UNDEFINED – Robin Wheeler

As part of our UNDEFINED project, Ooh St. Lou will be sharing bios of the women featured in the original shoot.

Robin Wheeler is a chef and the owner of Subterranean Homemade Foods. In the off season she's a freelance writer. She's pictured here with a big-ass knife. find her online at subterraneanhomemadefoods.com
Robin Wheeler is a chef and the owner of Subterranean Homemade Foods. In the off season she’s a freelance writer. She’s pictured here with a big-ass knife.

Your Name:

Robin Wheeler

What do you do?

Mama to 12-year-old CJ. Chef-owner of Subterranean Homemade Foods where I teach cooking classes and host underground dinners and popup restaurants. Freelance writer with a book about Woody Guthrie that needs to be published.

What prompted you to take part in the UNDEFINED project?

I was so angry when I saw the BJ’s ridiculous, infantilizing article. While the shoe bit was awful, I’m always bummed when I see such articles because they rarely focus beyond women who are successful by the old patriarchal definition – working for large companies and organizations. When you put out the call, I was thrilled to see an opportunity for successful women outside the traditional mold to show who they are, on their terms.

What stereotyping have you faced in your career, and how have you handled it?

I’ve worked in three male-dominated fields: video production, journalism, and restaurants, so I’ve experienced plenty. Twenty years ago I was the only woman working in interactive video production for a large university system. I was also the youngest. I dealt with everything from a boss who complained that I didn’t dress up (I spent a lot of time on my hands and knees, fixing large pieces of equipment) to near-constant flirting from my married co-workers. Three times in two years I had married coworkers make passes at me in the workplace. If I wasn’t being sexualized, I was infantilized. On the rare occasion I needed to call in sick, I was accused of cutting work to party (I wasn’t). Shortly before I left I was out for a week with a UTI that moved into my kidneys. When I returned, my male boss questioned my whereabouts, loudly, in our open office in front of my coworkers until I finally blurted out that I’d spent a week pissing blood. Pretty sure he never pulled that with a male employee.

I haven’t directly worked for someone else since I left that job in 1999. I hate that system. I went to culinary school, which was also a boy’s club. The knives we were assigned were designed for an average-height man, not a 5’2″-tall person. The required chef uniforms are cut for men, leaving them tight across my chest and hips with lots of loose fabric around the waist and too-long sleeves – dangerous in the kitchen. I studied under one female chef. The rest of my education came from men. I was one of five women in a class of 25. This was in 2001.

The restaurant structure is still very patriarchal and I chose from the beginning to not be a part of it. No doubt, this has kept me from making as much money or reaching the level of prestige that comes from working in the system. It’s also allowed me to pursue my craft on my terms. It’s a worthy trade.

My years in journalism were better than a lot of the stories I’ve heard, but like my cooking career, I kept a distance from the structure. I remained a freelancer, working from home. Still, it was the disrespectful actions of one editor that led to me leaving my longest, most lucrative job. It started when he found a way to work the word “pussy” into one of my headlines, without my consent. Having a grossly sexist headline with my name under it … I didn’t leave immediately but it killed any love I had for that job. I left within six weeks.

©2016 OohStLou
©2016 OohStLou

Where can people find out more about you/what you do?

Anything else we need to know?

To the next person who tries to slip “pussy” into my writing: I know how to use that knife.

The Undefined project explores and is a response to sexism in local media, for more information see our original post on the project. UNDEFINED will be on display at SOHA gallery in January 2017, visit the Facebook event page for more information on the show.

2 years ago

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