Agon and Apron: hybridizing gender by “sportifying” cooking in MasterChef USA

Laura Grindstaff, Rafi Grosglik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Competition is fundamental to American life, and sport is the cultural institution most closely linked to organized competition in the U.S. Historically, sport has been a male preserve. At the same time, the structures, practices, and iconography of sports have infiltrated a variety of social fields and institutions less obviously dominated by men—a process known as “sportification.” Reality programing is one such field. In this paper, we analyze forty episodes spanning nine seasons of the reality show MasterChef USA to explore the gendered implications of the sportification of cooking. MasterChef USA harnesses competition, metaphorized as sport, to transform (feminine) cooks into (masculine) chefs. In the language of Greek mythology, the heroism of the agon meets the mundanity of the apron. The show not only effectively “softens” sport and “hardens” cooking, it also hybridizes traditional gender difference itself as the cook-chef distinction animates and destabilizes boundaries between home and work, amateurs and professionals, the ordinary and the elevated. However, the hybridization of gender has limits and is not equally balanced between masculine and feminine poles—and the imbalance is where gender inequality resides.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)620-656
Number of pages37
JournalAmerican Journal of Cultural Sociology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Food
  • Gender
  • Heroic masculinity
  • MasterChef
  • Social performance
  • Sportification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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