Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Role of the Woman

Do you “fix a plate” for your husband?

It’s 1973. My stepfather, EJ, is sitting at the dining room table. Mom walks to him from the small galley kitchen, carrying a plate of food and places it on his table mat. She comes back and we maneuver at the stove, spooning food onto our plates, and then join him.

A minute into the meal, EJ says, “Lil, pass me some salt.” She pops up from her chair, the one closest to the kitchen entrance (for convenience), to get the salt.

This scene played out many times during my teen years. She got the salt, butter, a napkin, refill of a beverage – whatever. One day, I asked, “Mom, why are you interrupting your meal to get EJ the salt?” I acted it out for them, popping up from my chair to get the salt.

We all laughed.

My fifteen year old mind didn’t understand why my mom looked like a waiter in a restaurant.

Throughout the years, Mom taught me the realities of womanhood. One statement I remember, “He brings home his check and gives it to me; I have a meal for him on the table – even if we’re not speaking.”

As a child, I thought, “Surely this is a parent thing. Younger women don’t “do that.” (I must have thought “forty” was old.)

Wrong.

My contemporaries “do that.”

I’ve learned that in addition to serving the food, waitress style, they:
-shop for his clothes
-lay out his clothes for work
-drive “their kids” everywhere they need to go
-take out the trash and recycle
-get his approval on her outfit
-let him decide the time of intimacy
-go to bed when he goes
-get up when he gets up
-let him decide the car she will drive…

What have I left out Girls?

Before I married, Husband and I took a premarital class, which I recommend for couples headed towards marriage. One thing I remember hearing is, “a woman is flexible and adaptable,” and a third thing that I wish I can remember. Does that mean we are wired to be more capable of pampering, submitting, and catering?

This is all generalizing, of course.

Once in a while, on one of my “don’t want to cook days,” I think of my girlfriend’s husband’s reason for buying his four year old daughter a pretend kitchen set. He was so proud of the purchase, and announced that it will prepare her for cooking when she grows up and gets married.

Guess my parents should have bought one for me.

Hmmm…I think I did have one. What happened?

Just having a little fun here.

Seriously, so many of you are great cooks…and, everyone has to eat!

We all demonstrate our love and care for our mate in various ways. I’m just wondering what we “enjoy” doing, versus what we do because we’ve been taught that it’s our role - whether we enjoy it or not.

Should we view our role as contributing to the success of the relationship, and not be bogged down with the specifics of “who does what?” Or, should we renew our subscriptions to Ms. Magazine?

39 comments:

Nakamuras on Saipan said...

Hi Anita! Great post! I will admit that I do "wait" on my husband. I also notice if his glass needs refilling or he is missing something on his place-mat. I also do many other things for him-and take great joy in doing them. I have to say though that he is just as doting as I am. He even mops the floor and does the laundry if need be. Both of us work together and neither one worry's about who is supposed to do what.

KaLynn said...

My mom was the same way. Me on the other hand am not so much. Must be why I'm not married! ! !

coffeelvnmom said...

I loved this post, Anita.

I grew up in a familiar household, but didn't think much about it. Both of my parents worked, and my mom did pretty much all of the laundry and cooking and whatnot. She wasn't able to stay home when I was young though, and as I got older I knew it was something I would strive to do when I got married, if I had the opportunity. Luckily, my husband felt the same way. We got married at eighteen, and though I have put in time at the family business over the years, the hours are minimal at best, compared to his.

Now here we are, thirteen years later, and things are still pretty close to the same. I do most of the things around the house, unless he's in the mood to help out, and for the most part, it doesn't bother me. Once in a while I'll get grumpy when he asks where his clothes are, and tell them they're where they always go, or whine that I don't want to go across the house to get him water when I've already gotten in bed. Not that often though. Because the quote you mentioned is completely true here. He brings home the bacon, he gives me his check, and he deserves not to have to do everything around here.

And he goes out of his way to bring me coffees, will pick something up at the store when he's out and about (including out of town, as I panic and can't drive in large towns, long story), and has surprised me more than once when I've been out of town with the kids (one time a bathroom was remodeled), so who am I to complain when I have to lay out his clothes, run and get something out of his car for him, or get him water?

The best marriage is a give and take marriage, in my opinion. I may be young, but I believe in the "old school" way. As long as he shows that he appreciates what I do by reciprocating with thoughtful gestures like that, I'm a happy wife. And a happy wife and thoughtful doting husband are the best examples for my girls to see as they grow up.:)

coffeelvnmom said...

Holy cow, I wrote a book! Sorry Anita! LOL!

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Really good post. As someone who has plunked dinner down for my husband for 32 years, I can appreciate how flexible I am. Also, when working full-time, I can appreciate how wonderful it must be to have someone do that.

Now, I don't want to cook anymore. I cook for my kids when they come home or a couple nights a week, but I've lost the desire to do that (even though I still feel that is my job, even when I'm working.) I think they are all tired of my cooking as well.

When all my kids are gone next year, I'm thinking frozen food. And a Ms subscription.

Bernie said...

I come from a different perspective, there was a time when I would be frustrated by having to pick up after my husband, now that he has passed away believe me when I tell you I would give anything to be able to pick up after him. He was such a good husband, not perfect but then who is.....I wasn't perfect either and I did enjoy making a meal and a nice home for him.......:-) Hugs

Tabor said...

It is all about balance. If you want to do all the waiting then do it! If your marriage works out best where the man of the house handles the house and the woman a career...do it that way. If, like my marriage, things are pretty much 50-50 except he does some things better than I and I better than him...so be it. It is all about compromise and willingness to share.

My Aimless Infatuation said...

Like Bernie, I am also a widow but yes, I did it all,the same as my Mother before me. So now I just pamper my Son's when they visit. I used to think it was just a sign of the times but I have many friends my age that did not do these things for their husbands so maybe it's just in somes nature to nurture. Must be in mine, after all,I do work as a caregiver. Loved you post.

Karen said...

This is a great post. I love what your mother said, having dinner ready even if you're mad at him. I grew up in a similar household and I enjoy waiting on my husband, although he is totally self-sufficient and often jumps in to lend a hand. He's the breadwinner in the household, so it always makes me feel guilty (well, just a tad) when he does.

yonca said...

I feel the same way with Karen. I'm not working now and I feel guilty especially spending some money for myself.He is working long hours. So, he has no time for anything else.
Great topic as usual Anita! xo

Rebecca S. said...

Very timely topic, Anita. I was just telling my husband last night what a hard year this has been. He was working long hours and coaching soccer three days a week with not much energy for anything else until this summer. It looked like he wasn't going to coach soccer this coming fall and I was getting excited about the prospect of having more help around the house and more time with him at home. Well, as of last night it looks like he will coach our son's team again, and I was a bit devastated. He used to help a lot around the house (laundry, dishes, tidying, motivating the kids etc.) and we would tackle bigger projects together and I admitted to him that I was really hoping to get back to that happy state of things. I don't nickle and dime everything when it comes to sharing the load, but I do sometimes think I don't delegate quite enough. At least I like to cook and be at home - cleaning is another story :)

Paul C said...

I like how you put it: woman, man should each contribute to the success of the relationship. And that means quality time. Enjoyable reading.

Betty said...

Your posts always make me think. This is a painful subject for me, because I have struggled with this most of my married life. I wait on my hubby just like you described, but don´t feel it´s right. I do it because it´s my own fault, I have spoiled him and changing that now, is impossible. Believe me I´ve tried. I have worked full or part time most of my life and still do everything in the house (cooking, cleaning etc.). Luckily we can afford a cleaning lady, because if not, life would probably be much harder. I do hope the younger generation has it easier than us and gets more help from their husbands in the household.

MissKris said...

I must admit when I was outside with my grandsons weeding with them and keeping them out of the street and sweating because it was already close to 85 degrees at 8:45 am and Dear Hubby stuck his head out the door and asked, "Is my lunch packed yet?" (He's on vacation this week and was leaving for the day) I wasn't very gracious or in the right mind to say, "Oh no, dear...it isn't but I'll be right in!" while muttering under my breath: "... even tho you're perfectly capable of making a SANDWICH!!" I didn't say it, tho it was quivering on the tip of my tongue, haha! Sometimes I AM gracious, sometimes not. I do get resentful when I'm in the middle of something and he's sitting on the chair and asks if there's something to eat or whatever. I mean, get UP! How much effort does it take to dish out a bowl of ice cream for one's self, you know?! I come from a home where we were ALL self-sufficient and got whatever we wanted ourselves. My mother never doted on my dad. Vice versa. But Dear Hubby comes from a home where his mom was like slave labor. I guess we hit a somewhat happy medium in our marriage. And I must admit he'd do things more for me if I'd LET him. But if he gets irritated with me and says, "I would've gotten you more coffee if you'd let me know" I answer, "But I'm perfectly capable of getting my own!" I'd say this is our one bone of contention - and not even that big of one - in 36 years of marriage...so I guess it's really not one to complain about.

Tracey said...

Oh, marital gender roles...everyone has an opinion. Mine is this...

Every marriage is a negotiation and we all negotiate our role within it. This also involves a lot of compromising. And everyone's marriage looks different, so we shouldn't judge.

As for me, I used to love to cook, until I had to decide what to cook EVERYDAY. Blech. But, I do it, most of the time. It is my job.

But I am no waitress. I HATE that. I have a policy. I will serve everyone, but once I sit down, I am not getting back up until I am done eating or unless I need something. If they need salt, a cup, seconds, they have to wait. If I need salt, I will gladly get up and get it, and bring it for others.

I rather like doing laundry. ONce my kids are old enough I will require them to do their own, because it is good for them, but I will probably always do my husband's.

gayle said...

Marriage is give and take and changes through out the years. I have been married almost 40 years and we both have done different things....he shops, I shop, he cooks, I cook etc.

Menopausal New Mom said...

How interesting Anita. Personally, I think a lot depends on whether the wife works outside the home as well as inside. As a single gal, I worked for over 20 years and came home to prepare my own meals at the end of the day. Once I married and was able to stop working, I was happy to take on the "wife" role and cook for the two of us. Then our daughter came along and I find she is more important than having a hot meal on the table every night. My husband is very flexible and cooks for himself when I don't feel like it which makes the meals I do prepare more special. He certainly appreciates coming home to a nicely cooked meal which is all the recognition I want anyway.

Hilary said...

Great post -- if I comment much more beyond that, well, you might be reading well into the night!

Sharon said...

Anita,
This is such a great post! Since divorcing my first husband, and then marrying my second (present), he knew I wouldn't take any crap the second time around. I have to say, he is the one who jumps up and gets "me the salt" vs. the other way around. Actually, it's very much give and take. If I pick up his drycleaning, or make his meals it's out of love and the fact that I want to, not because I have to. Wonderful post for some thought!

Abby said...

I never did premarital classes. In hindsight, that probably would've been a great idea.

My mom STILL fixes a plate and retrieves condiments/refills for my dad, even though she's the one with the arthritis!

I am kind of on the side that says, "he brings home the paycheck, so I do more around the house", but I'm not doing the waitress thing at mealtimes!

I always got up in the middle of the night with the babies. He had to go to work in the morning. Plus, I was the only one lactating at the time.

Great post, nice to "see" you again!

My name is PJ. said...

You post some of the best stuff, Anita.

In my opinion, "marriage" is as both parties define it - keeping house, finances, sex, errands, whatever.

If both parties are agreeable, who am I to argue?

On the other hand, I don't cook or grocery shop. I haven't cooked in almost a quarter century. My husband LOVES cooking. The kitchen in our home is "manland". I haven't grocery shopped for 33 years. Both of my husbands enjoyed doing that.

I have a very different life than my mother had. It's what works in my house.

Becca Powell said...

My home growing up was not like this, but my grandmother's house was a different story. She put linens, china & glass drink coasters on the table for every single meal. She sat closest to the kitchen. She also inspected my grandfather's clothes after he dressed. Sometimes she'd make him change (most of the time he would oblige)....she'd tell me "I can't let him go out with that dirty tie. People will think I don't take good care of him." This post brought back lots of good memories for me.

Hilary said...

Wonderful post. It would seem there are many different experiences out there. My marrige was pretty much 50/50 ... or at least neither of us harbored resentment toward the other for what we did or didn't do.

My relationship now with Frank is different for me. He spent so many years being independant that he's almost resentful if he can't take over the cooking (and the bbq is ALL his) but is pleased that I don't mind the dishwashing afterward. He'll grab something to eat if and when he's hungry. I don't think it would even occur to him to ask me to get something for him unless I happened to be in the kitchen at the time. We each live under our own roofs most of the time and only share space a few days a week or while on holiday. My parents were more as you described.

SuziCate said...

This is a fabulous post. My mother always catered tomy father down to helping his plate a a buffet style meal at relatives. Now, I do cater to my husband at times, but I don't feel like he always expects it. Now, my mother once was apalled at my not fixing my husband plate at a buffet. I replied that he had two hand, tow feet, and a mind that told him what he wanted. Now, I do make it my job to care for the family, cook, clean etc... but if I don't feel like cooking, he will do it or we go out, and every day that I cook, he cleans the table. So, I guess while I do cater, I don't feel that I am being taking advantage of. I feel appreciated. I think marriage is all about figuring out who is going to do what and working together to make things work in the house. I am so glad that todays men are so much more willing to help do these things than back when I was a child.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

My mom put dinner on the table and kept house, but my dad didn't make a lot of those "get me a beer" demands, and if a parent needed the salt (and it wasn't already on the table) they'd be likely to ask one of us kids to get it. Now my hubby does all the cooking and laundry, and sometimes he starts to feel like he's waiting on me. So I'll offer to dish up dessert or make a cup of tea, or something to let him know I'm trying to keep things balanced.

Bringing Pretty Back said...

This was a great post! I do the same thing at the table! Once we had mu husbands cousin and wife over for dinner and I fixed my hubs plate. The wife almost fell over when I fixed his plate. It may seem old fashioned , but I do it with love and he does all kinds of sweet things for me. it isn't in a degrading way. He doesn't "expect" me to do it.
It's just "our thing".
Have a pretty day!
Kristin

Bernie said...

I love the topics you bring up and the discussions they inspire. I try to think of something like this one, but it is hard to do. You have hit on quite a few universal truths. That is why I have awarded you the Blog of Substance. I hope you will be pleased.

Bernie said...

That should read A Blog With Substance. Sorry about that.

Jen said...

There are people who are completely happy in a marriage like that. I would not be one of them. I wouldn't mind doing some of those things...but laying out his clothes would not be one of them. When I get married again I do not want to feel like his mother.

ModernMom said...

Oh this one is a thinker!
My Mom did this. We ate when my Dad wanted..even NEVER had Tacos cause my Dad thought they were too messy. They were and are very happy together. A great team.
Now that I am married. I am so not like that!
My happy is thrilled if I have planned a dinner and cook, b/c it doesn't always happen. He drives them to school most mornings, he does the trash. Somehow I am stuck with those toilets! I can say we are a team, but out roles are not tradtional:)

Buckeroomama said...

If and when I do "wait" on my husband, it's because I want to do it, not because he expects it of me.

Bringing Pretty Back said...

Anita, HAHAHA! Sadly, I swear I think I have gotten worse as i have gotten older! but... my poor parents! And now poor V! heehee!
Have a pretty day!
Kristin

diney said...

Give and take seems to be the majority view with which I concur - I always do the cooking and, for example, get up to serve a second portion if hubby says 'is there any more', but he nearly always clears up after the meal, so that suits me fine. My own parents did that too, even thiugh my Mum didn't work and my Dad worked long hours, but they made washing up the dishes 'their time' somehow...or perhaps that's me looking through rosy glasses!!

diney said...

Give and take seems to be the majority view with which I concur - I always do the cooking and, for example, get up to serve a second portion if hubby says 'is there any more', but he nearly always clears up after the meal, so that suits me fine. My own parents did that too, even thiugh my Mum didn't work and my Dad worked long hours, but they made washing up the dishes 'their time' somehow...or perhaps that's me looking through rosy glasses!!

Erin said...

I think so much depends on the couple and the chemistry going on there. I also agree with Meno Deb...I take care of the kids---and I may not have a paycheck. But I do a helluva a lot of work. I also do all his laundry, I take out the garbage, weed the yard, cook several times a week....but if he needs his glass refilled, most often he gets up and does it himself. And he will occasionally refill mine. It's give and take. Depends on whose day was worse. Depends on who's feeling more charitable. Depends on how crabby the kids are. LOL! but I love this post. Great job! Lots to think about here!

Just Two Chicks said...

I wasn't molded to be the "house-wife" I've become. I had no real life role models to base any of this on.I did watch a LOT of TV and was drawn to shows like Leave it to Beaver and The Brady Bunch. Silly I know... but that's what I wanted when I was a kid. The house-wife role came about due to the wifes busy schedule and MS. I make sure she's packed for her business trips, her clothes are clean, she has three meals a day and whatever else she needs. I do lay her clothes out at times and I run all errands. I guess I figured she deserved to be cared for because she's never had it from a partner. I just want to make her life less stressed. I don't think about it... I just do it... it makes her happy which makes me happy. :)

Julie Magers Soulen said...

Great "food" for thought! Seriously, I think gender roles are becoming more blurred since most women have to work as well these days. That is healthy. We should all play to our strengths. In my home, my husband does the majority of cooking and I like to mow the grass!

Cheers!
Julie
Julie Magers Soulen Photography

Morgan said...

I enjoy your post format- how you make it so easy for discussions. You definitely give some food for thought in each of your posts Anita!

Cooking... Well, unfortunately my husband's been the cook the majority of our marriage. He probably caters too much to me. Someday I would like to have dinner on a plate for him more often without him needing to help with anything. Not out obligation, but because I want to show love back in appreciation for all he's done for the kids and I.

Priya Shankar said...

Anita!! Thank you so much for all of your comments and support. I love, love, love this post, and completely relate. My mother and my grandmother grew up in this fashion... it's very customary in Indian families for the female to function in this role. In my own relationship, we both try to work together- talk about things before hand so that any planning/any event doesn't land only on one person's plate. Granted I am with someone who is willing to rethink these traditional roles... but this is not always the case even in today's world.

Love the post and thanks again!