Chef Eve Aronoff: The Woman of Flavors

I was very fortunate to interview Eve Aronoff, a well-regarded chef who owns two restaurants: eve (seasonally-driven fine dining), and Frita Batidos (very casual, Cuban-inspired). She has appeared as a contestant on Top Chef, been invited to cook at the James Beard Foundation, and studied at Le Cordon Bleu. However, Eve is remarkably down-to-earth and does not take herself too seriously, always friendly and smiling when you see her in person. Here is our conversation from online interviews.

-Can you talk about your earliest recollections of cooking? What feelings did it evoke in you?
Sneaking tastes (equal to a meal in tastes) while my Mom cooked — she always warned me that I would ruin my appetite but I never once did! A feeling of abundance with the food spread on the table; rarely fancy but delicious, savory, made with a lot of love. Though it sounds cheesy you could taste it. The feeling of being nurtured.

-Can you talk a little bit more about your approach to cooking? I don’t mean the techniques, etc., but do you visualize what you cook, or have a kinesthetic sense of it, or an olfactory sense? For example, do you sort of see it like an artist with a palate of different colors? What metaphors do you use?
It is more of an instinct and just really focusing on the flavors, textures, and contrasts; being excited about ingredients as they come in and out of season; and wanting to keep a more organic presentation, which to me is more beautiful than one that is more architectural or orchestrated-looking. Does that make sense?

-Yes! Your restaurants are very accessible, I think. For many eaters it can be intimidating if something is “orchestrated,” as you put it so well. A question about classical technique — it’s something that I am always trying to understand and balance as an artist, how technique intersects with instinct. Because too much technique can kill instinct if we try to do things too perfectly. But at the same time, technique can help make things easier and give us a grounding in the fundamentals of whatever our art is. Did you find that your time at the Cordon Bleu stifled any of your natural cooking impulses? Or, did learning classical techniques allow you to go further?
I think my time in Paris at LCB was inspiring mostly from being in Paris and experiencing how central food is to culture there. I spent most of my time walking around Paris:  going to different ethnic eateries, outdoor markets (especially the North African market), pastry and cheese and charcuterie shops. I have always evolved the most from being around or even reading about cultures I am drawn to rather than learning in an official scholastic setting. Wandering around Cuban neighborhoods in Miami or going to the North African market in Paris or even reading about the history of Cuban culture and cuisine. Or reading Camus when I majored in comparative literature at Brandeis.
So being in school in Paris was educational, but more transformative was the time I spent there. I do think I refined some of my technique and presentation so I could balance that with the big bold flavors I have always been drawn to. From that I really developed my personal style as a chef — balancing complex, bold flavors paired with a very bright, cool, or refreshing contrast to create a harmony and bring out the best of both.
For me I think it is a good foundation or underpinning that can elevate your natural, more raw instincts and intuition. But if you rely on it too much to drive you, or [use it] instead of that intuition, you can lose the soul of what you are doing. If I cook that way it doesn’t taste good.

-Very interesting! It is so important not to lose the soul of what we do!
Yes, that’s the most important thing, I think. Knowledge, organization, etc. all augment what you can do artistically, but over-thinking things in a self-conscious way just tends to ruin things or at least takes a lot away when you are trying to create something special. You will never do it as well as when you are free-spirited.

-Very well said. I know it is easy to become very self-conscious, especially in the beginning stages of one’s arts career. What are your thoughts on molecular gastronomy, which really seems to push the limits in terms of food and creativity? Some marvel in this, whereas others think it’s very gimmicky.
I’m not personally drawn to molecular gastronomy to be honest, though I think it is pretty technically amazing. I don’t feel the same soul in molecular gastronomy from what I have seen/experienced, with the exception of Ferran Adrià. I feel like from there, a lot of the realness gets lost (on me at least). Also when I eat food like that, it is more of an interesting experience compared to a fulfilling one, and I usually end up ordering a pizza afterwards!

-Those dainty little dishes on a huge white plate leave us hungry and wanting pizza!
I KNOW!!

– Given the theme of this blog, I wanted to know — what are your experiences as a female chef? Is it a profession in which gender has played any impact, or is cooking a profession that transcends gender?
-I have always heard it can be a challenge to be a female chef, but in my personal experience I haven’t found it to be a major issue. I have always kind of tried to not focus on that and focus on just learning skills, so I could cook side by side with other people, whether they were male or female. Just focusing on the food, textures, and contrasts, and striving to create something delicious. Where I have encountered more bias has been in the business side of things in meetings. For example, where it seemed sometimes people may respond to you being passionate or particular as a challenge, and let it go if a male is communicating with equal or more passion, attention to detail, or sensitivity. Or sometimes people perceive you as the “creative type” without giving respect to the business aspect of what you have worked hard to learn/achieve. I have tried to handle that with being straightforward and having open communication, and that has sometimes seemed to ease the situations.

-Are there any famous women chefs you have worked with or met? Julia Child, Alice Waters, Gabrielle Hamilton, others?
Alice Waters has been very inspirational to me since I was little. We did a special dinner for the Agrarian Adventure modeled after her edible schoolyards, and she was the guest of honor, which was very exciting. I paired up with Takashi Yagihashi [of Takashi and Okada and Slurping Turtle fame] to do that dinner at the original [location of my restaurant] eve the first year we were opening, and it was a pretty transformational experience for me. It kind of opened my eyes to the community of cooking together with other chefs, especially for things we value and care about.

-So you don’t mind collaborating with other chefs?
I love to. I have grown to love to from that experience. Community means more to me than almost anything within the restaurant, and that expands it and brings people together to create something that is more multi-dimensional and often for a cause you really care about. It is very dynamic/thought-provoking working with other chefs.

-What strikes me is that your philosophy to cooking is very open and about learning, not ego-driven.
Yes, I have a lot of aspirations but I am not very competitive at all: that is one of the reasons why I think I did such a poor job on “Top Chef.” I had never seen the show and they approached me to participate. But really that was the only time I was doing self-conscious vs. free-spirited cooking and it just didn’t feel right or natural — and it was the worst job I’ve ever done at anything. So I just learned I love and thrive on real-life challenges, but not ones that feel orchestrated.

-I absolutely love Top Chef, but I can’t imagine having to cook under that kind of pressure. It seems like some wonderful, talented chefs just get booted for no reason.
I love real life pressure/challenges and I think, for me, those are even more intense, but are organic and, for me, can still be handled naturally. It just didn’t feel like it [the show] was about what I care about personally. (That’s what I was thinking about above when we were talking about losing the soul of the food.) I don’t think competition brings out the most delicious, soulful food but I learned a lot about myself from that experience, which is always good.

-What gave you the courage to pursue your career of being a chef? I was so scared and shy of going into the arts that I tried everything I could to avoid it, like spending many years in academia! But I couldn’t avoid it, because my heart was really in the arts.
That’s interesting. I could see that, but for me it was just what I cared about and was interested in and felt driven to do. So I didn’t really question it — if I had I might not have done it. I don’t know why in retrospect, but I thought I could open a restaurant. I wasn’t independently wealthy (I had NO money), but I kept looking at spaces, talking to bankers, working on my business plan whenever I wasn’t working etc…and finally all of the pieces came together to open eve, my restaurant. I really don’t know why I didn’t question things like that, or being a woman in a “male-dominated” industry, but I didn’t and I think those things have served me well. Maybe it goes back to things going better when you do them naturally — still with a lot of strategic thought but not as much questioning why/ability etc.?

-I think ultimately that is the best way, to be driven from the heart and soul instead of worrying too much about the externals.
When I went to school, my dad (who is a professor) told me to just expose myself to as many experiences as possible and find what I truly enjoyed doing and that is what I would be best at. He recommended going to lectures, etc…but for me, when I started cooking for spending money in college, I just fell head over heels in love with it and knew right away I wanted to open a restaurant. You must be very brave to pursue your art if you actually do question it – that takes a lot more bravery, I think, Sonja! I would have thought, “OMG what? Why/how can I do this? Okay, forget it…”
My parents, thank goodness, were very open-minded about me doing whatever I really was passionate about and I think that helped a LOT.

-It does really make a difference with parental support.
I have friends whose parents had a lot of preconceived notions about what careers are appropriate/suitable and that was really challenging for them personally. This has been such a fun conversation!

-What other creative outlets do you have?
I am in love with design and architecture. When I became ultimately debilitated by my back injury for an extended period of time, I was considering applying to the school of Art and Architecture at U of M. (There are so many creative facets within a restaurant, though, that it is pretty consuming/satisfying/fulfilling).

-Cooking is only one part of the equation when you run a restaurant. (Or for that matter, when one is a professional artist, one has to manage the business and career side of things.) You have two, and both are very successful — not to mention delicious! Can you talk a little bit about the business and professional side of things?
That is very nice, thank you, Sonja. I have learned a lot over a long period of time and developed skills in areas in which I was pretty deficient, which feels pretty empowering. I touched on this above because it is why the restaurant industry is so satisfying and exciting to me. What I love about the restaurant industry is how multi-faceted it is.
I love being able to constantly learn and evolve, whether in the areas of business/finance, developing my management style and our culture and personal philosophy, overcoming my shyness. Also focusing on design and having the design echo the texture and contrast of the food by striving to create a backdrop, rather than an overly “designed space.” So the contrast that is in my cooking is echoed when the people, food, spices, and music fill up the backdrop of the composition.

– One last question: what is your favorite junk or fast/casual food? Julia Child loved Fritos and peanut butter!
I have several, but I love pizza, bi bim bop, and Oreos to name a few! I have more — I am like the least elitist person in the world about food. I just love things that taste delicious to me, and I don’t think you judge junk food as a treat the way you would a Michelin starred restaurant. It is just a tasty snack but still tastes really good once in a while. I eat plenty of wholesome food, but everyone needs treats once in a while. What about yours, may I ask?

-I do love Oreos, pizza (but that can be healthy, right?) Ooh, mac and cheese from a box. I am a foodie and that is my guilty pleasure! Anything with orange cheese flavor on it is included!
OMG that was my favorite in high school — Kraft Mac and Cheese and better mac and cheese just does not taste better when that is what you are craving right?!

 -Any form of mac and cheese is really good, I must say!            TRUE! I should get back out there [to the restaurant].

-Have a great evening!                                                                               Likewise. Thanks for a great conversation and for thinking of me for this!

Movie Review: “The Queen of Katwe”

Disney’s name may be on the film, but “The Queen of Katwe” is anything but a run-of-the mill (but always enjoyable) family movie. Nor is it yet another chess film à la “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” “Pawn Sacrifice,” or the French gem “Queen to Play.” What makes “The Queen of Katwe” refreshingly unique is its distinctly non-Western, developing world sensibility. Thanks to Indian director Mira Nair, Western audiences can see a true, intimate portrait of slum life and Third World poverty, as well as the internal conflicts that occur in so much of the developing world. Here is a reading of the film that is more anthropological and explains certain cultural facets of life in a developing country.

First, Nair shows us the absolute squalor and destitute poverty of slum life in Kampala, Uganda, warts and all. Ironically, Nair already had a house there before getting asked to direct the film, so she was familiar with the culture. No detail is spared, from a dirty floor to peeling paint on the wall to litter on the ground. Poverty manifests itself in details, as anyone who has spent time in a developing country (such as India) can attest. Less wealthy countries may not have the “polish” in their construction or materials or goods as they do in the West and other developed countries. A lack of proper facilities, proper sanitation, and even clean water are daily concerns. Phiona is teased by children the first time she goes to play chess because she is smelly and unwashed. This also is a telling incident, for we first see the differences in class even in a developing country– something that Westerners often fail to recognize or be aware of. Class differences are a global phenomenon.

Food is scarce, and Phiona’s family takes turns sacrificing their portions to whoever needs it most. Their mother Harriet is widowed, and she has very little money, which in turn affects how much they can have to eat. However, more than money, integrity matters most: Phiona’s sister Night is a “kept woman” of a questionable wealthier man with a motorbike, of whom their mother strongly disapproves. The money Night is able to bring her family is dirty money, and it is only with great reluctance and in the direst of circumstances that the family takes it. This is a very telling scene, for it shows that human dignity is priceless, even among the poorest of the poor.

Issues of child labor also show a fresh perspective on the difficulty of overcoming obstacles, because this is no mere story of a suburban schoolgirl up against an extracurricular bully. Phiona and her brother Brian are too poor to go to school; instead, their mother puts them to the streets to sell corn (maize). Thus in addition to being poor and completely unfamiliar with the sophistication of chess, Phiona is also illiterate. Even in her preteens, she is barely able to read. Her mother is extremely suspicious of her interest in chess, and expresses her concern to their coach and mentor Robert, for it is taking her away from the necessary work to bring in income to their family. Later, Phiona’s eagerness to learn to read and study is alienating to her mother, who cannot understand what education means, as she is an illiterate woman from a village. These sorts of in-family class differences that arise when someone becomes more educated than their parents or siblings are another issue that many intelligent and/or talented people from developing countries face. Later on in their lives, the exodus of such individuals to countries with more opportunities gets dubbed “brain drain,” as they deplete a nation of the very people who would better it.

Corruption is also neatly folded into the story, for coach Robert has applied for a suitable job to make use of his engineering degree, but his lack of family connections (due to being an orphan) hinders his progress. Same for when he goes to the head of the chess organization to get a chance for his children in the slum of Katwe to compete, and is turned down because he cannot possibly come up with the exorbitantly high sum required to participate. The head is shocked when Robert does indeed deliver, for he has received his bribe.

Finally, one important point to mention is the presence of colonial education in a developing country. Uganda was a colony of Great Britain, and we can see the presence of the elite British style of education when the children go to the chess tournament at a college. But conversely, we also see the presence of missionary education for the poor people, as Phiona’s chess club is at a center founded by missionaries. This raises questions too complex to explore here; however, the film does a good job in hinting at its underlying presence.

Nair’s respectful direction lets the actors carry the story, without an excess of dialogue. Screenwriter William Wheeler was careful not to moralize, but to let the characters speak what is necessary, and then show through action what we need to see and feel. The extreme close-ups, which can be very distracting in some films, work well here, putting us right at the heart of the story and the characters’ lives.

If a Disney film is supposed to teach kids about good values, educate them, entertain them, and open their eyes to new ideas, then “The Queen of Katwe” succeeds hugely. It is a new, global form of Disney magic for the younger generation.

Do We Need Silicon Valley Anymore?

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful place between a blue bay and a big, cold magnificent ocean. There were lots of trees and mountains, and before the white man converted or killed them off, lots of Native Americans. Over time, this beautiful place was settled, and a robber baron who made his fortune in railroads built a university with striking Italian-Spanish architecture in honor of his only son who died as a teenager. The climate was such that brilliant innovative scientists were able to build and create various technologies, such as silicon chips, which were used inside amazing new devices. There were two guys who built a company in a garage, and then a company that hyphenated their last names together. Then later, two guys named Steve radically created a computer that would become a household name, called after a common fruit. One of the Steves even took it further, and, along with a team of brilliant innovative scientists, created devices that people could use to listen to music wherever they wanted, telephones that allowed people to do more than talk, and invented screens that would respond to you at the mere touch of a finger. There were programs on these computers that allowed you to search for any information in the world without having to set foot in the library. And there were still more people who invented, designed, created, and innovated all kinds of tools that human beings used to change their lives. It made the place between the blue bay and the big, cold magnificent ocean attractive to all kinds of interesting people from all over the world.

And then what happened?

I would argue that Silicon Valley’s social capital or utility can be represented by a diminishing returns curve. With the heyday of hardware and even beginning stages of software, Silicon Valley was at the peak of the curve. But now, are there are more social problems and negative impacts on society than benefits?

The San Francisco area has always been prone to earthquakes, as well as a “gold rush” get rich quick mentality. The area is also, on a positive note, one of the most open-minded places in the world. It has been a haven for people of all shapes and sizes and beliefs. No matter who you are, you can be yourself there. If you have new ideas and are forward thinking, you are especially welcome: this is quite novel, when you think about how stodgy and traditional other parts of the country – and the world — can be. Nature is everywhere, from magnificent redwoods to open hills to water on all sides. And when so much of United States suffers from extreme climates, a place with year-round temperate weather is a welcome haven. Of course such an area would be in demand!

But over the past two decades, there has been a shift from hardware and physical goods produced to software and non-tangible technologies, such as websites and apps. Social media is the name of the game. As an anthropologist by undergraduate training, I can comment that the impact of this shift in technology seems to be not extremely socially useful. Yes, governments and businesses use Facebook. Yes, Twitter was instrumental in the Arab Spring. Social media can potentially unite people, enabling a grandparent in India to see their grandchild on FaceTime, or a long-lost friend to be found after half a century. We all want more ease in our lives, and apps can certainly do that. But we must ask ourselves, what is the social value of this software or social media? How much of it is truly life- saving or life-changing? Is Instagram really there to change our lives? Do we really need an app to tell us where to eat, what to wear, which way to swipe if someone is “hot,” where to get the best price on that frivolous knick-knack we want but don’t need? What is the purpose of “social media” anyhow, when really we should be spending time communicating with each other directly?

Consider the following. The sharp rise in the IT industry has driven up the cost of real estate, driving out residents who have lived in their homes for decades, or working poor or immigrants from their apartments (by the evil Trion Properties private equity firm), as was reported recently in The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/sep/21/silicon-valley-eviction-facebook-trion-properties
Gentrification has made San Francisco unaffordable, and rent control seems to be a thing of the past. San Francisco has almost become the most expensive city in the U.S. (just closely behind New York).

Diversity is also lessening, both ethnically and economically, as only the elite professionals (often white and middle- or upper-middle class, from Ivy League schools or at least well-educated) can afford to buy or even rent property. With such an imbalance in careers, those who work in other fields, such as education and the arts, whose services are crucial to society (such as the children of these IT people) flee the area. There is also a gender imbalance, leading San Jose to be dubbed “Man Jose” due to the high proportion of men there. But this goes beyond mere physical gender: this is an imbalance of masculine energy and traits, and that which is uniquely or traditionally feminine (be it careers or personality qualities) is diminished. The high rollers in Silicon Valley are not social workers or ballet dancers, and women who want to succeed need to play like a man. Recall Marissa Mayer’s telecommuting ban at Yahoo. This is no surprise when a female CEO is very cold and masculine (I have it on inside authority).

There is also the lesser-important issue of how the tech industry has effected language change. Text English is its own dialect, and auto correct has all but eliminated the need for young people to learn proper grammar and spelling. Do people know how to use your vs. you’re? Everything is reduced to an abbreviation, a single syllable, a precious, clever spelling change (lift with a y for a ride service). Have any of these techno-geeks studied philology? Linguistics? Their sense of history seems to be in years, not even decades and certainly not centuries or millennia. And let’s not even get into how children’s cognitive development is going to be affected a decade later.

What we have here is a population of people that is social and morally underdeveloped with too much money, no history, no ethics or taste. They lack the sense of psychosocial development that comes with learning slowly and with understanding society and culture and history, how to handle money, and how to deal with people. How laughable was Mark Zuckerberg’s 2015 declaration on his Facebook page that: “My challenge for 2015 is to read a new book every other week — with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies.” Apparently, his Harvard education had been wasted until then. If this is the type of citizens top universities are churning out – shortsighted, tech-focused, money-grubbing students – maybe it’s time for them to reevaluate. One retired Stanford professor told me “Silicon Valley is like a cancer on Stanford.” Or conversely, Stanford has become the handmaiden of Silicon Valley.

There is nothing wrong with technology and innovation. We are all on the social media grid, so to speak, all use our smartphones and rely on our computers. The problem comes if there is an imbalance, and if the traditional elements of education are cut, and when people become greedy and exploit, however unknowingly, others. Oddly, there was huge support for Bernie Sanders when he was seeking the nomination for Democratic Candidate for President. This is all good and well, but these people need to be personally fighting for justice for the underprivileged in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, not allowing rents to be raised exorbitantly and traditions to be destroyed. In other words, they need to be equally concerned with creating social capital and solving social problems. Unfortunately, there is no app for that.

Open Letter to Sheryl Sandberg

The Facebook message I sent to Sheryl Sandberg regarding the housing eviction of tenants to make room for Facebook employees in Redwood City:

Dear Ms. Sandberg,
I admire you and your work immensely and enjoyed your book, Lean In. Many women in high positions may not choose to be generous, but how wonderful that you did! May I ask for you to extend your generosity again in ensuring that families—especially ones with single moms (as you have tragically become—my huge sympathies)—are not evicted from their homes such as the Buckingham Apartments in Redwood City in order to provide housing for Facebook employees? I don’t think what people are undergoing in Silicon Valley due to skyrocketing housing costs is fair. While Facebook and you, I am sure, contribute to various causes, it is important not to be part of a system that forces people from their homes. Thank you very much for your consideration.
Best wishes,
Sonja Srinivasan
BA Stanford University
MA Columbia University
thewomenofletters.com

Our Other Friends: Humans and Animals

Today’s post is about the relationship between humans and animals. It is easy as Homo sapiens to get so caught up in our heads, our lives, our bills, our concerns that we neglect to see the other mass of living beings coexisting with us: animals. The bond between humans and animals has existed as long as humans of even primitive type have lived. Originally sources of food or transportation or tools for farming, animals now have a more complex relationship to humans in the modern, developed world. What can we learn from animals? What makes our love for them so strong? Here are a few thoughts:

-Animals move in an entirely different rhythm from us. We can be so hurried in our daily lives or so used to the pace of human movement that it is interesting to see how a different living species moves. Cats move at a slower, more graceful pace, no movement is wasted, and everything is done with efficiency and agility. As much as we have created the ability to do so in a tin can, we cannot ourselves fly. Watching a bird take flight is always awe-inspiring, for the motion of flapping wings is like nothing we can do. Watching fish swim is very soothing–a friend recently recounted the story of her daughter taking several fish tanks with her to college, and how it drew other friends to her dorm room to watch. Anyone who has gone whale watching cannot help but be amazed when s/he sees the massive creature rise out of the water or spout water out of its blowhole.

-Animals communicate in an entirely different way. Many do indeed have their own language. Anyone who has lived with a cat knows that there are different meows for “feed me,” “pet me,” “I don’t like that stranger,” and even different purrs. Birds have their calls in the morning and evening, for alarm, and for mating. Even many animals that are normally silent will have a sound for distress. And with silent animals, or communicative animals that are not making noise, we can observe their thoughts and feelings through their body language, communicated in a non-verbal way. The snake that is about to strike, the impatient horse, the stubborn camel–all of them are making themselves known.

-The cycle of life is more evident through animals. We marvel at the adorable baby bunnies born in spring. We feel sad to see an injured rodent. A furry animal sheds its coat during hot weather to stay cooler, and grows a thicker one to keep warm in winter. A dead animal on the road becomes food for a hawk or vulture to survive. In other words, birth, life, and death, as well as going with the seasons, are natural to animals other than the Homo sapiens. It can also be entertaining to view how different animals interact with each other based on their hierarchy. The laser-sharp focus of a border collie rounding up sheep is quite entertaining, for the dog has such an inborn, innate sense of duty to hurt the animals — or even small children when present en masse!

-Children have a natural affinity for animals. Animals have long been used to teach children about life and morals and character. Just think of all the classic children’s books about animal themes or with animal lead characters: the Frances books, Winnie the Pooh (that Zen master of wisdom!), Black Beauty, even Alice in Wonderland with the White Rabbit that leads her astray. Because children still have active imaginations, they are able to appreciate animal stories and movies more than their overly rationalistic adult counterparts. Perhaps the bond is a certain tenderness and vulnerability that both children and animals share.

-Animals operate on instinct. This relates to the point above about the cycle of life. They listen to their intuition and inner knowledge about how to protect themselves, or how to attack. They know when to hibernate for winter, how much to feed their babies, and even when they are going to die. For majority of human beings in the developed world, intuition is discounted or even discarded. But our bodies are wise, and we would do well to tune into them more often.

Perhaps there are many things we can learn from animals to be less arrogant as a species. Although a certain degree of arrogance is necessary to roll over and go back to sleep when the cat wants to wake you up at 6 AM and crawls around your head.

The True Meaning of Misogyny

(This post is dedicated to the memory of Qandeel Baloch, Pakistani social media star and feminist)

So much gets thrown around these days in terms of what the word misogyny means. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines misogyny as “a hatred of women,” from the Greek misein to hate and gyne woman. Our own cultural connotations of this word in American society vary greatly. Is a man staring at an attractive woman on the street and example of misogyny? Or only when he makes a comment? Is the fact that we do not really encounter a female Mozart when studying European culture and music a sign of misogyny? I would argue that we have to be careful, when defining misogyny, not to negate or deny certain things that are naturally or even inherently masculine, certain things that may be harmless. Also, a male acting in traditionally masculine ways is not necessarily being misogynistic. I, like many women, love chivalry and find it charming when a man opens a door for me, whereas other women may find it demeaning. We need to distinguish between superficial misogyny and genuine, deep-rooted misogyny.

In the first example, a man staring on the street may be acting simply out of his own biology and own masculine nature; while it may be uncomfortable to some women, we have to be careful not to label this as misogynistic in all cases. Same for opening a door –a man may see himself as being a gentleman and doing his duty and a chivalric way. In the second example, we are dealing with a more complex situation. Indeed, our history books and curricula have often neglected women entirely, or minimized their contributions. (Hence the presence of this blog, and its title that seeks to honor women in cultural positions). And needless to say, in earlier centuries, women were not educated to the same level as men, if at all, and female Mozarts may have existed but were instead expected to do needlepoint and then be married off at age 16. But we cannot use our modern standards to evaluate the Canon and earlier eras; to do so would simply be ridiculous and anachronistic. I frequently take issue with modern politically correct scholarship and interpretations of earlier works and time periods, for it shows a deep ignorance of history and a certain shallow Americanism. Sometimes I even have to laugh when the whole issue of calling a woman a “girl” becomes a subject for debate, because some of the most old-fashioned men who call a woman a girl might be the ones who treat her with the most respect as opposed to the politically correct men who call a woman a woman but whose behavior is not respectful.

What, then, does misogyny mean? Because we can’t deny it exists, and on some level, we deal with it every day in America.

I would argue that true misogyny means denying things that are at the very unique essence of what it means to be a woman, things that are particular to our gender. Misogyny, at its deepest, means a denial of female emotion and female energy.

-Interpersonally, probably the worst example of misogyny is a man’s inability to accept and understand a woman’s emotions in a romantic context. Labeling women as “crazy,” or fearing that “she’s going to go out of control” are all ways in which the fundamental nature of a woman, to be emotional in a way that a man cannot be, is quashed and destroyed. Women are taught logic and rational thinking; men are seldom taught how to understand women’s emotions (though we have to understand that biologically there may be a limit to what they can comprehend). But the point is that this imbalance leads to a lot of anger and hostility in relationships. These days, with social media, it is easier for men to hide behind a screen rather than hear, see, and feel what his woman is experiencing.
These days, it seems that the more educated and professional the man is, the less he is able to deal with a woman’s emotions, and would not hesitate to end a relationship. Whereas a less educated man might be able to cope better, perhaps by going out for a beer with his friends and accepting he said something stupid and go back home, accepting to a certain degree that there are certain gender traits and one must accept them.

-Many women may criticize the above, but that proves the next point: women are not allowed to be women in all aspects of life. In order to do well in their careers, too many women have been forced to adopt masculine ways and to stifle their femininity. This is especially prominent in certain fields, such as finance, law, STEM fields, even academia. In order to get ahead, a woman has to play the game. And when our culture dictates that work life consumes most of our day, it becomes difficult for women to relax into their femininity when they are not at work. This has made gender roles difficult for both genders, and many men complain about masculine, controlling women. This is a legitimate complaint, but its origins come from a male-dominated society that has pushed women to be this way.

-Misogyny is patriarchy gone extreme. Notice that I did not say misogyny is patriarchy, but qualified it with an adjective phrase. As an anthropologist by undergraduate training, I can say that there are certain aspects of a patriarchal society that could be beneficial to women–a male who is a provider, who will stay in a relationship, who will be a responsible father, and who will allow a woman to be her feminine self. It can provide a sort of social safety net. However, in too many countries and cultures, including America, this patriarchy can push women into unwanted or undesirable marriages, motherhood, deny them an adequate education or work opportunities, and worst of all, result in domestic violence. The latter is the most tragic example of men trying to maintain their power and values at all costs, but sometimes the cost is death.

-So much is discussed about abortion rights — something that indeed must be kept safe and legal – and birth control, but what about birth rights? If only a woman can give birth, and is capable of that magical creative act, why does our society fundamentally not support that? This is not a liberal-conservative debate, but simply one that asks to honor a woman’s ability to reproduce. Why do so many women opt to have abortions? The first reason is that the birth control has failed (again, a failure of effective birth control for women, and a lack of birth control for men), and so a woman has an unwanted pregnancy. But another reason is that she is not in a culture that supports her pregnancy. Financially, America is a very difficult place to raise a child. Many women may not wish to embrace motherhood, and that is an equally valid choice. But for others, they may want to but find themselves torn between earning a living, pursuing a career that will lead to her earning a living, or abandoned by the man who made her pregnant. Where is the support for these women who want to keep the child?

-And let us not forget the pathetic joke of maternity leave: a Forbes article from April 2016 presents the grim situation of how the U.S. is the worst in terms of maternity leave of developed countries. Twelve weeks of unpaid leave – if you and your workplace meet the criteria – is inhumane. We can’t even think about paternity leave until we get better maternity leave, which is a shame.

-Pressuring women to look a certain way – even unfeminine – in the workplace. Must a female attorney who clerks for a Supreme Court or federal judge be condemned to a lifetime of navy and black suits? Is an investment banker any less qualified if she wears shoes with stripes? Or if a woman wears a pink dress to give a speech when she is running for office, is she relegated to being “cute”? The problem should not be placed on women and their sartorial choices, but on the men who cannot understand them.

These are just some examples of everyday misogyny and a deep lack of appreciation for the female and feminine energy. What many men fail to recognize is that to deny the feminine externally is to also deny the feminine inside them. While men are not wired to be women – thank goodness – and it can be physiologically harmful for them to process emotion at the same level as women, they still need to accept that we all have our masculine and feminine elements within us. In turn, women need to relax into their feminine sides and accept certain elements of masculinity, however unpleasant or strange they may seem. Feminism cannot work without understanding men.

To conclude with a classic joke– isn’t it the ultimate misogyny when a man doesn’t understand that the woman is always right?!