Women in the Kitchen: A Reflection

This is a freewrite I wrote on January 26, 2013, with the intention of posting it on this blog; and then archived it because I thought it needed more research and work. But in the spirit of writing with fewer hangups, I’ll be posting more pieces that I intended to make into longer essays (and hopefully will, one of these days), even if they’re not “perfect.” 


January 26, 2013

I like the flow of food that I’ve been making lately – nothing particularly innovative, one-pot meals, casseroles. But they’ve all stemmed from one ingredient that needs to get used in our fridge: roast beef –> shepherd’s pie, country ham –> collard greens, kielbasa, Monterey Jack, Parmesan rind —> mac and cheese with “hot dogs” and Parmesan broth.


The past few nights, Curt’s been an early cut, coming home around 10, so there’s something for him to eat. He calls me when he’s on his way – I pop whatever I made for dinner into the oven on low temperature, turn the stove on low (for collards). I feel like the 50s housewife, “keeping his dinner warm,” like that song “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” from How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. The show’s a farce, a parody of how to succeed in business, in late 1950s New York City.

In the show, the song is sung by a secretary, Rosemary, who falls in love with a rising star, Finch. “I’d be so happy to keep his dinner warm/while he moves onward/and upward.” She’s pining for what we see Betty has in the first season of Mad Men, living away from the city, upstate in the suburbs, while Don rides in and out of the city. She keeps his dinner warm in the oven when she thinks he’s coming home.


In the first example, Rosemary is pining to live in New Rochelle. I don’t know how this was received in 1958, when the musical debuted, if it was taken more seriously, or assumed to be farce like everything else in the show. In the revival cast with Megan Mullaly (which cast recording I used to have and am currently searching for), I think it was taken as a joke, or the emphasis was on how lovestruck she was with the charismatic Finch.


In Mad Men there’s nothing funny about Betty’s character. She’s supremely sad, depressed, as she attempts to hold a perfect face, look perfect, act perfect for her perfect man and breadwinner.


I was reading in A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove: A History of American Women Told through Food, Recipes, and Remembrances, how when the world changed during and post Industrial Revolution, relationships changed, women became more hidden while men worked in the public sphere. Though women always worked, now their work was less visible, even to their own husbands.


The 1950s and 1960s are fascinating to me. On one end, I find it so interesting that women had to create or perform a certain role that persists today: the doting, dutiful housewife that always looks beautiful and spotless, cleans house, and has dinner on the table, kids washed up and shiny, when the husband comes home. I find myself trying to perform this role – but at the same time, genuinely wanting to do these things for my fiancé, for our future household and family. It’s a bit of a dilemma, feeling torn between not wanting to be obligated, but genuinely wanting to be head of the household, as my mom was, it felt, in our childhood home, at least during the day.


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