Cooking School: A Feminist Is Born
When I was in middle school my mom was in nursing school and for part of that time she had a practicum which required her to drive to another town. The other town was far enough away that she was going to stay in a dorm during most of the week and come back on the weekends. On the weekends she had a job at a nursing home as a nurse’s aide so no one could accuse my mom of not working hard.
This is how I learned to cook, if you can call it that. Up to that time, when I was probably thirteen years old, my mom would never let me in the kitchen. She didn’t want me underfoot and claimed that I made a mess and it made meal preparation take twice as long to let me help. That, and she was always afraid that I would hurt myself on a stove burner or with a knife.
My grandmother was not like that and loved taking me under her wing and letting me help her bake when I was growing up. But then that is how grandmothers are. How I miss my grandma!
So, when it became a necessity in my mother’s estimation for me to have a crash course in cooking, I learned how to cook only the stuff that was the cheapest stuff to prepare, stuff we could afford. I learned to make macaroni and cheese, with powdered milk, no less. I learned to make hamburgers and hot dogs (Yes, I had to “learn” how to boil water) and spaghetti and Hamburger Helper. I think that was my entire culinary repertoire. I taught myself how to make omelettes by that time, but I don’t think we would have had them for dinner.
One day, and I don’t remember if it was at first, when my mom was teaching me this stuff or if it was later (I suspect later, probably as I was doing dishes, because at first I would thrill to finally have kitchen privileges), it occurred to me how unfair it was that my dad, who was the other adult in the home, was not assigned kitchen duties. Why did I have to cook and clean because I was born with an extra X chromosome? Didn’t it make more sense for my dad to take on that responsibility?
My dad practically bragged about his helplessness in the kitchen. He knew how to cook exactly two things: steak and popcorn. We couldn’t afford steak, so my mom was probably concerned that we were likely to die from The Popcorn Diet. We probably would have, too. My dad’s idea of cooking even now is making Cream of Wheat in the microwave. And forget cleaning or doing dishes. I have never seen him do either of those two things. Mow the lawn, yes. Take out the trash, yes. Fix the toilet, yes. On the rare occasion, do the laundry. But forget cooking, cleaning or doing the dishes. That was woman’s work.
Now I’m not sure where that attitude came from, because my dad was actually something of a feminist and was the one who convinced my mom to go to school to become an EMT and then a nurse, because that was her dream. He encouraged her to pursue a career. He always told me I could be anything I wanted to be, well, as long as it was something he approved of. Namely, the list of occupations covered virtually anything but an actress, stripper or prostitute; somehow, they all got lumped in together. Sadly, when I was in high school I wanted to be an actress.
The thing is that my dad’s attitude was pretty much the attitude of most men at the time. I could say that it was because he was older than the dads of most of my contemporaries, but that wouldn’t be true. If you pull the covers and articles of popular women’s magazines of the time, I think you’ll find that a ton of them are about being a Supermom and having it all, work and life balance, something that’s still a topic that concerns women.
Anyway, I was already a kid that was overly preoccupied with issues of fairness and equality. Injustice bothered me so personally as a child, and I was partially raised in the time of Alan Alda and granola. When the backlash of the eighties occurred and feminism was somehow something that was now passé or the overreaction of women judged as strident harpies, bitter spinsters or butch dykes, I wondered what happened.
Why did we stop at the vote and the right to work? Why was it okay for us to have to work outside the home and then come home to a second job as a housewife, vacuuming in pearls? Why is it that the Equal Rights Amendment was proposed in 1972, and it is now the year 2010, and it still hasn’t passed? Why have we still not had a woman president? And why was I seemingly in the marginal minority that this bothered me?
No one else finds it strange that we have to give up our names to our husbands? Well, we don’t have to, of course, but you try finding a man who agrees with you that that’s unfair.
Every guy I knew would roll his eyes and say, “Well, when you’re married you become a family, you take on one name.”
And I would say, “I know. I got no problem with that. Why not my name?”
This usually got the response of rolled eyes. Sometimes, instead, they would look at me like, “What planet did you get beamed from? Can they send you back?”
I remember thinking when I was thirteen and cooking for my father and my brother, that if this was what marriage was all about that maybe I didn’t want to be married so badly. It seemed like a pretty raw deal for the woman. I thought, “What do I get out of this? Indentured servitude? No, thanks.”
This was, coincidentally, at the same time when I was in constant conflict with my mother, and so I would say the f word at every chance I got because I knew it irritated her. Her response, inevitably, was, “That’s so unladylike.”
And that infuriated me to no end. Unladylike? So, if my brother says it, that’s okay? What if I don’t want to be a lady? No, sirree. I am no lady. I’m a woman instead.