MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Cooking is a science, a business, and a joy for many people, but especially for some women it can also be a topic of debate. Shayla Pierce is an aspiring writer and thought her feminist ideals might keep her out of the kitchen for a lifetime. Boyfriends who asked her to get cooking just strengthened her resolve. But then she met her current beau and began cooking for him.
So does that make her a sellout? That's the question Shayla Pierce asks herself and her readers in an essay for the website xoJane, and she's with us now. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.
SHAYLA PIERCE: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: When the subject of your essay was raised, the conversation around our table got a little bit heated.
MARTIN: For those of us who haven't read your essay yet, why were you conflicted about cooking for your boyfriend?
PIERCE: Well, I was conflicted because for years I've had boyfriends, people who I've dated casually, and they would suggest or almost outright demand that I cook. The sole reason for this was that I was a woman and they weren't. And that's not a good reason to get me to do anything.
MARTIN: Well, how would this come up? I've been off the dating scene for some time so I'm just interested in how this subject would be raised.
PIERCE: Very casually. Just if we're sitting on the couch watching TV, it's like I'm hungry. And it's like OK. Are you? Well, you should probably do something about that. But it was always, you know, their suggestion, well, why don't you cook something? Just that blatant. Like no hinting around about it. My response is - why don't you? You're the one that's hungry. I'm perfectly fine.
MARTIN: Was this a deal breaker for you?
PIERCE: It wasn't a deal breaker. It's just something that I just kind of ignored. It was like, I don't really want to cook. I don't have an interest in cooking, and you - the fact that you're trying to force me into this exclusively based on the fact that I'm a woman is kind of offensive to me. I found it rather chauvinistic.
MARTIN: So what's changed? Apparently there's somebody you're seeing now, right, who changed your mind.
PIERCE: I found a good guy.
MARTIN: All right. Let's hear it.
PIERCE: Exactly. I found a good guy who didn't have those kind of stipulations in his head. He's not imposing about anything. He's very go with the flow, and he kind of just likes me as I am, even my worst qualities, which I commend him for that. But he never brought cooking to my attention. He never suggested or hinted to the fact that that's something I should be doing because I'm a woman, and I kind of matured and, even for myself, found myself being more interested in quality foods, good foods. So I thought that maybe cooking is something that I should experiment with.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're talking with writer Shayla Pierce, and she's talking about the fact that she'd never really had any interest in cooking for boyfriends until she met her current boyfriend and now she's asking if that makes her a sellout.
You know, we have this feature on the program we call the Barber Shop. It's a roundtable of men, you know, reporters and pundits and sometimes, you know, public officials, on occasion. And we asked...
MARTIN: ...them what they thought of your essay, knowing that we were going to get together and here is a clip from one of our panelists. Here it is.
JIMI IZRAEL: Your ability to cook, no matter what gender you are - no matter what gender you are, it helps makes you a more marriageable mate. I'm sorry. If you can't cook, you know, then so what? We're going to spend a third of our income, you know, eating out? You know, I mean - no, no, no, no. Somebody in that house has to cook. In my house, it's me and I'm OK with that.
MARTIN: That was Jimi Izrael, a writer and culture critic and a regular on our Barber Shop roundtable. In short, Shayla, he doesn't think...
MARTIN: ...you're a sellout. He thinks you're silly.
PIERCE: Well, I mean, from what I heard from that is - and I - to some extent, I agree with him. Cooking is a life skill. It's buying your own food and preparing it yourself is a basic life skill and it's - you know, economically, it's feasible. It's cheaper to prepare your own foods, as opposed to going out to dinner and ordering takeout.
And the key thing that he said, to me, was someone in the house has to cook and, in his house, it's him. I agree with that. He didn't say, my wife or whomever the woman is is the one that should cook. Someone should do it.
MARTIN: Well, you know, for generations, though, women have been encouraged to learn to cook to make themselves more attractive on the marriage market.
PIERCE: Well, he - I believe the word he used was marriageable.
MARTIN: Is that so wrong? Right? Is that so wrong?
PIERCE: To me, it is because it's 2012. It's the women shouldn't feel the need to assume those very traditional roles. They cooked because the men worked all day long and the women stayed home and took care of the domestic duties. That makes sense. If I'm in a relationship and the man works outside of the home and brings home the money and I'm the one who's in the house, it makes the most sense for me to prepare the meals and do the housework. It's not because you have the man parts and I have the woman parts, so that means cooking is my duty. It's more of a functional thing. At least, it was back then.
MARTIN: So can your boyfriend cook?
PIERCE: He actually cooked for me before I cooked for him, which...
MARTIN: OK. But can he cook?
MARTIN: I didn't say that he - I know food appeared, but can he cook?
PIERCE: He can cook, but - I might be biased, but I think that the meal that I prepared was a bit better than the ones that he prepared for me. Sorry.
MARTIN: Oh, and you say that because he said so?
PIERCE: No. That's just my own personal opinion. Like I said...
MARTIN: Oh, OK.
PIERCE: ...I have a bias because it was what I made, but - and I think he would agree with me.
MARTIN: And he said it was good? Yeah. He said it was good?
PIERCE: He said it was good. He has no choice to say anything else, but...
MARTIN: Well, he does. He could be trying to, you know, steer you in the right direction. Have you ever heard of...
MARTIN: ...you know, flattery makes the heart grow fonder?
MARTIN: You ever heard about that?
PIERCE: And this is - this is very true in my case, but I do believe that he's enjoyed what I've prepared for him.
MARTIN: So what's the answer to your question? Does that make you a sellout?
PIERCE: I don't think it does because, at the end of the day, I cooked because I wanted to. I didn't cook because someone made me feel like it was what I was supposed to do because I was a woman. At the end of the day, I cooked because I wanted to and I wanted to cook for him because, long story short, he's a really good guy.
MARTIN: I think I hear the title of a cookbook coming. I Cooked Because I Wanted To.
PIERCE: I cooked because I wanted to.
MARTIN: That's a new manifesto for the new age. Shayla Pierce is a writer. Her story first appeared on the website, xoJane, and she was with us from Philadelphia. Thank you so much for joining us.
PIERCE: Thank you for having me.
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