You may or not be aware of my feminist leanings. I try to keep them to a minimum on this blog but, on rare occasions such as this, I can’t contain myself.
I’m part of a recently-formed group called “Women Do Wine” (already 1200 members on Facebook, in under a month) which aims to highlight the bleeding obvious – that women, despite the fact that we don’t have a Y chromosome or much facial hair, are actually capable of working in the wine industry.
The objective of the WdW group is to increase the visibility of women in all aspects of the industry. As I see it, to set an example to others starting out (showing possibilities in different areas, not just sales and marketing) and supporting those who are on their way.
It is through this group that we learnt of a new French award called Femme de Chef… which translates into English as Wife of a Chef. Yep, you read that correctly.
The feature photo in the header is the cover image for this Award. The qualities they’re looking for are (L-R): give, love, bring, pacify, comfort, accompany, reassure, support, guide, share and serve. Yep, you read that correctly too.
In response to this atrocity of an idea, Women do Wine have penned an open letter to its founder. The original letter can be found here. Below is my hasty translation.
WE ARE NOT JUST “THE WIVES OF”
Because you started the “Wife of a Chef” Awards, supposed to pick out a “Wife of a Chef 2017”, we are writing to you. We are the Women do Wine association, a wide-ranging group of women in the wine industry.
We were surprised to learn – actually it was with some amazement – of this sexist and dated award, suitable for an epoque when we still lived under the Napoleonic code.
Being “the wife of” someone is not a career. Manager, sommelier, front of house and even – and this might surprise you – being a chef, are careers.
You do not want to reward the women, rather their qualities as the companion. As wives. As mothers. And, as you say yourself, for their “serenity and discretion.” It’s not the actual person you have in mind, but their capacity to stand in the shadows behind their husband-chef.
Take, for example, Magali Sulpice, whose desire to be a sommelière started at 12 years old and who has had an admirable career path, working at many different prestigious establishments. To reduce her to being “the wife of…” is frankly insulting. Yes, she has found a partner who shares her passion. And yes, they work together. But must we ignore her experience and see it only in the light of her relationship status? Seriously?
All these women did not sit around waiting for their husband; they had a profession. Patricia Nasti started in the restaurant industry at 16 years old. Isabelle Mobihan chose to become a sommelière at 20. Céline Couillon started hospitality school at 15 years old and contributed just as much to the opening of their restaurant as her husband. Laure Mengus hits the nail on the head: her job is to be the boss.
Are we always destined to hide behind a man? To justify our experience or our journey by a man? Are we obliged to conform to this image of “serenity and discretion”? And we’ve got to be gentle, right?
Women have achieved, after a great struggle, their emancipation from the yoke of men. They no longer exist through their husbands, or their fathers; rather, they are full-fledged individuals with goals and careers in which they flourish.
Obviously, it is good to have support in these jobs of passion, which can be extremely time-consuming and demanding. It can sometimes be a male or female partner in this role; sometimes someone from the industry, or not. Obviously, to work as a family is common in these jobs: we know, we see it often. We also know that it sometimes leads to sacrifices and hard choices. But to make a trophy rewarding only the “wife of” is an archetype that segregates and encloses instead of going forward. And what about the male partner of a female chef? Are they not also in the shade? And maybe the homosexual partner of a male chef?
It is highly laudable to want to highlight deserving women, those whose passion has become a profession and those who, day after day, add excellence to gastronomy. It is harmful to see in them only as the small hands, the supports, the shadows. The women of the restaurant industry are entitled to the spotlight.
We sincerely hope that you will rethink this “Wife of” trophy, which is insulting and reducing, especially as it will be awarded on exact date of the day of the rights of the women. Please find something more just and egalitarian. Something that honours the women of gastronomy, their merits and not their marital status. Make it something that is useful for the recognition of women in the gastronomy trades.
They will thank you for it. And us too.
Women do Wine
If you would like to show your solidarity against the Femme de Chef Award, please like and share this blog post and the original in French freely.
If you would like more information on Women do Wine, the Facebook page is here.