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RASKB lecture examines changing gender dynamics of cooking in Korea.

It's no secret that cooking is a heavily gendered activity, both here in Korea and around the world. Jennifer Flinn, an anthropologist working as an assistant professor at Kyung Hee University, will give a lecture next Tuesday for the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch (RASKB) introducing how changes in demographics, family structures and even kitchens themselves are changing how food is made.

"Gender is in everything, so of course it gets played out in cookbooks!" she told The Korea Times.

"Like a lot of gendered labor, both women and men cook but when women do it, it's viewed as something they should be doing because it's their role. When men cook for their own families, people often view it as strange or a bonus thing they do in their own homes instead of just normal household work."

She will share her collection of cookbooks that present unique and new perspectives of gender.

"Right now we see a lot of books that continue to maintain some old ideas about who is cooking ? women," Flinn said, "while other books start with the assumption that their audience may well be men, and then build new stereotypes around what they think men desire in a cookbook or cooking media. They're both simultaneously reinforcing and challenging existing ideas about gender, but in very different ways."

As male Koreans increasingly live alone for parts of their lives, there has been an upswing in cookbooks teaching them learn how to cook. They often frame recipes in masculine language and imagery, seemingly to ease fears of loss of masculinity in men who step into the kitchen, which has traditionally been the domain of women.

"Cookbooks are produced and circulated by people who are part of their societies, so Korean cookbooks of course will strongly reflect local ideas," she explained. "But cookbooks also help shape what those attitudes are, by reinforcing or challenging them. But generally, the impetus for change seems to be not so much the publishers thinking deeply about how gender is tied to food and how they want to support or shift existing ideas so much as noticing and trying to capitalize on social changes already occurring."

Cooking has traditionally been seen as a feminine pursuit, especially in Korea where recipes have been handed down through history traditionally from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law. Changes to the family structure have disrupted this process over the past century.

"Korea has moved from being a mostly agrarian society where people lived in extended family units to a highly urbanized place where people tend to live in smaller, nuclear families," Flinn said. "People are marrying later (or not at all), delaying childbearing and having fewer children overall. Women are much more likely to engage in paid labor outside the home. Housing is expensive overall, but especially for young families, contributing to delays in marriage. Younger people expect to spend at least a few years living on their own, which means that they're going to need a different set of life skills and have different experiences than their parents or grandparents ? and that includes needing to cook different kinds of food and in different ways. People are also very, very stressed in Korean society, and cooking has become something people see as a way to relax, a form of creative leisure."

The one aspect that has been impervious to these traditional gender norms is celebrity chefs, such as franchise mogul Baek Jong-won, known for Saemaul Restaurant and Paik's Coffee and also the creator of many of Flinn's cookbooks. Male celebrity chefs vastly outnumber female celebrity chefs in most culinary fields.

"When that labor moves to outside the home and becomes paid, we see a shift ? it becomes this professionalized, skilled labor that is socially appropriate for men to engage in as experts. And then, like most professional labor, men are able to dominate because the systems at work favor men, promote men, and are built around men," Flinn said. "In the end, what you end up with is women doing huge amounts of labor for very little formal reward or credit, while a small number of men become celebrated."

The lecture will be held at 7:30 p.m. on April 16 in the second-floor lounge of Somerset Palace in downtown Seoul. All are welcome. Non-members pay 10,000 won and students pay 5,000 won. Visit for more information.
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Publication:The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Apr 9, 2019
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