Wow, what a crazy couple of weeks on Twitter in food circles. When The Toronto Star broke a story last week about pastry chef Kate Burnham making sexual harassment allegations against several superiors at Toronto restaurant Weslodge, all Twitterverse broke loose. Or as Jen Agg from The Black Hoof would suggest, it was way too quiet. I’m not a big fan of Jen Agg; sometimes, I think she should just tone it down. But I wholeheartedly support her stance on the issue of sexual harassment of women in restaurant kitchens. So good for her on calling out (shaming?) her industry colleagues for not speaking out about it – loudly.

What really took me over the edge, though, was reading Montreal restaurant critic Lesley Chesterman’s point of view on the issue. It’s been weighing heavily on me for the past week. Chesterman was asked by Jennifer Nickle on Twitter to chime in. I don’t know who Jennifer Nickle is and whether her intention was to entrap Chesterman, but Chesterman wasn’t afraid to speak her mind:

As for my take? Ok. Why did Burnham stay?Why did she put up with that treatment from those Cro-Magnons for so long? I was sexually harassed when I was a chef when I was 19 and 23. You either deal with it or you get out.

 

I was disturbed and incensed when I read this, and I was so close to replying with my disappointment in her, particularly as a woman, but what would she care what I had to say, really?

“Deal with it or get out”? That’s your answer? That attitude is making you part of the problem, Lesley, don’t you see that? Anybody who says that we should all just accept that this is kitchen culture and move on if you can’t take the shit… you’re just giving permission to men around the world to continue doing this to other women. This is someone who is oblivious to the historical power imbalance between men and women in the workplace. When asked if she would have the same attitude if it had happened to her own daughter, she replied, “I would have told my daughter to get out of there after the first incident.” Which is good and right. But to then say “The industry is what it is. Not everyone working in a restaurant kitchen is there because they loved Julia Child.”? Hmm, if we had all felt that way about the Nazis and just accepted that this is the way it is, we’d be living in a much different world, wouldn’t we?

Some things are worth fighting for. Like the right to feel safe in your place of work, for example. When challenged, Chesterman claimed that we cannot compare this situation to a woman in an abusive domestic relationship. How is it not the same? Just because Burnham wasn’t physically beaten up, just because she only had her crotch and breasts grabbed on a regular basis, humiliated in front her colleagues when her uniform was ripped open to bare her breasts, just because it was only that, it’s totally different??  I can’t even… *fuming*

When Shauna Hunt from CityNews in Toronto fell victim to a FHRITP stunt, and then challenged another male bystander to explain what his mother would think of it, some (mostly male) critics brushed the whole thing off, suggesting Hunt wasn’t able to take a joke. A joke? Are you f*king kidding me (no pun intended)? I know a lot of men would have a tough time doing this, but just for a minute, put yourself in women journalists’ shoes, and just imagine a man, a total stranger, running up to you while you’re reporting live – you are doing your job – and aggressively yelling “FHRITP!” into your microphone. Can you not see how frightening that actually is? Can you not understand how a woman would be rattled by this? I would have been scared and probably would become scared of most men after that (particularly inebriated ones who have no control over their sensibilities). That a man would say this suggests that he could do this – that would qualify as rape if I don’t tell you can do it. And it’s pretty likely I wouldn’t say you can do that to me. I never want to tell DQ that “this is just the way it is.” – some things are worth fighting for.

I cannot understand anyone who would suggest that a workplace where women are sexually harassed (or worse, assaulted, which- if you ask me – is what Burnham allegedly endured) will not change and leave it at that. The world goes round because there is progress and people fight for it – that’s why we still exist today and haven’t been blown up to smithereens. Sometimes, the progress is minute and it can feel painfully slow, but it’s progress. Ask women today if they could imagine a time when they were not allowed to vote and they would say it’s unthinkable. Hopefully, in less than five years’ time, ask women if they can imagine a time when they had to fear being sexually harassed or assaulted in their place of work and they will think this to be a trick question. This thing is worth fighting for.

 

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