Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Kitchen wives, part 2

Read this previous post for context.

Over the years, I have met some bona fide "kitchen wives". A few of the more eager and ardent amongst them stand out in my minds. I'm sure you've met the sort: women who guard their kitchens like jealous lovers. No doubt you will find familiar some of these women:

Susie [all names have been changed to protect the guilty] and her friends each tried to outdo the other in making their kitchens into altars to femininity. One adopted a cutesy little ducky theme that, to my mind, seemed more like something you'd find in a baby's nursery than something you'd find in a kitchen. Others opted for a more mature ultra-feminity, with flowers and ruffles and bows adorning every wall, window, and even the appliances, which would be dutifully tucked into bed each night, bedecked with cute little quilted covers and dust ruffles. But Susie outdid them all.

Unfortunately, her husband just didn't seem to get it: he kept wanting to do stuff in the kitchen, in complete disregard of the obvious message that this was a woman's room. Susie put her foot down and declared that the only way he could dare attempt to peel a potato or fry an egg would be if he wore one of the pinafore frocks that she sewed to wear as aprons. (Said pinafore frocks matched the curtain valances over the kitchen sink.)

Her husband grimaced. Didn't the Bible declare that for him to wear such a garment would be an abomination? Why not simply don the apron he kept out by the BBQ?

"No!" Susie protested shrilly. "Not in my kitchen! Not that ugly thing!" Her husband gave up, and decided to stick to the BBQ, where --- at least in Susie's mind --- men belonged.

Then there was Francie. While her kitchen didn't inspire her friends to gush, "How cute!" and "How precious!", she made it clear that the kitchen was her domain, and hers alone. To set foot in her kitchen without permission, no matter who you were, was akin to firing the first shot in a fierce turf war. She even had "kitchen hours": no one was allowed in the kitchen before she made her first cup of coffee in the morning, and no one was allowed in it after she finished washing the dinner dishes. No exceptions.

She was the undisputed dictator of her realm. No one dared open the refrigerator or any cupboard or drawer without first asking permission. Even then, said permission was not easily granted. "You don't need a drink of water when I just finished putting all the glasses in the dishwasher," she would say. "No. You will not be using my stove." "I will not let you open the refrigerator just to look inside. Tell me what you want and what shelf it is on before you open the door." "That drawer is not for you to open."

Needless to say, none of her children learned to do a thing in the kitchen. Even her husband kept a safe distance.

Betsy appeared, on the surface, to be more gracious. She would even allow people to loiter in her kitchen. She loved to cook, and she enjoyed having friends hang out with her. Although she was more subtle in her approach, she made it clear that she was queen of her kitchen. It seems that no one could do anything quite up to her exacting standards. No one else could clean the kitchen properly. Even a simple task such as stirring a pot had to be quickly taken over by her, lest disaster ensue. "Don't you see? You need to stir this way. You better let me do it. It has to be done just right."

Everything in the kitchen had to be done "just right". Things that appeared simple to the onlooker were, according to Betsy, quite complex; and she was the only woman up to the task. Cooking was women's work, because men --- poor things --- were simply too bumbling to allow to do anything involving food, sharp objects, and open flames.

Nelly adopted a somewhat different approach, but succeeded just as well in keeping unwanted intruders (i.e., anyone but her) out of her kitchen. She liked to complain that "no one helps" and to appear harried and distressed in her kitchen duties. However, she made life miserable for the poor, hapless person who graciously offered to assist. No matter how hard the would-be assistant tried, it seems that they only made things worse for overworked Nelly.

"How can I help?" would ask the guest.

"You could get out the roasting pan for me," Nelly would reply in a rushed voice, as if answering the question was an inconvenience in itself.

"Where do you keep it?"

"Over there," Nelly would snap busquely and vaguely. The guest would have no idea where "over there" was but, so as not to upset Nelly any further, would begin searching through cupboards.

"Don't just bang around snooping through my cupboards," Nelly would sigh, as if the weight of the world were on her shoulders. "If you don't want to help, just say so! If you want to dig through my cupboards, please do it when I'm not so busy. You're just getting in the way." Then she would murmur, "Oh, my, just look what you've made me do. You so distracted me that now the gravy is all lumpy."

Not only did Nelly keep everyone out of the kitchen, but she made them feel guilty for staying out.

I'd love to hear your humorous stories of "kitchen wives".


  1. It's silly to comment on my own posts, but I did want to confess: I was once somewhat of a kitchen wife myself. My husband, however, simply wouldn't accept the idea that the kitchen was "mine", and he insisted on dragging the children in and teaching them to do stuff like crack eggs and help make omelettes when they were, for Pete's sake, only two years old!

    For my own sanity, I had to give up all thoughts and aspirations of kitchen wifedom. It's the family's kitchen now.

  2. I was a bit territorial in the kitchen in Ukraine. People wanted to help--especially help clean up--but I got so tense when the kitchen was crowded. (It was a bitty little thing. . .) And *blush* I at times tended towards being a bit showy in my meal prep.

    But, I'm a firm believer in food being important to Bible study, and I remember when if someone had us over for dinner one night, then we had considerable margin in our weekly grocery budget. Feeding our Bible study friends each week, felt like I way I could be generous with our Ukrainian friends. Plus, so many were single guys and students who, imo, just need a meal cooked for them from time to time.

    Still. . . reading this post made me cringe a bit in recognition. . .

  3. I'm not at all protective of my kitchen, if any of you want to come over and wash my dishes you'd be very welcome!

  4. In my family, no one helps. But in my husband's family, everyone tries to help. I'm not used to help, so I kick everyone out. It's just easier that why.

  5. Hi there,
    Found you through the lovely Tulipgirl.

    This whole kitchen wife-idea reminds me of the Martha and a Mary know the one.

    Why do we insist on being in the kitchen? - quoth the one who desires the title 'domestic godess'

  6. I think perhaps women feel so territorial about their kitchens because in the midst of "household drudgery", it's often a last bastion of creativity, a bright spot after a day of diaper changing. Not that her mind isn't full of creative (and theological) thoughts, too--but the kitchen is one place where one's head and hands collide with regularity.

  7. When my husband (the youngest of five boys--raised by a vet and a godly wife on a dairy farm--no sissies here) was courting me, I was (of course) enthralled by his love for God, the Church, and his neighbor.

    He was (and is!) super cute, smarter than I will ever be, incredibly gracious & merciful & loving & kind .. and my all-time favorite deacon in our little Presbyterian church.

    But boy did I know that he was the man for me when:

    - We went to make chicken for dinner and he opened up my cabinet and found three "spices" ... salt, pepper, and cinnamon. (And didn't laugh with me about that until AFTER our honeymoon.)

    - Halfway during cookie baking, he moved up the cookie sheet with an offhanded, "Bottom rack to bake, upper rack to brown" comment. MAN! Did I know that he was (and IS!) the man for me.

    Yes, I have minor anxiety attacks in the kitchen. (Eight years of post secondary education did nothing to help me with that!)

    And yes, the ladies (and some chef-men-too) in my church are incredibly gracious about trying to help me to learn and grow in this important area.

    (And I do think it is important--my heart was SO blessed when my daughter said, "Just like us!" to the Little Red Hen's cake baking task after I had tackled my fears and baked a cake for my mother-in-law. No. Not from scratch. Don't be silly. But with a mixer & an oven & everything! This is a big deal for me.)

    But I could really relate to so much of your kitchen-wives-discussion that I decided to tiptoe out of lurker status. Plus I thought I might give you a chuckle with my steady-Freddy-hubby stories. (Who continues these eleven years to graciously and patiently help me to learn even while he celebrates any tiny victories I have in the cooking (eek!) area. Grace abounds!)

    ANYWAY ... I'm sure I shouldn't even post this. WAY too long a comment!

    But your writing is (as always) engaging, God-centered, and simply lovely ...

    AND your blogging community's comments are so gracious and edifying (not always the case on Christian sites) ...

    AND I'm a huge fan of Carolyn Custis-James!

    So here is a heartfelt thank you from Montana --

    Thanks for serving and encouraging!

    Joy to you--

    Your sister in Christ,
    Tara Barthel