The school has had a completely male kitchen staff for several years. The last female staff was a supervisor six years ago, showing the current global trend of gender discrepancy in the culinary workplace.
Mr. Ketan Swami, kitchen director, talked about his experience over the years. “Since the kitchen opened up”, he said, “they used to have female supervisors, but they all retired.”
As is often portrayed in popular media, patriarchal societies set stereotypical gender roles with women as housewives usually “belonging in the kitchen.” However, this generalization paradoxically does not apply outside of the domestic sphere. According to the British Office of National Statistics, only 18.5% of professional chefs in Britain are female.
In Woodstock School – rather than systematic gender discrimination or personal bias in recruitment – Mr. Swami claimed that the reasons are ambiguous: “When we post a new position, we don’t differentiate if it’s a male or a female.”
He continued, “whoever fits into the required qualifications, that person – he or she – is recruited. Whenever we posted a vacancy, none of the female staff came forward… fortunately or unfortunately.”
The cause of the gender discrepancy in the kitchen is rooted not in gender discrimination of the recruitment process but involuntary absence, led hypothetically by cultural pressure or personal perceptions. Specifically, in India, the country ranked 108th in the World Economic Forum gender gap index in 2018, lower than neighboring countries such as China, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.
One prevalent explanation is the gender roles based on the relationship between masculinity and cultural influence. In traditional society, males were depicted as embodiments of cultural values, including food viewed as an expression of culture. Comparatively, females were set to trivial, domestic cooking.
Another reason is the kitchen staff’s traditionally higher class origin. “There was almost like a caste system.” Mrs. Sanjaya Mark, Director of Community Engagement, said: “All the kitchen staff was from the hills, the higher reaches, for generations.” Specialized tasks such as dishwashing in the kitchen were sought by certain castes.
Mr. Ketan Swami mentioned the irony of female positioning in domestic labor – 75 percent of Indian domestic workers in 2010 being women. Kitchen work for women is not viewed as a profession.
“This job requires a lot of physical work,” Mr. Swami said, “maybe I’m wrong, but somewhere it does require proper strength,” as in traditionally masculine traits. He talked about the strenuous physical labor, from washing hundreds of trays to carrying large containers of food. Mr. Swami concluded by saying that he would be open to more female staff.
Students have responded with indifference or passive interest. “That’s interesting,” Mayar Mohammed said.
The school is currently not under any plans to change the gender discrepancy in the kitchen, and as to a liberal system – fifty-fifty gender workplace – that would drastically alter the current situation is not being undertaken.
In the bigger picture of the school, gender discrepancy in employment can be seen. In the past decades, the school tended to hire single males as it was not until this millennium that families of janitors and cooks were allowed to live in the school.
One recent development Mrs. Mark pointed out was female staff working in the dormitories. “Once the wives started coming in, they were employed typically as house help,” she said.
A solution, in her opinion, is. education An ongoing community engagement project meets every Friday with 50-60 local women, teaching micro-management and skills like cooking international cuisines – as in targeting the currently male-dominated profession of culinary arts.
Jinho Yoon is a staff reporter
Edited by Janvi Poddar
Photo by Syma Sahu