My Story of Race and Gender in a Male Dominated Industry

By Melissa Lee

If you’re our loyal followers, I hope you have noticed that we have gone above and beyond to create more content to support the Black Lives Matter movement. It is our job to listen, to relate, to inspire, and to encourage. I have gotten feedback from you that expresses your gratitude for our content. Thank you for the positive feedback. We appreciate it and will keep up our hard work.



I believe Asian Americans should voice solidarity with our African American friends. I am sharing my personal experience because I have suffered from racism and sexism. If you focus on the hurt, you will continue to suffer. If you focus on the lesson, you will continue to grow. When you face an obstacle, remember the pain and share your experience to inspire other people. I want to share my experience of sexism and racism as an Asian female chef. I want my story to touch your life and bring you some hope.


It has not been easy for me to work in male-dominated commercial kitchens. Even though I’ve never suffered physical sexual harassment, I’ve had to put up with language that made me uncomfortable. After many years, I still remember those comments and the discomfort they caused. Let me share two examples. One time I was working at my pastry station where two cooks were making sausages next to me. One guy said, “The casings look like condoms.”


The other guy said, “Only Asian guys’ dicks are this small!” And they laughed loudly next to me.


I was so embarrassed and angry that I had to leave my station. An inner voice said I should have talked back to them, but since I was hired to work as an assistant, I didn’t know if it was worth risking my job by talking back to senior cooks. I decided not to file a complaint because I was concerned that my boss might think I was “too sensitive.”


One time, a chef jokingly warned me, “Melissa, don’t make any mistakes. Otherwise, I will spank you!”


“Spank me?” I asked.


“I’ve heard Asian women like to be spanked!” He laughed and walked away.


I was puzzled and uncomfortable. I don’t know how he got the stereotype that Asian women enjoy being spanked. I certainly don’t, and I don’t find his joke funny. I am an easy-going person, and I like to have fun conversations with colleagues, but I couldn’t convince myself to appreciate his jokes. I felt humiliated by his remarks about Asian women.



I was raised to not be vocal about unfair treatment. Confucianism has migrated to Taiwan for generations. Taiwanese people are raised to obey authority. “Don’t ask questions, and don’t get in trouble.” “Don’t be different!” “Just keep your heads down and work hard, then your boss will appreciate you!” I was taught this mindset since I was little. It has been a struggle for me. I asked myself many times, should I share my experience? Or should I keep my head down and focus on cooking?



I decided to be vocal and share my experience. Because of those who have been vocal, we have seen progress in the food industry. After the Me Too movement started, many restaurants and culinary schools offered mandatory sexual harassment training to their employees. Many food critics started to evaluate restaurants not only by the food but also by diversity. Do they hire women and people from varying cultural backgrounds? How do they treat the employees? If we choose to be silent, there will never be progress. We will live much better lives if we listen carefully, share respectfully, and advocate bravely.


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