As all too many female chefs know, the professional kitchen is still treated like a boys club in many ways and renowned chefs like Elizabeth Falkner have been leading the way to push females into the culinary spotlight. Unfortunately, the struggle for women is also true in the restaurant critics’ circle. Grub Street recently spoke with well-known female critics like The New York Times’ Ruth Reichl and S. Irene Virbila to try and answer the question, “Why aren’t there more female critics?”
The speculation comes on the heels of the Village Voice’s recent hire of Zachary Feldman (formerly a correspondent at The Daily Meal, writer at Serious Eats, and intern at Eater) to replace Robert Sietsema, who was laid off last spring. It should be noted that The Village Voice recently lost two junior female critics, Tajal Rao, who is now at Tasting Table, and Lauren Shockey, who’s now freelancing. Both left of their own accord.
All of the female critics interviewed noted that by newspapers and magazines skipping over the voices of female critics, they are missing out on quite a lot: Ruth Reichl said that women see a restaurant meal more “experientially” and The New York Times’ Mimi Sheraton explained that “They [men] write in a more brazenly, sure-footed tone of voice. I don't want to say belligerent, but there's a hard edge.”
So why are we missing women from the review pages? New York Times critic Ligaya Mishan said that readers have referred to her as “that girl” when they didn’t like a particular review. After you get the job, the female critics all said, there’s the inevitable backlash from readers. The Boston Globe’s Devra First suggests that speaking critically as a career doesn’t come naturally to women, and men are seen as voices of authority.
S. Irene Virbila does see the trend potentially changing: “In the last two years,” she says, “ the amount of people I have writing to me who dream of becoming a restaurant critic has gone up exponentially — more women than men.”
Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi