When I was 7, I thought I could rule the world. My mother, Harriet, had told me that we were from the tribe of Judah. How she knew this, thousands of years later, I don’t know; it’s amazing we even knew we were Jewish! But she said the tribe of Judah was the warrior tribe, and this I liked.
I scoured the Bible looking for female role models. Ruth … pish-posh, she was loyal, so what! It seemed like women only made it into key roles in the Bible by seducing a king or giving birth to a prophet. Forgetaboutit! I wanted more.
I chose the young David, not the old one who got a bit sexist for my taste, but the young boy slaying Goliath. Yes! Yes! I could slay the monster, too. I practiced throwing stones. I could be a hero! I could be a champion!
But then I turned 8, and despite my best efforts to the contrary, started to look like a girl! With the threat of puberty just around the corner, my parents pushed me into a harsher double standard. I was sent to a private school that made me give up jeans and put on – YECH – maxi skirts!
I had to stop digging in the dirt with the Christian boys down the street and learn to play with dolls like my sister. The only way I was able to get my folks to buy me G.I. Joe action figures was by telling them my sister’s Barbie dolls needed a date!
I rallied against the double standard as best as I could, but growing up in an Orthodox Jewish family? Not so easy. My favorite form of rebellion was to lock myself in my room and write. That is, until I discovered pink hair dye.
As I grew, I found my own way. I joined with artists and writers and actors who didn’t give a hoot about gender, so long as you liked The B52’s.
I came to New York City to become Andy Warhol with a vagina. But there was something about living on $600 a month that wasn’t working for me.
Luckily, I discovered that the part of my brain that danced when I finished a great painting also did quite a nice boogie when I made a killer sauce. I became a chef.
Honey, I thought being a punk rocker on the Jersey Shore in the 1980s was hard! Being a woman in a pro kitchen back then? Oy vey!
All men wanted to do was come home to their mother’s or their wife’s home cooking, so why the hell was it so hard for them to accept us as chefs? I had to jump through a lot of hoops to prove I was as good as a man. It was not easy, especially because I was actually trying to prove I was better.
But I had two gifts that triumphed over those old-school misogynist chefs: I had great taste buds and a filthy mouth. Oh yeah, honey! Bring it!
There were pioneers way braver than I who paved the way. Gloria Steinem comes to mind and Hillary Clinton, of course, but I’m talking about the cooking world and darling Julia Child, who was so cute and cuddly that nobody bothered to notice she was knocking down some very sexist culinary doors or Alice Waters who taught us that goat cheese was just as happy on top of a salad as it was on a cheese board.
Forty years ago, I was an angry, frightened little girl about to enter the hardest battle of her life. It’s a battle that still rages to prove that I can slay Goliath. (Now you know where “Raging Skillet” came from.)
So thank you, thank you, to the great pioneering babes who came before me for handing me the slingshot!