It’s amazing to me how things can change during one lifetime. Today’s woman is as independent as she wishes to be. Most young girls growing up in this millennium and the majority of those born in the last thirty years of the 1900s will never know the transition of thinking that took place for those of us known as baby-boomers. The girl-babies born between 1947 and 1955 were brought up to hinge our independence on a man but in a post-World War era had to learn to become more resilient and self-reliant. I was reminded of this when I read a passage in The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood. The following excerpt – while a bit long – sums up how we were trained from the time we could walk to become a perfect wife.
Claire came from a generation of women who did not question things. A generation raised by women who didn’t question. Before her mother died…she’d taught Claire the things she believed a woman needed to know: always wear a hat to keep the sun off your face so you don’t get wrinkles; moisturize every day; never go to bed with your makeup on; if you put Vaseline on your hands and a pair of white cotton gloves over them and go to bed like that, your hands will always be soft; a man likes soft hands; always get up before your husband so that you can do your own morning routine in private, make yourself look pretty, and have his breakfast ready when he wakes up; keep up on current events; agree with your husband’s opinion, even if you think he’s a horse’s ass for believing that; buy lard fresh from the butcher and use it in fried chicken, piecrusts, and seven-minute frosting; the key to a perfect dinner is to serve meat with a starch and a vegetable and to always have candlelight; everything tastes better when eaten by candlelight; how to sew a hem, darn a sock, replace a button – these skills help to make you indispensable; never go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink or cigarette butts in the ashtray; never refuse your husband’s sexual desires; get your hair done every week; when asked to bring something to a dinner party, bring it on a plate that you leave as a gift; always let the man drive; men take out the trash and mow the lawn; always wait for the man to open a door for you and light your cigarette; a woman needs to know how to swim, skate, and ride a bike; never swear in front of a man; and….love goes out the window when there’s no money. A woman knows how to live on a budget, to stretch a dollar, to cook hamburger meat at least six different ways.
Claire watched her mother, always in a dress covered with an apron, always in high heels and earrings, move around the kitchen like it was a dance floor.
Yes, those were the pre-ordained rules for those of us lucky enough to be born in that era. Those were the guidelines we used for getting our special fella to fall in love with us – remember, the easiest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach – meaning if we could cook his favorite meals he’d always stay with us.
But times changed and women began to work outside the home more and no longer had time to be the super-wife we all wanted to be. Women of our generation got married, tried being all of the above things to our husbands while in many cases also holding down a full time job. In many cases it became too much of a burden. Husbands could no longer expect to be the king of their own home. They now had to be part of the domestic help. Wives soon learned that to find career fulfillment they needed to have an understanding spouse who was willing to share the burden. And still many of us felt guilty for not being able to do it all.
Today’s woman has it easier. Technology has made it easier to care for a family. We can communicate on the run, eat on the run, and do so many things simultaneously that it can make us lose track of things. While the precepts our mothers taught us now seem outdated and antiquated they did rely on one underlying principle – the idea of one person caring deeply about another and finding fulfillment in the small things in life, sometimes something as simple as our husbands saying “Honey, that was a great meal” or my favorite “Thanks for the little things”.
No, there is no perfect wife or husband for that matter. But as long as we are perfect in the eyes of our loved one, that is all that truly matters.