respectively. The irony here is that the men are beginning to do it better than the women whose sole field it used to be. The men are not afraid to try new things and to make bold statements.
Charles Igwe – You can not separate the change from sexuality. More and more African men are beginning to feel, cry and sleep too much. We have more effeminate men in Nigeria than we used to have. Where the cooking profession in Nigeria was female-dominated, but we are beginning to see more
Grace Mbadiwe – Somehow, all these women’s’ rights movement and protests are getting to the men too.
Collins Dikeh – In case you’ve not noticed, life is easier as a woman now. Most women get things done for them at no cost on their part. Yes, I understand that this question is about gender roles. What I’m trying to do is draw your attention to a root cause. Most men want to be women and do women jobs because that’s the only way they can thrive.
Anonymous – Today we have a large number of transgender men. For some reason, they think that having a woman’s body and mind is better. When you are a woman, what are you expected to do? You do woman things, even cook.
The opinions of Nigerians on the streets insinuate that we are raising a generation of “soft” men. We are raising a crop of men who are not so keen about the strength they bear, and not afraid to be petty. Our men are even more emotional than women these days. They nag and gossip too.
Another issue to look at is the wave of selfishness called “self-love”. Millenials preach doing what interests you no matter who it affects adversely or not. Social media is filled with people who are breaking barriers and destroying conventions. Now, what is right is highly individual. There is no common ground.
So, yes, more men are moving away from the traditional way of doing things. The irony, however, is that even where they are not conforming, they still expect their women to conform. They demand submission from the same women who have been forced to be men in their place. Gradually, a gender role switch is happening, and we are not even aware of it.
It is widely reported also that the women who are drawing back from the culinary profession do so to focus on family. Gone are the days where women and mothers chose careers over the family. A reorientation has happened in the course of history. So now they have been able to find a balance and manage it efficiently.
Here are my two cents. I think the men who have taken up professional cooking are men who have seen a vacuum. In recent times, there has been a great need to export the Nigerian culture as a way of globalization. and food is one way to do that. Sharing Nigerian recipes and culinary techniques means giving people around the world an opportunity to experience the Nigerian culture.
So since we have more women, whose role it was to cook, focusing on things other than food, the men took over the baton.
Essentially, the Nigerian kitchen is at the heart of a new revolution and food is no longer just about taste. In response, a crop of Nigerian male chefs has emerged, creating menus that are breaking down traditional barriers and specializing in creating new sensations.
These foodies (irrespective of gender) are not only pushing the Nigerian menu in uncomfortable, unfamiliar directions, but they are also showing how it has the potential to offer the ultimate intimate experience as well.
For male chefs, breaking out of traditional gender roles is a positive step in a society where gender norms and expectations are firmly entrenched. Globalizing the Nigerian culture is not a task for a particular gender. It has nothing to do with genetics or biology.