Excerpted from Jack Myers' The Future of Men: Masculinity in the Twenty-First Century as a tribute to modern dads on Father's Day.
Rise of the Cooking Dad
A new wave of men has emerged: dubbed "gastrosexuals," they are aged 25-44, well-read, well-travelled and enjoy cooking. While traditional factors of a man's attractiveness -- physical health, personality, salary -- have not diminished, a man's capability to wield a carving knife now makes him a more suitable partner for many women. Fifty percent of women questioned in a PurAsia food survey reported that a man who can cook is more attractive; one-quarter of men surveyed replied that they use their skills with sauces and chef's knives in order to meet and impress women, reported DailyMail.com. One in five women under the age of thirty-five stated that their male partner makes better meals than they do, according to the article. From 2003 to 2014, the share of men doing food preparation (and clean up) on an average day increased from 35 percent to 43 percent, according to the 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey Summary.
The source of these men's inspiration? Television, according to several studies, including one by Total Greek Yogurt. The younger generation grew up with Food Network stars and Iron Chefs. While their moms and dads were spending more time at work and less time in the kitchen, TV cooking and celebrity chefs became the new hearth. Gordon Ramsay, Emeril and Bobby Flay are masculine men who can create meals that make our mouths water (although Flay's marital travails have diminished his popularity and his brand). Shows like Iron Chef are male-dominated, with articulate and (usually) attractive men serving up dishes to (usually) attractive women for comments and criticism. NBCU's Esquire.com channel has a cooking competition called Knife Fight, on which chefs compete not only with their dishes but with words as a crowd of diners (most of them female) cheer, jeer and egg them on.
Food Network and the Cooking Channel report 65% female viewership in 2013, with male viewership rising, according to Broadcasting & Cable, mirroring the breakdown of which gender is now responsible for putting a meal on the table. Nigella Lawson, food writer extraordinaire, claimed that she would be happier about men doing the cooking if it meant that they would clean up the kitchen once they had finished getting the food on the dining room table, reported The Guardian.
While some economically displaced dads stay home and raise their kids as a stop-gap measure, desperately hoping to go back to work as soon as possible, other dads discovered that they enjoyed parenting and became adept at ignoring society's ambivalence to this new gender reversal role. Most dads found themselves somewhat in between: enjoying the experience of bonding on a deeper level with their children, but also wishing that it had been a conscious decision rather than an economic and circumstantial necessity. It's time we begin acknowledging stay-at-home dads as engaged and responsible partners doing the best for their families, rather than labeling them as "out-of-work" dads.
This loosening of traditional gender roles not only gives both men and women newfound freedom to explore aspects of their personal and professional lives that had historically been unavailable to them, but also prepares the way for the concept of co-parenting. Co-parenting -- defined as parents' sharing substantially, although not necessarily equally, in decision-making and responsibility for the physical and emotional care of their children -- is now a primary expectation among engaged and newly married couples.
This newly perceived freedom to redefine gender roles, combined with an increased desire that both parents be fully involved in their children's lives, allows couples to rewrite, if not literally reverse, the rules for mothers and fathers. Although the movement is just beginning to reach critical mass and popular acceptance, a "typical" role-rewritten couple has begun to emerge.
This commentary was originally published at MediaVillage.com