The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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Floydm's picture
Floydm

Had to share this...

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Thanks for posting this thought inducing article Floyd.  I didn't know that more men than women bake bread as a hobby.

Personally, I don't agree with the 'gooey, sticky' theory.  I for one do not enjoy that part of bread making.  In fact, if anything, it was that aspect that kept me from making bread for so long.  I have been cooking for over 13 years, but was never a fan of baking.  LOVED bread, just never wanted to be part of making it.  I always thought it was an ancient art form that needed to be learned from a master over a period of many years to produce an even edible item.  I was wrong.

It was the creativity that my mind always craved that got me interested in baking bread.  It was because of a few articles (eg. Jim Lahey 'No Knead') that got me started to understand that decent bread baking could be done at home.  It continues to be a pleasure due to my hunger for learning and constant improving.  The challenge.  Finally, the satisfaction of sharing the labour of love creations with those important to me.

I can not begin to theorize as to why many men are attracted to this culinary artform, but I do know from sites like this one that it is deeply satisfying, regardless of sex. 

John

PaddyL's picture
PaddyL

...his own bread, and I, his daughter, also loved to bake bread.  My mother simply didn't have the time, though she made fabulous soda breads.

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Interesting, John.  

I've noticed that the amateur bread baking space is skewed more heavily male than much of the rest of the amateur cooking space.  Like if you look at serious food bloggers, they tend to be more often female than male, but in the bread baking space it is closer to a 50%/50% split.  

* * *

Here is my theory.

Once upon a time, before mechanization and mixers came along, bread baking was dirty, sweaty, back-breaking work that involved lots of heavy lifting and fire and skin ailments and such. It was not glamorous work.    

Office work today is not glamorous either, but it is safe and clean, usually monotonously so.

We are very fortunate to live in this day and age where so many of us are able to make livings from our minds instead of our bodies, but at times in these scenarios many males feel a bit... effete.  We long to produce something real, something tangible as opposed to the spreadsheets and Powerpoint slideshows or code that we make a living off of.  So we search for an activity that scratches that itch and tend to come up with hobbies like brewing, workworking, brick oven building, or bread baking.  

Why not cake baking instead? Think about the language of bread baking: you beat it, you punch it down, you stretch and fold it.  Crust is sharp and hard and crackly, not foamy and delicate.   That appeals to our monkey minds.

That's my theory. Or maybe I'm just psychoanalyzing myself. ;^)

* * *

I can actually say that gender factored into my thoughts when I started TFL.  Back then food blogging wasn't that widespread, and most of the food communities I could find were shamelessly girlie, all pink and white and yellow with cupcakes and flowers and the things you see on the covers of magazines in the checkout aisle (Not Cosmo, the other ones!). I had a strong hunch there were other guys and gals out there who were into bread baking and would find the earthy, less gendered aesthetic that went along with it a more natural fit.  

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Floyd.  I agree with you.  I think especially, in this age, we need more REAL stuff as opposed to all the digital things we are involved with each and every day.  That would go for both men and women.

Monkey brains.  I like it. ;)

A theory my wife brought up:  Perhaps women do not like the idea of all that flour and mess that bread making has a potential of making in the kitchen.  They, more often than men, are more concerned with the mess, even if only temporary, the process can make.  I agree with her.  It is not my favourite part of baking.  This may be more true for younger couples starting out in a nice, newly styled townhome or apartment.  'All that flour over my granite counter top and white fingerprints on my stainless steel fridge??  Over my dead body!!'

Could be part of the reasoning.

John

Faith in Virginia's picture
Faith in Virginia

Sorry to ask but just how old are you?  I ask because not so long ago like the 1960's it was frowned upon for women to work period.  It was a women's place to be bear foot and pregnant in the home kitchen cooking for her husband and family.  Professional baker and even cake makers were professions and professions of any type was a man's only club.

Look at how difficult it was for Julia Child to even be accepted to learn at  Le Cordon Blue.  

So the short answer is, women were not allowed

Okay ...getting off my feminist soap box.


 

Floydm's picture
Floydm

I'm under 40.

I am aware of traditional gender roles and gender bias in the professional culinary world.  That may still be a factor but it doesn't seem to explain why so many men today bake bread as a hobby.  

I have nothing to say about why there are more men or women in the field of professional baking since I know next to nothing about it. I don't think my comment above ventured to explain it either.

-Floyd

Faith in Virginia's picture
Faith in Virginia

I was just responding to your once upon a time statement. 

Perhaps I just find it strange that in this day and age the question of why so many MEN bake bread as a hobby is even addressed. That question in it's self could imply many other statements/ questions.  Why does anyone bake bread as a hobby and why are gender divisions even addressed?  Bread is food and food is universal and gender neutral.

Time to take my leave...looks like what I say and how it's taken isn't matching.

Have a great night! 

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Faith in Virginia.  I don't believe Floyd meant anything of the sort.  I don't see a problem at all in discussing topics that are interesting.  No different than if we were to discuss why there are predominantly more women involved in synchronized swmming than men.  The discussion would only turn negative if it is made negative.  Otherwise, it is an interesting topic of fact discussion. 

I actually don't think your theory of 'not allowed' holds much weight in this particular topic.  If you were to go back to the 60's and see what women were 'not allowed' to do and what women are 'allowed' to do now, it is quite different - for the better.  Women are more and more involved in 'men's' activities, be it sports, politics, music, professions ect.  So the question here is why not bread baking at home as a hobby?  It goes deeper than the repression that took place over 30 + years ago.  I think women have accomplished much progression to still be reluctant to bake a loaf at home.

The day the word 'why' is deemed as a dirty word is the day we cease to progress as a human race.  I say loosen up and let us learn :)

John

Faith in Virginia's picture
Faith in Virginia

Trust me when I say I am very light on this topic.  And No, I have no issue with it being explored.  Just to let you know I remember the 60's first hand.  You say to lighten up. The fact of the mater is that I was one of those women that have plowed the road for the women of today.  My entire Navy career I was always "the first woman allowed to..." and all my jobs before and after and still are male dominated.  Trust me it is no fun being the only women forced into the men's club.

It is interesting that a lot of the comment's being made here sound very much like the reasons I was denied jobs because I was a woman.  So some of the comments have actually brought back some memories of discrimination.  If you did not know women are still being repressed to this day.

The true difficulty here what is the difference between men and women as it pertains to baking bread.  I don't use my private parts to make bread as I'm sure most men don't either.  So I think that a division based on gender is not valid.  If anything it is just a social construct that is the current trend just like BBQing.

What I have found is that if you attempt to label any gender with a specific activity/and explore the reasons why...you have already failed because gender has such a huge sliding scale.   You have the manly men to the girlie man and girly girls to butch girls and then the ones in between.  If that's not enough then you can throw in Dr. John Money's theories on nature vs nurture, perhaps you were born to bake bread or your folks raised you to be a baker?

So I'm not condemning any discussion on the subject...just bringing and old woman's perspective to the question.

The word "Why" is not the problem.  The problem is once "Why" is used people fail to listen. :-)

Have a good night !

Floydm's picture
Floydm

This article began with an extremely innocuous observation -- that today more men buy books about baking bread than women do -- and asked "why is that?"  I thought the title was cute and it might be a fun thing to share.  I was optimistic we could have fun with it here.

I recognize and honor the hard work fighting discrimination that you and many other women of your generation fought.  Because of you, it is a different world now, a world where the opportunities open to my daughter are nearly identical to the opportunities open to my son.  Much respect for that.

I am also aware that there is work still to be done, that there are still many places in the world where women still have limited access to education and economic independence. Recall that I've been working the past 6 years for an organization that is doing the ground work to equalize those opportunities and have a number of friends and colleagues, both men and women, who risk their lives to do so.  I don't take issues of discrimination lightly.

Haven't we gotten to the point where we ask why more men are into bread baking than say, scrapbooking, or knitting, two other crafts that are popular today, and have a light-hearted discussion about it?  I feel like we have.  No one is forcing either the men or the women hanging out on this site into (or out of) the kitchen.  So why are we here?   For the love of it, right? For fun. Why do we love and bond with each other over this activity instead of another like turtle raising?  Or flute playing?  I shared my somewhat tongue-in-cheek self-analysis, but I was curious to hear from others their theories.  

-F

Faith in Virginia's picture
Faith in Virginia

There are no flaming or attacking going on just points of view.  Don't you find it interesting that the men that responded to that article respond one way and the women respond another?   Perhaps the article's point of interest is different for men and women so the discussion has slipped to each point of interest or remarks made.

But to be honest ( all tongue-in-cheek intended) women have been trying to figure out why men do what they do for centuries and can still only guess.  :-)

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Ha!  True enough.  :)

-F

proth5's picture
proth5

discussion on things such as "why do men?" (or "why do women?" for that matter) is often more possible amongst those who have not had real challenges based on their gender.  FaithinVirginia is spot on with her observation that men and women have reacted to this question very differently. It is because our life experiences are very different. I had wished we would be past it by now, but I see evidence every day (the cited article included) that we aren't, yet.  No, not even in the current rising generation.

But I will offer my thoughts on why baking and not knitting.

I once read (and I forget where) that men and women are socialized differently.  Women are taught to work quietly on whatever tasks need to be done while men are taught to seek the tasks that will bring them the most attention (this may or may not be changing, but many of my observations of how work gets done in "office" settings confirms the pattern).

Many creative tasks offer the intermittent reinforcement.  Crafts, by their very definition produce tangible results.  Things like counted cross stich and Irish fisherman's knitting involve a great deal of math and geekiness (try designing your own cable stitches - you'd better understand the structure and progression that forms them - it's actually quite fascinating).  There are very active websites devoted to just about any craft you can name. However.

Cooking and baking used to be pretty humble tasks.  Now we have celebrity chefs and rock star bakers.  We have two television channels devoted to food and numerous cooking and  baking competitions. Books on bread are now being written by men - for a large, general audience (my own extensive cookbook collection suggests that there were a lot of books written about bread baking prior to this renaissance - but by women, presumably for women.)  Not so much knitting (and even though I am a girl - I don't get the scrapbooking thing, so I offer nothing on that). Given the fact that most everybody consumes (and hopefully enjoys) food - men now see a little glory in the baking hobby and have jumped on the bandwagon.

I will now hear a chorus of "That's not true - I do it for pure love of the craft (and the bread)!"  However, the fact that the whole discussion started with publicity being given to "men who bake" sort of makes my point.  And the desire to post pictures, tutorials, etc runs strong - there is recognition , there, too.  That's why there is "hanging out" on a website.  We all want some recognition - but maybe there is a truth that recognition has more influence in some circles than others.

No one thought the Food Network would succeed.  The next craft to get such recognition will produce a similar wave of new hobbyists (for a while is was home decorating, but that seemed to flame out).  I am busy trying to figure out what it will be, because this will greatly help my retirement funding - but there will be a next one, because there always is.

I say, it's fine, you men who bake, enjoy, have fun.   Think what you will. Bake. Learn. Bake.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

While bread baking professionals were predominantly men in the past, so were chefs. I think we are dealing with a contemporary phenomenon.

I think Floyd hit on one attraction. Bread making is a manual skill or set of skills. I know one attraction for me is that, professionally, I did not work with my hands, and did not produce anything tangible. I guess I could have gotten into some other art or craft, but bread making fit with my enjoyment of cooking (and eating). So, it provides an outlet for my need to make stuff. It also fits with my geeky streak. There is a huge fund of scientific knowledge involved in bread baking, not that one cannot make decent bread without getting deep into that aspect.

Many, if not all men, have unmet needs to nurture. Stereotypic male roles generally don't provide opportunities to nurture. In fact it's discouraged in many jobs. Cooking and baking meet this need in culturally acceptible ways.

Psychologists have found that the most powerful motivation for continuing an activity is "intermittent reinforcement." That means that "success" is not assured with every effort. It occurs at irregular and unpredictable intervals. That is surely true of bread baking. Moreover, once success is regular with any one bread, there is always a new challenge just over the horizen. Bread baking is a good example of life-long learning. (Just consider  the "to bake list" many of us keep.)

Now, none of these considerations is really gender-specific, except the stereotypic male role expectations, and those are changing. I wonder how this applies to women who are now in roles reserved for men in previous eras?

David

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

David, yes, exactly. 

'Many, if not all men, have unmet needs to nurture.'


I used to be a musician.  Used to draw, used to have many outlets to express my creativity and feelings.  For the last 8 years, I have been in the construction industry as a painting contractor business owner.  Far cry from what my mind craves.  The only thing I nurture these days is my accountant's contact number.

That is why I started cooking after the guitar, piano and microphone was put in the closet.  I needed that outlet and ability to touch someone with a creation.  This was only recently put towards baking for me when I learned how easy it can actually be.

Very good point.

John

gary.turner's picture
gary.turner

David, I think you hit on something here, "It also fits with my geeky streak." Baking appeals to the innate desire to tinker that so many, men especially it seems, are blessed/cursed with. This geekiness also applies, I think, to those men who are obsessed with the picayune details of grilling steaks or smoking BBQ.

If there is a bias among women, I'd suggest that before the post-war generation, bread making was one of those woman's work chores that was never done. My mother never baked bread, but her mother had to bake for eleven children, my granddad and at harvest time, the hired hands. I doubt she considered baking that much bread every day to be a pleasure. I can well imagine the negative bias being passed mother to daughter, if only implicitly. By contrast, men, as a rule, have not been in the position of cooking or baking being a long term chore.

For what it's worth,

gary

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Thanks for sharing the article, thought-provoking read, as well as responses from TFL members. Would be further interesting to consider gender distributions in amateur/hobby vs. professional space further. Consider this:

Interestingly enough, women always have outranked men when it comes to baking school. In fact, even the CIA [Culinary Institute of America] sees a disproportionate number of female baking and pastry arts students; in 2003, women accounted for almost 80 percent of the students.

(source: http://www.gatewaygourmet.com/blog/tag/male-female-chef-ratio/

Overall 2011 undergraduate gender distributon at CIA was 46%/54% female/male.

I find people who pursue baking (bread, especially) as amateurs or professionals have (or are pursuing) one or more of the following traits:

  • they like using their hands to make things
  • they like to work with things that are tangible, or that have tangible outcomes 
  • they like to create delicious, edible things
  • they are creative people
  • they are thoughtful people, detail-oriented and capable/interested in problem-solving; they find the challenge of it engaging on physical, intellectual, and emotional levels
  • they enjoy/value/pursue the concept of craft
  • they love the smell of fresh-baked items :)

I've been reading a book called "Shop Class as Soulcraft" which tangentially hits upon many of the issues that David listed in his response. I have observed people moving towards diversions or professions that are somehow less "virtual" and more tangible (here's an example), both generally and personally. Baking and bread has such universality, considering it is so fundamental to sustenance for so many. For me baking bread maintains a thread to my past: the smell of my grandmother's fresh baked bread inspires me to this day, a sense-memory that I hope to carry for the rest of my life.

 

gmagmabaking2's picture
gmagmabaking2

Good Article, very interesting and I agree with the title... what is not to like about a man who bakes bread!  Facts are facts and feelings are feelings... let's keep it that way... I love a man who bakes, cooks, works on cars... I just like to see people releasing their creative talents and playing in the sunshine... I leave the statistics to the folks who celebrate those details. Happy Baking Everyone,

Diane

proth5's picture
proth5

- me!

You know, when I first started posting to TFL - most people assumed I was male.

But I'm not (guess what the only other choice is? - Or like "my teacher" you could make some kind of "android" remark...)

I baked when the hobby was pretty much female dominated (and it wasn't so much of a hobby as a way of providing things to eat or earn money to support oneself or one's family) - left it to go and do a lot of other things - and have returned to it much more seriously in my dotage. I'm not baking for the purpose of feeding my family - sometimes I bake just for the challenge.

Is it because I work in a male dominated field?  Have been educated and work almost exclusively with men?  Work in a field that although it supports manufacturing really doesn't produce anything tangible?

Have I just lacked opportunities to nurture?  Or having "aged out" of some of my earlier pursuits, have I just found something that fascinates me?

(Oh, and I like cars - but not golf.  And my affinity for large, expensive toys is well known...)

It was a long time ago that I had to  fight the very real battles to simply be allowed to study fields and enter schools that thought that women should not pass though their doors or become receipients of their degrees.  Are we really still here?  I look back at those years - the veiled (and not so veiled) insults, the hard work and the isolation and think - have we not advanced?  Do women really fear "stickey, gooey" tasks?  Must they fear "baker's math" (which is at best arithmentic)?  If the majority of bread book buyers were women, it would pass unnoticed, but when men buy the books it is worth writing about. Are we really still here?

I guess we are.  I'm glad that men like to bake bread and I'm glad that good books are still written and are coming off the shelves.  But the kind of attention that it gets (He's a big strong man...and he bakes!) - for me, with my personal experiences, it is to weep....

Peace.

Pat

Skibum's picture
Skibum

Floyd, I liked your comment, "We long to produce something real, something tangible as opposed to the spreadsheets and Powerpoint slideshows or code that we make a living off of.  So we search for an activity that scratches that itch and tend to come up with hobbies like brewing, workworking, brick oven building, or bread baking."

Since a child, I have always longed to produce real, tangible results hence my love of woodworking, cooking and now baking. Now has my longing to produce tangible results the result of being male, my upbringing by sucessful, competitive parents or a product of the 50's I was born into and the 60's when I grew up?  Frankly, that is not the question at all.  I get enormous satisfaction producing 'stuff,' and baking certainly does scratch that itch to produce.  Until I read this thread, I had not really thought of it in those terms.  I have alsways found working with my hands focuses my concentration and calms the constant internal dialog -- quiets the mind, so I keep doing it and getting a little better with each bake.

I also loved David's comment, "That means that "success is not assured with every effort. It occurs at irregular and unpredictable intervals. That is surely true of bread baking."  Amen brother, I have been baking new recipes from a variety of sources.  After 3 successive failures from Carol Field's original Italian Baker, I took the book back to the library and can indeed confirm that success is not assured!  Since that book went back, I have returned to P. Reinhart's books and have had nothing but success baking recipes I have never tried before:  hoagy cheesesteak buns, go great with the bratwurst from my local Swiss deli, many seed bread which makes the best toast I have ever had and is definitely on my baking rotation, cinnamon buns - easy and fabulous, cheese biscuits and the current ciabata dough is working beautifully after the third fold.  I am baking much, lurking some and posting little.  Hey ski season is now full on, so for any bakers that are also skiers, conditions are great in Banff and throughout British Columbia!

On the down side, I ruined my white flour sourdough starter. :-(  I took it out of the fridge one evening a couple of weeks ago, forgot about it, then refreshed it the next morning.  The SF sourdough loaf I made from this starter was too sour to eat.  After a second too sour un-edible loaf I had to kill the starter and am starting fresh, but that is for another thread.

I also like cranbos thoughts that we get to enjoy the stuff we make!  Hey that is the BEST part!!!  Since finding TFL 11 months ago, I have baked my way through 45 - 50 kilos of bread flour, I am single, but give much away -- breads, cookies, muffins, biscotti, pizza and I have a list of want to bakes and spend much time browsing recipes.  I guess I have become a baker. 

Thanks for starting this thread most entertaining Floyd and also thanks for The Fresh Loaf!  This is an awesome site!!!

Brian

varda's picture
varda

is that all the things the men above say are reasons they bake bread - creative outlet, geeky, nurturing, make something with hands, lifelong learning and so forth are the reasons that I bake bread.   I worked for years in a "spreadsheet" industry.   Loved it, left it, and now spend an inordinate amount of time baking bread.   So I'm thinking that men/women - as far as the bread baking we do, maybe there are more similarities than differences.    And the only thing I might speculate if there are really more male hobby bread bakers than female, is that perhaps women have more hobby creative activities available to them than men do nowadays.    So it's the men who are repressed and just need to give it up and do some flower arranging.   (And I'm kidding so please, please don't flame me.)   -Varda

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

(we were not-quite-starving college students at the time and making our own bread was less expensive than buying it), making bread has become part of my identity.  Some of that is external; "Joe, this is Paul.  Paul bakes bread!"  Some of it is internal, in the sense that it is an individual pursuit that is (nearly) unique to me in my circle of friends and acquaintances.  Both of my daughters bake bread, too, so I can't make any claims about baking being more or less prevalent in either sex.

There are a lot of parallels between baking and gardening, for me.  The annual cycle of preparing, planting, growing and harvesting in the garden are replicated in one or two day's time in my breads.  Yes, the media and the paraphenalia are different.  However, each requires hands-on effort.  Each requires thoughtful consideration and planning.  Each requires that skills learned and honed in previous years be brought to bear here, now, to effect and affect the eventual outcome.  To the extent possible, each requires modification or management or amelioration of the existing environment to benefit my burgeoning charges.  Each is wholly focused on living things.  Each is very much at the mercy of circumstances that I cannot predict or control for.  Each is gratifying to the body and the soul.  

There is something innately satisfying about producing something tangible, about exercising skills that transform something into quite another thing.  Bread gives me that kind of satisfaction.

Paul

Floydm's picture
Floydm

+1.

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Interesting discussion.  My first thought was that the article simply stated that more men are buying bread books than women.  Nowhere does is say, or even question, for whom they are buying the books.  That thought was only natural for me because, years ago, my husband bought a bread machine home from work one day.....his intentions were that I would bake bread for HIM......

Janet

 

M2's picture
M2

"My first thought was that the article simply stated that more men are buying bread books than women."  Just to follow your point, the shoppers (men) could be buying the books for the women.  My husband got me a bread book because he knows I love making bread.

Just to be fair, my husband did start making bread first, and I had shown no interest at all.  One day, something clicked, and I got obsessed.  From then on, making bread is my domain in the house.

Making bread is more to do with science...maybe it attracts more men than women?  (no offence to the female scientists, I love you all)

Michelle

MarieH's picture
MarieH

Wow - what a discussion. Lots of interesting ideas, opinions, and commentary. But no data! We don't really know if more men bake bread. While TFL posts seem to be from more men than women, that is just an observation.

Sure has been fun reading this lively post... And all you women bakers, POST MORE!!