Women are so rarely given a chance to pen humor pieces for general-interest publications that I feel a little bad about what I'm about to say: I failed to find anything remotely funny in Mimi Spencer's "A Girl's Guide to Eating and Drinking" or Polly Vernon's "A Bird's Guide to Boozing" in the most recent edition of the British Observer Food Monthly.
The subtitle of Spencer's essay -- "When it comes to dining requirements, men and women are like fish and fowl" -- really sums up the whole joke. Her take is that women prefer the lighter side of the menu: the realm of scallops, steak tartare and sashimi is our domain. But men get sausage, osso bucco, a rack of ribs -- caveman stuff. Women are typified by a friend of Spencer's who only orders arugula salads in public. And men -- well, I'll let her say it: "Men will dig in -- taking a boisterous stab at whatever turns up, reducing it swiftly to its constituent parts by sheer force of will." (As opposed to the rest of us, who must rely on the sheer force of silverware.)
Similarly, Vernon writes that women love champagne for its ability to "take the edge off all difficult carbohydrate cravings." Spencer adds that chicks forgo pasta in public for fear of looking gluttonous -- but she lets slip the secret that we eat it while we're home, alone, painting our toenails and presumably crying ourselves to sleep because no one asked us out.
The lesson here, of course, is that men are chthonic masters of the grill pan and women secretly want to subsist on air. It's such a quaint and retro notion, it's almost charmingly anachronistic -- but it winds up being unfortunate and depressing and totally infuriating. Need I add that Spencer advises waiters serving groups of women to flirt? Or that she makes tired jokes about women picking at the food of their male dining companions? Am I stuck in a "Cathy" cartoon?
The worst part about reading theories like these is that it makes me feel humorless. There's no stereotype I hate more than a feminist without humor, but if commentators are going to try to make me laugh with wry recognition, I'd rather have my meal commentary served with fewer shopworn clichés.