The other day I was at an amazing Indian dance concert featuring a friend of my daughter. This young woman performed, for two hours, a classic Indian dance known as Bharatnatyam Arangetram. And she plays golf, too. She is heading off to high school, already a stellar example of what a woman of today can become, and I was in awe of her.
Afterward, there was a totally yum Indian food buffet. I was there alone, and I always like to sit with people I don’t know, so I sat with some older couples who had one spot left at their table. It turns out they knew the dancer’s father, a cardiologist, mostly through playing golf at the local country club. So here I am at a buffet of Indian food, sitting with some folks who, like me, were clearly not of Indian ancestry. They didn’t seem totally comfortable with the menu, so I knew I was in for an interesting meal.
The one woman, who reminded me of my mother, said something to her husband that’s exactly what my mother would have said: “There’s no meat!” All of them picked about at their plates, not sure what was what or how to eat it. All but one. The woman next to me had a neighbor from India, so she and I together were wolfing down the delicious food with delight.
The other woman sitting across from me had such a pained look on her face, I felt obligated to make conversation. I asked her if she enjoyed cooking. She looked at me with a droll and depressed look on her face and said, “I’ve been cooking for 44 years, and I’m sick and tired of it.”
Her husband, who was busy talking to the golfer next to him, didn’t hear. The other woman (the one who reminded me of my mother) chimed in, and said she too was sick of it. So I—troublemaker that I am—looked at her husband who was sitting next to me, and asked her if he ever cooks. The face she made was comical. Again, it was the stunned, prideful, and resentful look that my mother would have made (with a slight shake of her head). “No.”
I turned to him, and asked him what he did, and he said, “Nothing. I’m retired.” I joked with him that maybe he should learn to cook. But he wasn’t interested in my kind of humor.
The two women looked at each other, and the first one, the droll one, said to me, “A woman never retires.”
I felt heartbroken for them, and also sad that they did not want to try the saffron pistachio ice cream.
But I could also see their point, and it was pointed straight at me. As a working woman, I will hopefully one day be able to retire from my job, my career, and such. But will I ever be able to retire from being Mom? From being a wife? I don’t know. As women’s roles have changed, men’s roles have changed too, but it still doesn’t feel quite figured out.
It occurs to me that this may be the reason my mother-in-law vehemently refused to have her oven replaced when the door finally fell off, when she was 89 (and the stove wasn’t much younger). She was finally ready to retire. And then there was my mother, who basically “never” cooked again after my father died.
With the economy the way it is, maybe none of us will ever be able to retire. But it struck me, sitting at that table, that we still have a long way to go—not just for women, but for men, too. I hope that if I had sons, I’d teach them to cook just as I’ve taught my daughters. (If you do have sons, please do teach them to cook.) I still know women today who coddle their sons the way my mother coddled my brothers—that’s something I will never quite understand since I don’t have boys. Of course, as a young woman I was trained to coddle the men in my life, too, and it’s a hard habit to break! It doesn’t really matter that I’m a CEO. At the end of the day, I’m still the wife and mother, with all that brings along with it.
I hope one day we get to a point that Riane Eisler calls true partnership, where all our male and female tendencies inside all the men and women are balanced, harmonious, and respectful. Helpful and useful, too. Where love, not duty, predominates, and there is a balance of work and pleasure for all.
I can dream, can’t I?