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Two Balls Bad, No Balls Good

A phrase I borrow from a remarkably sane Guardian reader, responding to this article by Mike Power, a man apparently determined to atone for having such a patriarchal name. First, picture the scene:

All across Britain, the whiff of charred, low-quality sausage meat is hanging in the summer haze. And with it, floating almost indistinguishably in the grease-filled air across the garden fences, is blokey barbecue chat. 

And then, this being the Guardian

If there is anything less compelling but more oppressively penetrating than the conversation of four suburban men discussing how to light and then operate a barbecue, I have yet to hear it.

You heard him, it’s oppressively penetrating. Why so, you ask?

What really drains the joy from the summer breeze is the assumption, and the practice, that this is Man’s Work. All over the UK, probably the world, the barbecue is now one of the last places where even normal blokes become sexist.

Yes, I know. Two for our archive of classic sentences. Mr Power is upset, as all right-thinking people should be, that some heinous “biological determinism” holds sway in the warm weather custom of cooking outdoors. A cultural phenomenon that, we learn, “sees women as salad-spinners and men as the keepers of the grill, the tenders of the flame, lords and masters of the meat.” “It’s a sausage-fest out there,” says Mr Power. “And it’s getting ugly.” Because there’s nothing uglier than the sight of menfolk indulging, often knowingly, in a clichéd male behaviour – cooking for friends and family, and making sure that everyone is having a good time. None of which impedes our slayer of the patriarchy. He has credentials to display and boilerplate to churn: 

The mythology of meat is well marbled with machismo. 

I’ll just leave that one there, shall I? 

But, as several thousand years have passed since men had to kill our protein, make a fire, cook it and eat it, why is barbecuing seen as something women don’t or can’t – or, more accurately, shouldn’t – do? How – and why – do men continue to claim this sacred fire-space as a male-owned sanctuary where women are not permitted?

Heavens, he’s tumescent with indignation. Well, let’s see. I’ve been to a few barbecues over the years, one or two with female grill-keepers though most with males wielding the Plastic Spatula of Oppression™. I can’t say I was ever aware of much argument as to roles. It generally seems to depend on who’s in the mood or who’s the better cook, at least of the items in question, or - perhaps more commonly - who’s prepared to spend the day on duty, sweating, while smelling of grease and smoke. And then of course there’s the trend for portable mini-barbecues in parks, which don’t seem organised by gender at all so far as I’ve noticed. Even at more formal settings I’ve yet to hear of womenfolk being locked indoors away from the charcoal and firelighters by surly, hissing men, and at the barbecue I attended recently the matriarch of the house had a much more important job than merely cooking sausages. My sister-in-law kept the day lubricated with endless, quite colossal, pitchers of Pimms. Priorities, you see.

Meanwhile, at the non-stop garden party that is the Guardian

This grilled-food gender split is ubiquitous, odd and unacknowledged.

This may strike readers as a bold, indeed preposterous, claim to make. One of the rituals of the barbecues I’ve attended is the good-natured parodying – one might say acknowledgment – of precisely those conventions. “Man make fire. Man cook meat,” etc. But perhaps we’re to imagine that only the keen social observers who write for the Guardian have ever noticed such things or found them worthy of amused comment. More to the point, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to Mr Power that quite a few people, male and female, actually enjoy the role-play opportunity of the barbecue - the theatre, the ritual, the fun. Even – heresy! – gendered fun. But hey, the point is that some of you heathens are still arranging your leisure time and social gatherings in a way of which our Guardianista disapproves. Your barbecues aren’t being gender balanced in the way he would like. And gosh darn it, people. That really drains the joy from his summer breeze.


Poor Mr Power is getting quite a kicking in the comments, which now number over 900, thanks largely to links from non-Guardian readers. Sadly, so far as I can see, he’s not responding to his critics. Any of them. Instead, he’s taken to Twitter, where he tells us, rather triumphantly,  

I wrote this about sexist men and BBQs and the comments went wild. 930 so far. Anyone would think I touched a nerve.

If you want to know who such people are, how they imagine the world and what they will ignore… that’s a big clue. You do have to marvel at a mind that when faced with a barrage of refutation and factual corrections can somehow construe this as validation. The fact that so many people are mocking him and pointing out his errors is, amazingly, proof that he is righteous. An achievement he then declares to the world. That’s not an everyday kind of vanity. That’s something else.