There is a name for my problem.
“Pippi Longstocking Syndrome: An instance or event when a peer or superior in a male-dominated field treats a young girl as supremely inferior due to her age, gender, personality or a combination of the three.”
This is, of course, entirely made up. But it has been done so with the utmost consideration. You see, yesterday I had the chance to sit down with (or, rather, work alongside) several burly men in the culinary field as we set up for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association’s ginormous culinary convention at the Orange County Convention Center. I was merely a volunteer, but we entered through the loading docks (super awesome, by the way) to help move and clean kitchen equipment and, essentially, set up several makeshift kitchens for various competitions.
“No offense,” one of them said to me, “But you do give off kind of a…hostess-y feel.”
I propped my fists on my hips. “Excuse me,” I said. “I am culinary.”
There was one other woman there, about ten years my senior but the same size as me, who piped up in my defense.
“Just because this is a male field doesn’t mean we can’t do just as well, if not better, than the men. Do I look like I can lift fifty pounds? Well, I can. And I can cook better than all of you.”
The guy who had issued the comment backed up, affronted. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just the Pippi Longstocking thing you have going against you.”
Admittedly, I was in my dirty work clothes, which means I was sporting an old black t-shirt, some sneakers and a worn out pair of jeans. And the jeans may have sparkled, because I bought them on sale at Charlotte Russe for two dollars after Christmas. I’m me. I like cheap, sparkly clearance items. They are great work pants.
And, uh, my sneakers may have also sparkled.
And, if I’m continuing with this honesty streak, my hair was in two side braids a la Anna from Frozen, but only because my hair wouldn’t stay in its ponytail. (Hazards of new conditioner, you feel me?)
Anyway, the comment should have offended me, but I knew I was kind of asking for it, so I didn’t respond. Pippi Longstocking, huh?
This prompted a conversation of influential women in the kitchen, and the phrase Pippi Longstocking Syndrome found its way into our vocabulary. The chefs we were working under (American Culinary Federation bigwigs and the Banquet Chef from Universal Studios) also gave some opinions over lunch, and it was a great conversation. If I were in more of a feminist ranting mood, I’d relay it all here, but I’d rather share a bit more of the overall volunteer experience. It was awesome.
If you’ve never been to the Orange County Convention Center, it is a truly massive building. The first day, it was nothing but a big cement room. Gradually people began to roll in machinery, equipment and carpet through the giant loading dock entrance. Booths began to sprout up. It’s also high security–people are paying big bucks to attend this convention, but even the setup was strict. No wristband/ID/badge, no entrance. The first day the wristbands were purple. The next day they were blue.
I was a grunt worker, thanks to my status as Cheerful Volunteer. I moved the heavy refrigerators and cleaned them all out, which was a rather unpleasant job. For one, it required me to bend at all awkward angles to get to the corners of these reach-in coolers, and they all smelled funky, sounded funky or were covered in funky residue from their last event.
“Look at this!” I said to one of my fellow volunteers. “It looks like coffee grounds.”
“Pippi,” he said (my new nickname, thanks to my braids) “That’s rust.”
The whole underside of one of the shelves had rusted and was raining down physical contaminants onto the cooler floor. After serious scrubbing, wiping and shelf replacing, the issue was fixed, and I was covered in cleaning chemicals.
All the work was worth it, though, to see the finally assembled kitchens all in a row. (One of my best friends is competing in the big event, and I’m awfully excited for it.)
The next day (today) was even better. Out of ten volunteers, only two of us showed up–me, and my fellow Pippi Longstocking. As rewards for our efforts we were given lunch and some extra products from sponsors. And, of course, we got the last laugh.
Plus, we got free lunch.