Although we still have a long way to go in North American households, these days, men share at least some of the housework burden. That is, they do chores that traditionally have been “women’s work” — things like laundry, floor mopping, dusting.
However, there is one task that remains divided along ridiculously binary gender lines: women cook, men barbecue.
How do I know barbecuing is still the man’s job? Well first, there’s the issue of, ahem, size. When I was a kid, a barbecue consisted of a metal dish full of charcoal on a tripod. Throw on a rack and some hot dogs, and that was it.
These days, barbecues are huge, gas-powered, gleaming, chromed-up affairs with rows of dials, gauges, and buttons. They’re measured in BTU output, and of course, the bigger that number, the better.
Then there are the goodies that go with these modern fire pits. A man who shakes his head at his wife’s desire to coordinate the look of the countertop appliances will not think twice but to accessorize his barbecue to the max. There are smoker boxes and rotisserie kits, special planks for doing up salmon, side burners and veggie baskets. Can a remote barbecue starter be far behind?
The tools are also a sight to behold. While Mom works with a 99 cent nylon spatula from Wal-Mart for years, Dad splashes out on special tool sets. These are precision machined tungsten-carbide, with extra long handles, complete with mahogany wood inlay, and Italian leather hanging straps. Commercial airliners should be this well-crafted.
Another reason I know barbecuing is still in the man’s domain is because it reflects the unreconstructed man’s approach to house care.
For example, consider a typical dinner party, where the husband announces he’s going to give his wife the night off cooking by doing it as a barbecue.
The wife picks the time and date, making sure it doesn’t conflict with the schedules of anyone in the family. She also invites all the guests, either by phone, email or mail, and keeps track of those who have RSVP’d.
Once the number of people is confirmed, the husband makes the difficult choice between t-bone and sirloin steaks while tagging along at the grocery store. The wife meanwhile, buys extra food, napkins and other necessities.
On the big day, the wife cleans the house, picks up the kids toys in the yard, mows the lawn, and hoses down the lawn furniture.
She cleans, cuts and boils potato for a salad. She then defrosts the rolls, and shucks the corn on the cob. After that, she bakes a cake.
About mid-day, the husband strolls out to clean the barbecue.
She will set out the picnic table, put on a table cloth, stock it with cutlery and plates, and set out a variety of drinks for the children and anyone who is driving.
Guests start arriving in the afternoon. He will hand out beer. She will ice the cake and finish the potato salad before taking the stack of corn cobs out to the barbecue.
He will show his mates his latest barbecue accessory and then start cooking the corn and the steaks. She will make sure everyone gets enough to eat, restocking the table every ten minutes, and keep an eye on all fifteen children careening around the yard.
As guests start to disappear she will begin the long process of cleaning up. As he says goodbye to everyone he gets lots of congratulations for “putting on such a great spread.”
That night as they go to bed, he will cheerfully express his hope that she enjoyed her night off cooking. He will not understand why he gets a pillow in the mush for saying this.