Burger King sent out a tweet this morning – “Women belong in the kitchen” – which, while trying to make a larger point about the paucity of female head chefs in the restaurant industry (check out the link), was beyond tone deaf. Happy International Women’s Day indeed!
In my kitchen, my husband does the vast majority of our cooking. It was an arrangement borne of necessity; with me on the road for most of the year, he needed to feed himself. And when I was home, I was often too exhausted or too busy getting ready to leave again to take care of any household chores. Fortunately he’s a fantastic cook who can whip up everything from a Six Seasons pasta recipe to Pépin’s Chicken Galantine to Nagoya-style Japanese chicken wings. I was happy for him to take up this particular mantle; this woman needs not be in her kitchen.
Our understanding has remained largely intact throughout the lockdown. I have a larger repertoire of Japanese dishes (my mother taught me to cook quite young – she herself went to cooking school so she would make a more suitable wife – a story for a later time), and so when I’m in the mood for one of them, I’ll take over kitchen duties. But most nights, it’s my husband in the apron (and yes, he wears one!). And on most mornings, it’s he who empties the dishwasher, runs the vacuum, starts the laundry – before settling down to his own full day of work (which often starts at 6 am, before the market opens). It might not be the most conventional arrangement but it works for us.
Things have always been a little unconventional for our little family; for most of our marriage I’ve been the major breadwinner. And while the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that almost 30% of American wives in heterosexual dual-income marriages earn more than their husbands, it still feels like it upsets traditional gender norms. My old-school Japanese mother, she of the cooking school, still has a hard time wrapping her mind around the fact that at several points in our marriage (going back to school, starting a new business) I was the sole income earner.
The pandemic has been particularly tough on women. It has precipitated the steepest decline in the female labor force since World War II, with a projected recovery that is at least several years behind that of men. In September, when school resumed, 80% of those who left the workplace were women. The increased burden of uncompensated care – cooking, cleaning, taking care of children – has disproportionately landed on women.
I’m ridiculously lucky to have a partner who has been overseeing all of this unpaid care – the practical running of a household – for the last many years. It’s not that I don’t participate; it’s that I’m not in charge, and that makes an unimaginable difference. And it’s one of the most significant factors in my career success, because I simply couldn’t have done both. To be able to fly around the world for 36 weeks out of the year, and be buried in score study in the weeks I was home – impossible, without a husband who could take care of every other aspect of my life, and of our lives.
So, in a slightly ironic twist, this International Women’s Day, what I celebrate most is the great man behind this great woman.