Jen Agg owns five restaurants and cocktail bars in Toronto and Montreal. She has just written a memoir entitled I Hear She’s a Real Bitch which is coming out later this month.
Heat Street has read a copy of the book and it’s fair to say (a) Agg could start a fight in an empty room and (b) she is a social justice warrior par excellence.
Agg, whose most famous restaurant is Toronto’s The Black Hoof, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times headlined “Sexism in the Kitchen” in which she called Gordon Ramsay “ludicrous” and “an equal opportunity abuser”.
But that’s nothing compared with Agg’s book in which she doesn’t mince her words about perceived sexism in the world of restaurants: “Kitchens are also extremely unwelcoming places for young women,” she writes in the book.
“Despite some discussion happening around this, the culture in kitchens is still dictated mostly by macho men with no interest in real leadership, who instead define themselves by the false glory of a dictatorship that worships and cultivates master-servant relationships, and churns out cooks who think abuse is leadership and who will eventually mete it out with equal ferocity in an endless, repeating cycle.
“And women should be wary of these type of kitchens; they are demeaning, humiliating, and horrendous work environments, for both sexes, but as in most fields, to prove your mettle as a woman (if you don’t you’ll end up in pastry, “where you belong”, because you most certainly won’t be able to cut it in a “real” kitchen) you’ll have to work twice as hard and will be allowed fewer mistakes.”
It gets worse. Appalling sexual misconduct might well be happening in the kitchen of your favorite eatery, according to Agg: “Just imagine what happens to women entering these testosterone-and-gas-fuelled spaces, where the abuses often take on a sexual character (not that the young men are immune from an overly sexualized “hazing” style of abuse, because they aren’t)—being humped from behind, bra snaps snapped, dicks exposed.”
When an expose alleging sexual harassment at a Canadian restaurant was published by The Toronto Star, Agg organized a one-night conference “Kitchen Bitches: Smashing the Patriarchy one Plate at a Time” to thrash the issue out.
But she wasn’t happy with the response: “The entire Toronto restaurant community (with, eventually, a couple of exceptions) was remaining collectively mum. It was really quite shocking. In some cases, there were even unsurprising Facebook posts reminding everybody in an angry, defensive tone that the three men accused were innocent until proven guilty.”
She adds: “It was crazy—here was a thing that was rocking our industry and had brought to light a lot of ugly truths about the dark side of working in kitchens and NO ONE WANTED TO PUBLICLY SHOW SUPPORT FOR THE VICTIM.”
Agg then expands her thesis beyond restaurants: “Our culture does not make it easy for us to age. Hollywood actresses are deemed “too old” at thirty-four to play the love interests of actors well into their 50s; models are pushed to retire at the ripe old age of twenty-five; and May-December romances (mine included) almost always consist of an older man and younger woman.
“Men are ‘allowed’ to age with an implied elegance…Women, on the other hand, are expected to do whatever is necessary to remain tight and fresh, like we have a ‘Best Before’ date stamped on our ass…with all these social pressures weighing down on us, it’s a miracle we, as women, can develop any sense of self that exists outside our relationship to beauty.”
In the memoir, Agg further endears her to the sisterhood by confessing she cheated on her artist husband Roland Jean by embarking on a brief fling with a woman.
Some feminists might be saddened to find the dedication of I Hear She’s a Real Bitch reads: “For Roland, without whom I’d die.”