Cooking, a job, and the default role of a woman

My mother used to say: “Don’t learn how to cook. You’d be serving others your whole life.”

She was the best cook I knew.

I’m not pressured to cook like my mother was. She had to cook for my father and me, and for the big family, because she’s better than everybody else at doing it. And it was what her mother told her, that it was the responsibility of the wife to cook good meals everyday, every meal.

In recent years I realised that I actually enjoy cooking. But there’s somehow an inexplainable inner need for me to put a good meal on the table, which feels almost like a “job” and “natural responsibility“. As if I have to cook because I should cook. If I don’t cook once, I feel almost guilty; when my husband cooks a nice meal, I feel thankful and even a bit spoiled.

I’m doing these things, even after my mother told me not to, even when I actively tried to avoid doing them.

I tried to be conscious about the default role of me, the woman, in our family. I let my husband do some things that were “my mother’s jobs”, while feeling guilty in secret for not doing them myself, and judging him for not doing them well enough.

My mother didn’t teach me cooking. She said if I don’t know how to cook, I won’t serve others, but be served by others. But what she didn’t know is that since she passed away, all I wanted to do was to taste the food she cooked again — those tastes of various dishes, smells in the kitchen, and the consistency of those handmade noodles are some of the strongest association I have with her, and her love for me.

I know she felt it was unfair that she had to cook while others were waiting around, chatting and watching TV. I know that at the beginning, she had to do it because that’s her “job” as a woman; but later she couldn’t stop cooking for everyone because she’s the best at cooking. And nobody else was good enough to be up for the task.

When she couldn’t get out of it, cooking for everyone, every time, became a burden.

But I believe she also enjoyed cooking for us.

I believe besides “labouring”, she was also loving us through cooking amazing meals.

I didn’t inherit the “burdened” role of the woman in the family from my own mother. What I’ve learnt is also how she showed us love.

She was not a hugger, nor a very expressive one of her feelings.

But I know her loved me very much.

I guess I will just need to find my own way of expressing my love.

And expressing my love is a responsibility I’m gladly to take on.

Advertisement

Selfish vs. Selfless

My mother used to tell me that she wished for me to be selfish. “As a woman, you can be happier if you are a bit selfish. Getting what you want and caring for your needs should be given priority.”

But she’s also the most selfless person I know.

She always let others eat first. She herself would still be busy in the kitchen when everybody else already finished eating. She put other people’s need before hers. She spent more money for my father and me, while she wouldn’t buy anything nice for herself.

And she’s not the only woman who wishes herself to be more “selfish” but does the opposite in reality.

Why is that?

What my mother meant with “being selfish” actually means giving your own needs priority. In our generation, it’s not “selfish“; it’s called “self-care“.

It’s based on the scenario that everybody’s feeling is acknowledged. In this case, only if one takes care of her own needs, is she able to take care of others’ needs. It means that “I will make myself healthy and happy first so I can take care of others who I love and who love me. If I ignore my own health and happiness they will not be happy. And that’s the opposite of what I want for them.”

Therefore, isn’t the “selfless” behaviour, the one where the other people’s feelings were not taken into account, the de facto “selfish” one?

Why are there still so many women — wives and mothers — putting their own needs and feelings in the last and thinking “that’s the way it’s supposed to be”? It’s in the end the selfish “selflessness” that defined the role of women in a household, a family.