According to a professor of media studies at the University of Tulsa, the YouTube show Hot Ones is problematic because it “manipulates inequitable gender hierarchies.”
In case you aren’t familiar with Hot Ones, it’s a show where the host challenges his guests to eat increasingly spicy chicken wings. Seems pretty harmless, right? An innocent chicken-eating show couldn’t possibly be something that’s actually hurting women, could it?
Well, Professor Emily J. H. Contois thinks it could. According to her paper, “The spicy spectacular: food, gender, and celebrity on Hot Ones,” published in the journal Feminist Media Studies, the show “creates, maintains, and manipulates inequitable gender hierarchies through the interrelated performances of gender, food consumption, and celebrity.”
In other words: According to Contois, society just doesn’t accept the idea of women eating spicy foods, and that is the reason that only eleven women have appeared as contestants on the show so far. Women, she argues, know that they don’t really stand a chance on Hot Ones, because gender binaries “create power hierarchies by feminizing dainty, light, and sweet flavors and foods, eaten in small portions with restraint.”
The paper goes on to claim that society conditions people to believe that “real men” are supposed to “seek out and conquer” spicy foods, and that “being the type of dude who loves hot sauce is part of performing conventional masculinity . . . through actions like disregarding risk and facing danger fearlessly.” Women, on the other hand, aren’t supposed to eat messy foods like wings, or to discuss topics such as the effects that spicy foods might have on their digestive tracts, because these topics are “often considered taboo for women to openly discuss, let alone as part of a celebrity persona” without adopting a sort of “cool girl” persona, which some women might not want to do.
Cointois also criticizes the fact that the host of the show, Sean Evans, apparently has a “white, heterosexual, cisgendered, everyman brand of masculinity.”
Maybe I’m some kind of idiot, but I really don’t think that any of this is all that complicated. I don’t think that Hot Ones was conceived as a masculinity contest so much as it was the only kind of contest-show idea left that hadn’t already been done before. It’s not like it’s really adding anything new to our culture, either. Both men and women have been challenging each other to eat spicy foods for ages. I have distinct childhood memories of my brother and I daring each other to eat spicy peppers or hot sauces at restaurants, and desperately trying to avoid choking or tearing up to look cool. I can also admit that I’ve definitely eaten wings before — believe it or not, often even with other women — and have never once thought about the act of eating them as being something that somehow counters my femininity. I wouldn’t say that I have had to adopt a “cool girl” persona in order to do so, either, especially considering that I have worn a Dashboard Confessional T-shirt as recently as last night.
Perhaps in the past it might not have been considered okay for women to eat food like chicken wings, but I would argue that we are actually quite past this point now. If you don’t believe me, I’d suggest that you walk up to any dude on the street and ask him: “Would you ever consider dating a woman who had eaten spicy chicken wings before?” I can guarantee you that he won’t say “no.” In fact, he probably won’t even bother to say “yes,” because it goes without saying that the answer is “yes.” He’ll probably just look at you like you’re a crazy person and walk away.
I don’t know why more women have not appeared on Hot Ones. Maybe it’s because they don’t feel like it. Maybe some of them just don’t like spicy food. But to suggest that the reason is because women don’t feel that they are free to eat chicken wings in America in 2018 is about as absurd as it gets. The show is one thing, but I’d bet you’d have a harder time finding a woman who hasn’t eaten them than finding one who has — because some things, like eating chicken, just aren’t about gender.