I had a dinner party over the weekend. A dinner party. This is a big deal: I’m social outside my apartment; but, since I’ve moved to Tampa, I haven’t had anyone over except family members and close friends who’ve flown in for a visit. On Sunday night, I prepared a meal involving all four food groups. I used actual plates instead of Winn-Dixie’s knock-off version of Chinet.
I went to Home Goods and bought cocktail napkins. They had aperitif printed all over them.
Oh my god.
The Badonkadonk Contessa. That Barefoot Contessa lady on the Food Network, Ina Garten, ain’t got nothing.
I was surprised by how much I liked hosting my dinner party. For a while, I’ve been all anti-relationship/marriage/kids — all “I’m a strong, independent, self-satisfied black woman who doesn’t need traditional woman shit.” Maybe the result of a bad break-up; maybe my parents’ difficult marriage, separation, and divorce; maybe neither.
Yesterday, I looked up stuff about women and traditional conceptions of domesticity. During the mid-1800s, there were ideologies called “The Cult of Domesticity” or “The Cult of True Womanhood.” Women had two roles: being a good wife and good mother. Domesticity meant purity, piety and submissiveness.
In the 19th century, I wouldn’t have been part of this middle-class white women’s ideology. With my family’s Southern roots, I’d have been lucky to be a house slave. I suppose there was a kind of domesticity in that, too: holding the babies against your bosom, plucking the chicken, keeping house.
Of course, we’ve always had prescribed gender roles, in one way or another. Adam named the animals; Eve did whatever he said until she damned all of humanity with one mistake. My grandfather worked construction; at night, my grandma cleaned classrooms at Michigan State. When I was a young kid, I’d seen so much Nick at Nite and Donna Reed and Leave it to Beaver, I was dumb and mean enough to tell my mom, a lawyer, she wasn’t “a lady.”
I still cry about that.
So I’ve been thinking about my own ideas of what it means to be a woman, how it is to be a woman: Erica as a real grown-ass woman.
I can wear the pearl necklace and heels, make dinner for my man, get his shirts from the cleaners, and label the lunch bag. Donna Reed was kind of hot. June Cleaver, too. I can keep being the woman with a bit of a Peter Pan complex, who still orders clothes from Alloy, a website that couldn’t be any more designed for teenage girls if it tried. I can still watch the same morning episode of SportsCenter three times.
“All men are created equal.” Why not all kinds of women, too?
I’ll take dark, sinful and a little domestic in the “Cult of Womanhood” sense. Definitely not pure or pious. Maybe a little submissive: every now and then a good toss across the bed isn’t a bad thing. I can already hear my staunchly feminist friends shaming me. But, really, no one’s policing any of it but me. And why? Maybe that’s where the anxiety comes from for a lot of us when we think about gender and gender roles, or any stereotype, for that matter: the awareness of an inner struggle to reconcile socially constructed ideas about what you “should be” with who you actually are, and whether or not you allow yourself, in whatever isolation or combination of those things, to be who you actually are.
If you came over right now, you’d see the dinner party dishes are still in the sink.