Does the title of this post mean the return of the hoop skirt? Hardly.
It, in fact, refers to the perfectly utopian ideal of the 1950’s hauswife. This oft-emailed one in particular, from a 1954 home economics textbook:
“Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal, on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed.
Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so that you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.
Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the home just before your husband arrives, gather up schoolbooks, toys, paper, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift, too.
Prepare the children. Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair, and if necessary change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.
Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer, dishwasher, or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Be happy to see him. Greet him with a warm smile and be glad he is home.
Some don’ts: Don’t greet him with problems or complaints. Don’t complain if he is late for dinner. Count this as minor compared with what he might have gone through that day. Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.
Listen to him. You may have a dozen things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.
Make the evening his. Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to be home and relax.
The Goal: Try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.”
Wanting to do this in Real Life word-for-word Channeling the spirit behind this tome of good housewifeliness, I decided, this past weekend, because I couldn’t think of a gift, in honor of Valentine’s Day, having not seen Him in a while, to engage in a little bit of faux Perfect Womanness and make him dinner. And to emulate, as much as I could, the ideal woman as above.
Of course, being a modern woman of the new millennium, I got done with my real job first. And ended up with three hours to execute everything. I made lasagna. I ran the vacuum twice. I baked focaccia. I smoothed my hands over my carefully revealing outfit, and made sure not a hair was out of place. The bathroom looked like no one had ever penetrated its porcelain virginity before, let alone committed the acts of befoulment that bathrooms are known for. The cranberry and baby spinach salad with a smooth lime-yogurt dressing was cooling its heels in a sparkling modern salad bowl especially removed from the cabinets for the occasion. The table looked like the Queen of England was coming to dinner. The bed was soft, warm, inviting. And when he knocked, I met him at the door with a glass of chilled Chardonnay. And gave him a kiss that he will probably never forget, right after I made sure the southern style apple crumble was already in the oven.
Needless to say, I blew his mind. And not just with my sparkling witty conversation.
I can, however, already hear the ultra-feminist lobby of critics cringing. “You did what? As a treat? This is what He would consider a treat? You, my friend, just set back your status and power in this relationship sixty years. He’s going to start expecting this once you get married, and then what? You’re going to do this everyday? You work a full time, high stress job, and you cook dinner every night? You do realize that Superwoman, that uber-woman of mystical child-rearing, bacon-bringing, and gourmet meal cooking fame is a myth, right?”
Sigh. But it felt so good. I know, I know, this is the part where you start wondering whether I have a college degree, or whether I live in some third world country, where this sort of slavery should be abolished, but has not been. Alas for my Indian heritage, it’s true. I have both an American university degree, and pretty solid feminist leanings.
But, (and there is always a but):
My mother, that wonderfully controversial modern Indian wife of stereotype and yore, the job holder and the perfect cook, reminds me constantly of my wifely duties. Insidiously dropping hints in everyday conversations with one-liners that are meant to pass on the Indian way, as much as tell me what is expected of the Indian male in an Indian marriage, (“but if you don’t get into the habit of making dinner for yourself after work now, what will you guys eat once you’re married?”), this particular evening would have been something she approved of. (In theory. After marriage. Without the alcohol. Preferably with Indian food.) And as anyone who has heard of Herr Sigmund Freud will tell you, if the mother approves, the daughter, somewhere in her soul, will be tres content.
This, as you, clever reader, may have gathered by now, leads to some serious cognitive dissonance.
On the one hand ideas such as “he should be making me dinner” are not unusual in my head. But on the other, a very personal and raging maker-of-hearth-and-home instinct was satisfied by this dinner. I was proud to be Superwoman for the day. I loved cooking for My Man.
And that’s when it hit me.
I didn’t do this because I have some unsatisfied urge to secretly be transported to 1954.
I did it because I wanted to show I could be Superwoman. And thus make Him realize how much I loved him, how great I was. And when he did, and very appreciatively so, it became obvious. This dinner making, this house cleaning, the wearing of nice clothes…it was a Valentine’s gift to myself.
And while you may point out that this is what the authors of the home economics book were saying in the first place “his happiness leads to yours”, there is a key element that separates me from the sepia colored tones of the 50s. I did it because I wanted to. Not because I had to. Not because it was expected of me by society, or by my high school subjects, or because my mother wanted me to.
And that, my feminist friends, has made all the difference.