12 Days of Feminists: Laura Hensley on Unapologetic Activist & Restauranteur Jen Agg

This month, we’re celebrating the relentless women whose work helped us to resist, persist and get the f-ck through 2017. On day 7 of FLARE’s 12 Days of Feminists, Laura Hensley celebrates Jen Agg

Jen Agg sitting on a chair in her restaurant

(Photo, Renée Rodenkirchen. Hair and makeup, Robert Weir. Styling, Erinn Stewart)

Despite what people constantly write about her—and what she’s written about herself, if Toronto restauranteur Jen Agg is a bitch, we should all aspire to be bitches.

If being determined, unapologetic and a get-the-f-ck-out-of-my-way advocate for women’s rights makes you a she-devil, then what’s wrong with being one? In fact, we need more bitches like Agg in the world.

Before you dudes get your pitchforks all up in the air—hear me out.

2017 has been a big year for Agg. She opened her latest restaurant, Grey Gardens, in Toronto’s Kensington Market, adding to her existing celebrated establishments: Toronto’s The Black Hoof, Cocktail Bar and Rhum Corner, and Montreal’s Agrikol. She also released her first memoir, I Hear She’s a Real Bitch, where she writes candidly about her upbringing, sex, feminism and her experiences as a woman in a male-dominated industry. (Some critics have liked it, others have not. Either way, I sincerely doubt Agg cares.) She’s also continued her relentless, years-long crusade to expose sexism in restaurant kitchens, and this year, more people than ever are finally listening.

Agg’s brand of feminism may be too shouty and in-your-face for some. She talks freely about fragile male egos and her vagina. She often offends men on Twitter with her “sub-tweets” and all-cap quips. But I don’t give AF if Agg can be “rude” from time-to-time if she’s actively fighting for a greater cause. And she is.

I like Agg because despite being slightly terrified of her, and I respect the hell out of her for caring, so immensely, about things that matter to women—like equality in the workplace. In October, she wrote an op-ed for the New Yorker calling out the rampant sexism that still thrives in restaurants and bars and how things need to change in this post-Harvey Weinstein era. It was a continuation of the conversation she publicly started in 2015, when she organized a conference to help combat harassment and discrimination in the food industry called, “Kitchen Bitches: Smashing the Patriarchy One Plate at a Time.” When celebrity chef Mario Batali was accused of sexual misconduct, Agg was (rightfully) critical of his response. One day later, when yet another restaurant exec was outed for alleged sexual assault, Agg spoke out against industry hypocrisy.

Agg holds people accountable for their actions. She makes people uncomfortable by saying things others won’t. She doesn’t care if she offends by doing so.

In other words, some people might think she’s a bitch because she’s brash. Why is this a bad thing?

This year, we saw many courageous individuals come forward with stories of sexual harassment as the #MeToo movement gained momentum. Agg—like she has been doing for ages—loudly supported these people. She’s someone who constantly fights for feminism and change, even when people tell her to sit down and shut up.

And how does Agg reply to such suggestions?


More from FLARE’s ‘12 Days of Feminists’ series:
Day 1: Anne T. Donahue on Fierce Truth-Teller Scaachi Koul
Day 2: Sadiya Ansari on Fearless Supernova Jane Fonda
Day 3: Janaya Khan on Mary Hooks Bringing Black Moms Home
Day 4: Meghan Collie on “Unf-ckwithable Voice of Reason” Lauren Duca
Day 5: Nakita Valerio on Effervescent Community Leader Nasra Adem

Day 6: Anne Thériault on Tanya Tagaq Singing Truth to Power
Day 8: Jennifer Berry on Exuberant Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante