Novelist Zadie Smith conducted the sitdown interview portion of her T magazine profile of rapper Jay-Z in the “homey Italian restaurant on Mulberry Street” where he “likes to eat his chicken parms,” and, evidently, be the boss of what other people eat too.
“He likes to order for people,” Smith writes. “Apparently I look like the fish-sandwich type.”
That’s about all Smith gives us on that interaction, which is unfortunate because it raises many so questions. Isn’t ordering for a woman at least mildly sexist? (Transmitting your date’s selection to the server is one thing, but deciding that they “look like the fish-sandwich type” is another.) It’s not that I wouldn’t trust Jay-Z to pick something good for me, especially at his favorite chicken parm spot, it’s just that I really value my right to choose what I eat. You only get so many meals in this life. Couldn’t he just make a strong recommendation? Did he ask permission to order for her?
But maybe being ordered for appeals to those with a taste for retrograde machismo. (Beyoncé “In the Kitchen in My Heels” Knowles included.) Watching Don Draper order fancy restaurant meals for his biddies without even looking at them was always one of the more reliable old-timey shocks of Mad Men, like the racism and the smoking.
It’s not malicious, but when men try to act chivalrous they usually land somewhere between banally considerate and totally patronizing. And because this move dates back to the time when a woman’s male chaperone had to order for her because the restaurant wouldn’t take her money, it seems to fall squarely on the “you’re a second-class citizen and I make your decisions for you” side. But at least Jay kept up his end of the patriarchal bargain by paying.
I guess the real crime is that it reeks of awkward, amateur formality, especially considering what’s on the menu. I’ll have the chicken parm, and the lady will have a fish sandwich. Great. Now I can picture Jay at a pre-prom dinner.