Well, so I’ve got it a little off. The precise term is “Stinks,” not “sucks” but the implication is the same. I’m referring to an otherwise unidentified woman, who herself made that statement about her own cooking, and wrote of her life in a similar manner. The story appears in a great book called: Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote by Janet Theophano.
Although there are many more positive women in Theophano’s book – which focuses not on the cooking and cuisine, but rather on the mostly-anonymous women behind cookbooks of all sorts, from about the 1700s through the 1900s.
Carol stood out to me because of her frustration, and her willingness to write about it – her cookbook doubling as a diary. Carol is a 50 year old woman, living, cooking, writing and “venting” sometime in the 1960s or 1970s. She appears to be desperately unhappy. Her husband does nothing. She works at a full time job, then comes home and works. Dinner is the biggest chore. Housework is a second job with very little compensation – and apparently very little appreciation. She uses the term “dingbat” – so I wonder if she wrote while watching All in the Family – that term used by Archie Bunker to berate his wife. Did Carol’s husband do the same?
Carol, through her cookbook/diary, reminds me of another woman of the same time period, who is the major character in the documentary film called 51 Birch Street who kept journals for decades through a mostly-unhappy marriage. Granted, there were parts of that woman’s story I didn’t want to know, but what emerged through that film was a woman who longed to break free from the roles society, her husband, and family, had placed upon her, as rigid as a prison. Carol seems to inhabit a similar prison. Both women were trapped by their times and paid a heavy price.
I believe that within the next, say, 10-20 years, a new vision of women in the 1950s and 1960s – after World War II and before the “women’s movement” – will emerge that shows the heroism of their everyday lives, their struggles for self-determination, the stubborn refusal of society and their husbands (and perhaps their kids) to grant them a mind, a heart, and indeed a space of their own – and the courage of these women to continue – to fulfill not only their responsibilities to others (it’s always about others) -but to finally grasp and proclaim their own dignity and worth, as individuals, irrespective of husbands, children, or others.
I never thought of housework or preparing dinner as courageous acts – but after reading Carol’s story – I see how preparing dinner every nite was such an act of conformity – which grieved her soul – and an act of courage – “doing what had to be done” despite a desperate desire to flee. In her cookbook, her unhappiness at her situation is clear. She talks of suicide and divorce, all because of the immense weight of the double burden of working outside of the home full time – and working inside of the home, almost equally as much – and her husband’s distance, emotionally as well as his lack of involvement in household tasks.
The more I learn about the *real* lives of housewives in the 1950s and 1960s, the more I am grateful to them for what they did, and the burden they carried as our mothers and grandmothers. We have this “blissful” “nostalgic” idea of the smiling mother, dad with his pipe and a sweater vest, and a boy and a girl cheerfully smiling at the dinner table, but what we don’t see is that Mother is clenching her teeth in a frozen spiteful grin – polite, as always – but seething inside that Dad has his houseslippers on and is relaxing reading the paper, while she has to cook for four in high heels and a silk dress after she has been on her feet all day. (oh, her aching feet!)
I’m not writing this as a rant, or even a diatribe against housewives then or now, or working women or moms, or even the “traditional family.” Not at all, and quite the contrary. What I am saying – and this through what Carol shares about her life, and others like her – is that all of these women deserve our respect and admiration. Housewife and mother are the most taken-for-granted roles and tasks there are. Those women need an award or medal – just like loyal employees who have a perfect attendance at the factory or an accident-free year on the assembly line. All those housewives of years ago – are heroines!!
P.S. I realize some of my readers may in fact be those very housewives – today or years back. Thank you for your courage and dignity in your everyday lives!!!